Situation: A CEO is
concerned about long term trends versus short term volatility. While the
business has done well over time, short term volatility has made it difficult
to project both personnel needs and cost. As the company expands geographically
these issues are becoming more critical. Which is more important – long or
from the CEOs:
the company find that capabilities are not fully understood until they get into
development? In this case, is the problem with variables of schedule, budget or
capability more important?
forward, evaluate each of these variables to determine which is having the greatest
effect, positive and negative, on project performance and profitability.
the problem is time constraints in the project planning phase, assure that
sufficient time for project iterations is allowed in both the schedule and
budget. It may be that the clients are not sure of what they want until they
see a model, and that several iterations are required to assure that clients’
needs are satisfied. Plan and bid for this.
fixed costs impact margins during dips between active projects, assure that enough
fixed cost coverage is built into project bids to cover dips.
geographically remote offices is the company’s issue a question of volume or
resource cost or is it a pricing issue?
it’s a pricing issue to stay market competitive focus initial activity where
this issue is minimized. As market presence expands, add additional capabilities
in phases according to the ability to cover costs profitably.
it’s a resource cost issue use the same solution, adding resources according
ability to cover costs profitably.
the company’s sales and marketing structure in phases while expanding into new
markets. If sales compensation is base plus commission, vary commissions paid
according to resource rates negotiated. This will tie sales incentives to
negotiated resource rates and will help to assure that costs are covered.
with short term issues effectively will improve long term planning and profitability.
Situation: A CEO is evaluating a horizontal market development opportunity to markets related to their current market. There may be branding implications. The new opportunity focused on a different sector and can add business unrelated to current customers. However, the new opportunity will stretch current resources and potentially impact current business and service delivery. How do you expand into new markets?
Advice from the CEOs:
Because the new opportunity utilizes known capabilities the company should be able to segue into the new market relatively easily.
Because the company is already familiar with security and other issues relevant to the new market, compliance should present no challenge.
Consider the impact on company time and resources. Building any new business will challenge current priorities and will require a careful balancing of efforts to assure that both current and new customers’ needs are being met.
Build workload and service schedules for both existing customers and the effort that it will take to develop the new opportunity including the time needed to create and build new customer relationships. Take your best estimate of resource utilization for the new effort and double it, then ask whether your current staff and capacity can handle both markets. If the answer is positive, then you can be more comfortable with the decision to expand into new markets.
As you evaluate the new market opportunity, look at both anticipated and unanticipated but predictable challenges that customers may face over the next five years.
For example, is there misalignment between future challenges likely to be faced and the current expertise and skill sets of managers who will be tasked with addressing these challenges? If so, tailor the sales pitch for new capacities to address these challenges.
Are there existing mismatches between products and services currently offered in the new markets, and do proposed solutions help to address these mismatches? If so, there may be significant opportunities in addressing these mismatches across multiple customers within the affected markets.
Situation: A company has customers scattered around world. When the company was small, the CEO was very involved at all levels of sales and customer relations. Now that the company is larger, the CEO is more strategic but misses client contact, particularly for gathering market intelligence and understanding. The CEO does go on regular sales calls with reps but is getting push-back from the Sales VP. What is the CEO’s role in sales?
Advice from the CEOs:
Make an effort to understand the push-back coming from the Sales VP. Probe – where is the resistance coming from? What is the basis of the resistance? Is it personal or functional? Keep probing until the roots of resistance are clear, and then deal with these.
As CEO, insist on continuing customer contact. This is essential to your role and your understanding of your market.
Sit down and discuss this with the Executive Team. Go over your travel schedule and your objective in meeting with customers. Where appropriate meeting opportunities exist, let them know that you want to be included. Follow-up and repeat the message if they do not schedule you for calls.
How does the sales rep position this with a client? Let the customer know that the CEO will be visiting the area and would like to meet you. Here are the broad objectives and the benefit to you. Knowing that the CEO is interested in meeting with the client can be a powerful way to deepen the relationship with the client.
Having the CEO accompany the local representative on the first meeting with a customer sends the wrong message. Let the representative establish the relationship first. Then bring in the CEO to deepen and strengthen the relationship when the opportunity is right.
Situation: A CEO wants to push project ownership down to lower levels of the company. This is not happening unless the CEO pushes. How do you delegate yet stay informed as you push authority down the organization chart?
Advice from the CEOs:
The company needs systems and guidelines to clarify on what and when the CEO wants to either have input or hear back, and what can happen without the CEO’s knowledge.
Set levels of approval – dollar impact or decision type – and clarify what decisions can made at what level, what decisions need higher level approval and at what level, where they must inform you, and where you must sign off.
Similarly, establish regular reporting and meeting schedules, along with guidelines as to what is to be reported – again by budgetary impact or decision type – and assure that this reporting takes place.
“The Great Game of Business” by Jack Stack describes a company which has implemented these systems with astounding results. It provides a template and describes in detail how the system is implemented and what bumps they encountered along the way.
Invest more time in setting roles and responsibilities for your direct reports.
Keep reporting systems aligned across the company.
Expect over time to adjust levels of authority as individuals grow in responsibility and accountability.
Most importantly, lead by example. If a team member comes to the CEO for guidance on a project, refer them back to the proper manager for advice.
2015 Top ranked software systems to manage projects and processes from selected searches:
Capterra: Microsoft Project, Basecamp, Atlassian, Wrike, Podio
Situation: A mid-sized company has taken over management of the supply chains for several large customers. The products that the company manufactures have long lead times both for sourcing materials and manufacturing customer orders. Sometimes customers either ask for additional production on an existing order in process, or ask for deliveries to be spread beyond contracted timelines. Either situation has a significant impact on the cost of producing the order and company profitability. How do you manage customer change orders?
Advice from the CEOs:
The issue is one of managing contracts and customer expectations. Because this is hurting the company, prime the customers now that things will need to change in the future. Depending upon the level of comfort the response can be reactive or proactive.
A proactive response: because this happens with some frequency, establish a change order schedule and share this with the customers. Your message will be that you are happy to accommodate changes in orders, but you need to recover the cost of these changes in order to be able to continue supplying the customer. Include the change order schedule in future customer purchase contracts. This may cause them to have second thoughts about requesting changes in orders.
A reactive response: the next time a customer makes these demands the response can be: “We’ll take care of you this time but when we draft our next contract we have to adjust the terms of the contract so that it is a win-win.”
The appropriate response depends on value of each customer’s business to the company – both revenue and profit – and your confidence in the relationship with the customer.
Situation: A company’s contracts are based on milestones versus time and materials. This is common for their industry. However, end products are poorly defined at project outset and product requirements frequently evolve and change, making milestones squishy. How do you negotiate milestone contracts and payment schedules?
Advice from the CEOs:
In addition to payment schedule, there are four elements to a project negotiation – specifications, schedule, project flow, and budget. Tell the client that to hit their budget target, they need to give you control of any two of the other three factors. This means that if they want to specify budget and schedule, then they have to yield you control of the specs and project flow. Any change to these means that they have to be willing to change budget and/or delivery date. Finally, to keep the project going on a timely basis, they must make milestone payments on time and on schedule.
Try to transform the project, as much as possible, to time and materials. Here’s your talk line:
To give you 100 hours of effort on a fixed bid basis, we have to budget 110. Time and materials, in the long run is less expensive because you only pay for what we need to deliver your product.
Your credibility to deliver on a time and materials basis will be based on past performance and the relationships that you have developed with your clients.
Milestone contracts are especially difficult in low margin industries because of project variability. One solution is to bid 130 hours cost for 100 hours work. The challenge is that this looks uncompetitive, especially compared with offshore resources. Therefore, an option is to develop offshore capability so that you can deliver your projects using a variety of resources with variable costs. Price everything based on domestic prices, but use offshore resources to improve your margins and your ability to cover project overruns without killing your profits.
Situation: A company is enjoying a good year and is busy both adding new business and serving current clients. However, the CEO finds that when business is good he doesn’t have time to focus on all of his initiatives. This frustrates him. How do you make time for initiatives?
Advice from the CEOs:
How extensive is your To-Do List? If you have two or three major, time consuming initiatives, and a host of small tasks, prioritize both categories. Focus on what you can do given the time you have available. Put lower priority on the smaller tasks, and delegate as much as you can, or put them off until things slow down. This will help deal with your frustrations.
Block out time for yourself.
Do this early in the day, before you have lots of distractions on your desk.
Allocate 1-2 hours early in the morning, and get to work a little later. Let you staff know that you are not to be disturbed unless it’s an emergency, but that they will have your full attention when you get to the office.
Plan you initiatives, segment them into smaller pieces, and schedule them.
Use Mindmapping to segment them, or a piece of software like MindManager to assist your thinking.
Among the segmented pieces, look for opportunities to delegate to free up your time and involve staff in the initiative.
Develop a Task List in Feature/Deliverables terms with a broad timeframe.
Prioritize and build into your Quarterly and Annual plans.
Situation: The CEO of a high tech company has been working long hours, and has had no time for himself, or even for much sleep during the past few months. As is typical in a small company, the CEO and everyone else wears many hats. What have you done to successfully fit in time for yourself?
Advice from the CEOs:
Take a calendar, and mark all of your time for several weeks to a month. Then look at the ways that you spend time and prioritize them into categories:
Life – eating, sleeping, etc.
Must do – mission critical
Must do – could possibly delegate
See how many of the “Must do” activities you can delegate or otherwise handle and recategorize this time into Life or Free Time. You may be amazed at how much more efficiently you can use your time. Ask all employees to do this every 90 days to assure that they are utilizing their work time effectively.
If you have long commutes or lots of travel time, get an extended battery for your laptop. This will allow you to make travel time more productive.
Or, if you have a long commute, hire a semi-retired driver to drive you to and from work. Turn your commute time into productive work time.
Semi-retired drivers are available for as little as $10 per hour. You can pay them $1,000 at a time in advance, and the driver keeps a log of the time spent driving the client.
Use your car, or the driver’s car and if the latter, reimburse the driver for mileage.
To make this work effectively set the rule that you are the client, and not looking for conversation. You want to accomplish as much work as possible during the trip.
Look for professional drivers, with the proper licensing. Do an MVR check on the driver’s history as part of your evaluation process.
Situation: A company is enjoying a good year both adding new business and serving current clients. When business is good the CEO finds it difficult to focus on all of his initiatives. This is frustrating. How do you maintain focus on your top initiatives when it gets really busy?
Advice from the CEOs:
When times are good, many new opportunities arise. If you have too many initiatives, you lose focus and have difficulty achieving them. Limit your initiatives to 2-3 at a time, focus on them, get them done and done right. Then pick your next 2-3 most important initiatives.
Schedule time for your initiatives on your calendar. Honor this time commitment just as you would an important customer appointment.
You might try a daily prioritized list of 4-5 small things and one big thing and focus on these for the day. Keep track of other priorities on a separate To-Do List.
Hire an assistant to whom you can delegate the small things – including the background research on your big initiatives. This gives you more time to focus on the big things, and the important decisions within the bigger projects.
Create a planning calendar for your initiatives. Assess each initiative for level of effort required, determine specific deliverables, and the amount of time that it will take to complete the initiative. Next, prioritize the list and take on a small number at any one time. This will help you both to complete the initiatives that you start, and to complete more of them in a given time period.
Situation: A company has been struggling to meet objectives. Financials aren’t completed on schedule, limiting the ability of the CEO to manage by the numbers. Milestones are behind schedule. The CEO was advised to consider stringent measures, including financial penalties, to force compliance to performance goals. In your experience, are negative incentives effective?
Advice from the CEOs:
There are at least three potential roots of this problem. Have your hired people who lack the skills to perform their functions? Is there a clear plan and set of priorities in place? Or are you as the CEO being consistent in your demands of the team? You need all three to meet your objectives.
Be sure to set SMART objectives: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. In addition, make sure that everyone understands how their performance impacts not only the plans of the company, but their salary and benefits as an employee. Be sure that everyone has the resources to complete what is expected of them.
Be careful if you are considering financial penalties, and negative incentives.
Many studies have shown that positive reinforcement is more effective than negative reinforcement.
If an employee is chronically behind on deliverables, ask what is happening and why they are not getting the job done.
If the response is not satisfactory, and performance doesn’t improve, you are better off terminating the employee than using negative incentives.
Often the question is not one of motivation but one of focus. Focus has to start at the top, and has to be maintained through departmental and team leadership. Make sure that there is proper training in setting and monitoring achievement of objectives throughout your leadership team. It helps if everyone clearly understands what the company is trying to achieve.
Key Words: Objectives, Achievement, Failure, Schedule, Manage, Numbers, Penalties, Compliance, Positive, Negative, Incentive, SMART, Resources, Achievable, Motivation, Focus, Training, Great Game of Business, Jack Stack, Understand