Situation: The CEO of a specialty service company is curious about whether they have the right internal focus to drive their business. Their internal focus statement is to the most competitive, most responsive company in their market with high profit per job. One school of thought calls this focus the Main Thing driving the company. Does your company have the right Main Thing or focus?
Advice from the CEOs:
Look at the tie between your Main Thing and your financials.
Determine an appropriate measure of efficiency – for example, billable hours per field worker per day.
Look at cost per field worker versus efficiency.
Ask what will generate the profit to grow to the level that the company has established as the revenue target.
If you can boost the gross margin on services, this provides far more benefit than merely cutting expenses.
Look for market niches that support higher prices without a parallel rise in either expense or risk exposure.
Do leadership and staff have the right skills and talents to support growth objectives? What can be done to enhance skills and talents?
Consider the following – By increasing efficiency and margins from 16% to 20% on $10 million of job revenue, the company can increase the operating margin by $400,000. If certain staff cannot work within a more efficient structure, you may want to move them to jobs that are less critical to the business. Having the right staff in the right seats is critically important to bottom line results.
Look at the company’s customer selection criteria. Using the 80/20 rule – 20% of customers generate 80% of revenue and/or profits. How do you improve customer selection?
Rank all customers on measures of profitability of their business, payment time, and most importantly future business potential. Focus on customers with the highest scores, and “fire” low scoring customers.
Focus on cash flow: Look at early pay options or discounts to speed payment from large customers.
Incorporate a schedule of values in all contracts as an addendum to prompt earlier payment.
In proposals, include a payment schedule and finance the receivables through a factoring company – particularly in the case of slower paying or less desirable customers.
Situation: A founder CEO, after many years building a business, has lost the passion that he had early on. He needs to hire someone to succeed him, assuring the ongoing growth and value of the company while minimizing ongoing personal involvement. How does a founder hire his (or her) replacement?
Advice from the CEOs:
When a founder has lost the passion to continue running a business it is time to move on. Passion is critical to meet the day-to-day demands of a business.
Before you start looking, decide whether you will continue to have a role in the business, and what that role will be. Will you remain Chairman of the Board and give up the CEO role? If so, are you ready to let go of the CEO role so that the right person can take it on? Typical company structures for Chairman/Top Manager roles are:
Chairman focuses on growth strategy, select PR and critical relationships.
CEO/COO/GM handles operational planning and day-to-day management.
The candidate that you seek will have the following profile:
Good energy, loves the business, but not ready for the risk of building a company.
When the right person has run the business for you for a few years that person may become your exit strategy.
Go to your next trade show with the mindset to find the right person. Many of the best candidates will be on the trade show floor – now working for someone else, but inwardly looking for their next opportunity.
Spread the news ahead of time that you’re looking. See who seeks you out.
Situation: A company provides staff for a client. Overall the client has been pleased with the staff provided, and only a couple of individuals have had to be replaced. The client was recently presented with an individual that they seem to like; however, the company has since developed reservations about this candidate. How do you inform a client about a potential problem?
Advice from the CEOs:
Meet with this individual face to face or via video conference. During the interview, tactfully ask questions that will either disqualify the candidate or satisfy your concerns. Only continue to present this candidate to the client if you are thoroughly satisfied that they can meet the client’s needs and will represent you well.
Ask the client for their impression of the individual. If they do not express any concerns, then your own concerns may be overblown.
The client will require the candidate to be trained by them prior to fully bringing them on-board. This will provide another opportunity for the client to say yea or nay. If the individual completes training to the client’s satisfaction, then once again your concerns may not be justified.
In any communications with the client, take care to voice only concerns that you can substantiate. Otherwise, you might expose yourself to suit by the candidate.
Independent of this situation, adjust your selection process to require face to face or video conference interviews. This will prevent the recurrence of future situations like this one.
Situation: A company hired a sales person who looked during the interview process like a hunter, but turned out to be a farmer. The company’s product-service mix is new to the market and requires a sales person who excels at landing new accounts. How do you tell hunter from farmer sales candidates?
Advice from the CEOs:
The hunter sales person is naturally more aggressive and loves the thrill of landing new accounts. The farmer excels at follow-up sales and cultivating existing accounts for new purchasing potential. Neither is particularly good at the others’ job, and it is rare to find individuals who excel in both roles.
To differentiate between these two personalities, behavioral interviewing is better than tests.
Screen resumes for past sales success in companies in a similar size range as yours to select a group for further evaluation.
Behavioral interviews are very different from traditional interviews. They the focus on specific skills and requirements associated with the job and require candidates to give concrete examples of when and how they have demonstrated the skills needed for the job. The interviewer then follows up with probing questions to elicit more details. Responses can be verified in follow-up with references provided by the candidate.
During the questioning process, the interviewer may interrupt the candidate with a question like “what are you thinking right now?” These questions provide more insight into the interviewee’s personality and also help to filter out B.S.
You are seeking someone who’s “been there done that” in a company which resembles yours and who can convincingly demonstrate what they’ve done.
Thoroughly check references – not just those provided by the candidate, but dig and talk to others in the same companies.
Strongly align the pay and incentives for a hunter. Hunters prefer a comp package that is heavily commission-based and this will scare away farmers. If they don’t sell, they get paid little.
Offer an extended trial period with burden of proof on performance by the sales person.
Situation: A company wants to recruit outside members to its Board of Directors. Currently, all Board members are founders except for a single early investor. How do you recruit outside Board members?
Advice from the CEOs:
Board Member selection is a strategic matter. You want to have people on your Board who have done what you want to do strategically with the company.
A Board does not run the company. Board Members provide input and perspective to help the CEO make better choices while running the company.
Board Members have fiduciary responsibility – to the Shareholders, the government (to assure that the company is being run legally), to customers, to employees, and to vendors. Their role is to assure that the company does what it says it plans to do.
How affordable are Board Members?
Stock options are very feasible if you have little cash to pay salaries. Much will have to do with the prospective member’s buying into your vision.
You will need to secure Directors and Officers Insurance for Board Members – $3K+ per year per member.
The rationale behind payment in stock is for Board Members to have the same incentives for company success as shareholders.
Target remuneration of Board Members is, for a pre-IPO company $100K per year if the company is successful, but if not then $100K over 5 years. Members of the Audit Committee are generally paid about double what other Board Members receive.
Is there a downside of having numerous minor shareholders?
Not really, except perhaps nuisance. You run the company. As long as you retain majority share ownership, Board members can only advise.
Sitting on another Board is one of the best ways to improve your own abilities as CEO. Advising another CEO on how to run their company is a learning experience.
Special thanks for input on this topic to Bill Rusher, founder of Rusher, Loscavio and LoPresto.
Situation: A company recently set up an operation in Shanghai. An immediate shock has been that that the Chinese engineers have not been able to solve problems creatively. To date their solutions are limited to following an outline provided by the home office. How does the company address this? How do you get a Shanghai office up to speed?
Advice from the CEOs:
Current Chinese culture is to do what you’re told, and not to vary from the direction given by those to whom you report. However, these are smart people. Given time and training they will get through this. Can you be patient enough to allow this to occur?
The most important role in your Shanghai location is a trusted, competent Chinese General Manager. This individual can get you where you want to be the fastest. It is also the hardest position to fill in China.
One option is to investigate connections through the SCEA – Silicon Valley Chinese Engineers Association. Many SCEA members are Chinese who have been educated in the US but want to return to China. You may find good candidates here.
The best candidates have bi-cultural exposure – they understand Chinese culture, but also understand US standards, expectations and operations.
Be sure to check US references of any candidates who are currently in the US.
Early operations and adaptations are the most difficult. Talk to people in Shanghai who have solved this problem.
Develop a separate project selection / development methodology for projects you want to transfer to China. This will change as the Chinese employees begin to approach US standards.
As you hire new Chinese employees, look for individuals who play and write music. They are naturally more creative. Microsoft has used this approach successfully in China.
Situation: A company has a high-powered Board of Directors. This Board is focused primarily on company strategy. The CEO wants to create a separate Advisory Board for technical and business development. How do you create and leverage an Advisory Board for technical and business development?
Advice from the CEOs:
Be clear on the role and compensation of the Advisory Board.
Create a clear set of expectations to initiate the process, and refine these expectations in early meetings of the Advisory Board.
Early stage companies often pay out of pocket expenses for attending Advisory Board meetings, plus stock options. When business development is the focus, you may want to add a percentage of any new business brought to the company by the member.
More mature companies may add a stipend for Advisory Board service.
Not all Advisory Board members may be compensated equally, particularly if members receive a percentage of business that they help to create. You may also choose to compensate members differently based on their experience and influence.
Choose Advisory Board members carefully.
Go beyond personal contacts of the CEO and company officers. Look for individuals who are known and respected within the industry. You also want individuals who have exceptional contacts and who will agree to use them to benefit you.
Look for individuals who are highly positioned within target companies – for example a VP of Operations or of Business Development. Also look for individuals who have excellent relationships with personnel in target companies
Be open and clear about your expectations of individual Advisory Board members. Celebrate success.
Establish metrics that the members are expected to fulfill.
Record commitments made by Advisory Board members and include updates against commitments as part of Advisory Board meetings, as well as updates against metrics that expected of members.
Celebrate successes of Advisory Board members and note individual and team contributions whenever the Advisory Board meets.
Situation: Sales technique is constantly evolving. Based on research completed by the Sales Executive Council, this evolution has accelerated since 2008. The implications for selecting, training and retaining top sales reps are significant. How has sales evolved in the last four years?
Advice from Michael Griego:
A 2009 study by the Sales Executive Council (SEC) – Replicating the New High Performer– studied 6,000 international sales representatives from 90 companies comparing top sales performers with core sales reps across 44 attributes.
The study found that Challenger sales reps represented the largest cohort (39%) of the most successful sales reps, followed by Lone Wolf (25%), Hard Worker (17%), Reaction Problem Solver (12%), and Relationship Builder (7%) sales reps.
The Challenger sales rep is best suited for a complex sales environment, while the Hard Worker is best for less complex enterprise sales or sales of off-the shelf products.
Identify the characteristics required for your sale. In addition, identify the mix of sales people currently on your team – from young, eager people just out of school to seasoned vets who can be realigned to current methodologies.
Selection should focus on the prior experience of the candidate. What have they have sold in the past? Ask for details of sales situations. How do they usually open a sales conversation? How did they adjust their sales pitch to different audiences? Were they hunters or farmers? Top talent reps can deftly go both ways.
Training involves reinforcing sales fundamentals plus the modern application of provocative consultative selling where salespeople provide true insight and challenge customers well beyond feature/function/benefit selling.
SEC study results indicate that if you are involved in a complex sale you need to identify the challenges, acknowledge what is happening in your client’s market and the challenges that they face, quantify the implications, and position potential solutions for exploration; all of this occurs BEFORE you start selling your specific solution.
Retaining the best sales reps fundamentally takes good sales management.
Pay special attention to top performers, while attending to all your reps and treating them fairly.
Challenge them to be better in areas that will enhance their success.
Recognition is a great motivator. Make them an internal mentoring resource for the rest of the team.
Identify your core (average) players and train them to act like your top players.
If you do these things they won’t be attracted to the shiny objects dangled by head hunters.
Situation: A small company has a key employee who has been with them for one year. Previously, this individual had been a production manager in a large company managing as many as 100 employees. He excels at analysis, QA and other “doer” roles but has not demonstrated strong supervisory skills. How do you address a key manager functioning at 80%?
Advice from the CEOs:
Small companies are different from large ones. In a small company, people must wear multiple hats and be willing to roll up their sleeves with the others. The atmosphere can be very different in a large company. Past experience in a large company does not mean that previous skills are transferable.
If the person is not a fit for your needs and organization, then you must find a fit or make a change.
Do you have room on your payroll for a job appropriate to this individual’s skills and talents? If so retain him in a new role. If not, then take action.
Engineers often do not transition well to management positions. Different skill sets are required. Shortcomings may have been masked in a large company.
If your future need is for an individual to take on many or your current responsibilities in the role of General Manager, hire an individual who has demonstrated success in this position in a company of in size and focus as yours.
If you need to hire a different person, review your selection process.
If this position requires the wearing of multiple hats, indicate the range of responsibilities in the position description.
During the selection process query candidates on their experience handling these responsibilities. Ask open questions and look for specific instances where they have demonstrated talent. Confirm responses in reference checks.
Key Words: HR, Selection, Performance, Doer, Manager, Supervisor, Big vs. Small Company, Success, Experience, Selection, Position Description, References
Situation: A company has a long-term clerical employee. While this individual has handled a wide range of responsibilities, they have not significantly grown their skills even though cumulative yearly pay raises put this individual on the higher end of the company pay scale. Increasingly, the individual is refusing to do work requested. In your experience, what can the CEO do to get this individual back on track?
Advice from the CEOs:
Recently the CEO hired a personal assistant. The position was offered to the individual in question but declined because of hours and expectations. The personal assistant has supplanted much of the contribution that this individual historically made to the company. They are likely hurt by the resulting reduction in their role. This may explain the refusal to do certain tasks that used to be routine.
To have the best chance of recovering this individual, it is important that your approach be positive, not punitive.
Instead of going over performance variances in your next review, bring the individual into your office and let them know that “we need you.” Present a vision of the company and its future growth. If the individual shows a willingness to turn around, take them into your confidence and show them your plans. Ask them what role they see for themselves in the organization chart.
Simultaneously, be frank. The company has changed and is poised for growth that was not possible two years ago. Tell the person you want them on the team and set forth long-term goals. Establish and agree on objectives for 90 days and measure from this meeting forward.
Either the individual will rise to the challenge or will let you know within the 90 days that the company is no longer the place for them.
The key point is that this must be a caring and heartfelt discussion.
Analyze how this situation arose so that it isn’t repeated with other employees.
Hire for both current skills and the potential for growth. Develop new and existing staff in line with plans for growth. This is how you achieve extraordinary results with ordinary people.