Tag Archives: Share

How Do You Create an Incentive-based Compensation Plan? Seven Ideas

Situation: A CEO wants to build additional incentives into the company’s compensation plan. The objective is to add group incentives to the pay mix – to focus more attention on group performance rather than just company goals. How do you create an incentive-based compensation plan?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The best policy is to be upfront, open, and transparent as the plan is presented.
  • Communication is the key to success, including the following bullet points:
    • Pay starts at a base which is 75th percentile – a generous base in our industry.
    • Group bonuses, which reflect the results of the group’s efforts, allow you allow to reach the 90th percentile or higher.
    • On top of this, profit sharing enables the addition of 10-20% of your base.
    • Altogether, management thinks that this is a generous package. The difference from the old system is that employees will be rewarded for making decisions which will benefit the group as well as the company – and you will be generously rewarded for this.
  • Once plans are communicated to employees 1-on-1, reinforce the message with a group presentation and open discussion at monthly company meetings.
  • Consider: significant changes in compensation may be best taken in small rather than large increments. Start with small incremental adjustments. If these are effective proceed to larger increments on a planned and open schedule. This is particularly true if the historic culture has been that we all win or lose together.
  • A downside of rewarding by team is that some will get rewarded for producing minimal results. Consider some percentage of discretionary payments to recognize and reward effort instead of pure parity within the team.
  • Consider longer-term results within the payment scheme – not just quarterly results.
  • People need to know that they are accountable. Let them know that a 75% base is reasonable but that the significant rewards will be for producing results above this level.

How Do You Manage Through a Difficult Period? Six Solutions

Situation: The CEO of a company is wrestling with issues concerning change orders and high labor and materials cost. To get back into good financial shape, they are considering options including reduction in estimator time and selling equipment; however, either of these could gut the business. How do you manage through a difficult period?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • It is critical to get on top of change orders. This is potentially a big profit-loss swing for the business.
    • Does everyone understand what’s happening?
    • If the answer is yes, teach them more about the business nuts and bolts so that they can help develop solutions? Share a portion of the savings in the form of spot bonuses for those who develop solutions.
  • Take a lesson from The Great Game of Business. Let employees know about the challenges and challenge them to help develop solutions.
    • As an example, look at change orders and the percent of change orders that are not correctly completed, approved and invoiced as a critical number. Let’s say that 50% of change orders are not completed, approved and/or invoiced correctly. The objective for the year is to reduce this to 25%. Calculate the value of lost billings from the past year. If this can be reduced by half, the value will be $X. If the company can meet this objective, consider making half of $X available for distribution as gifts or prizes.
    • To support this, allow each new project to design its own minigame to reduce the number of incomplete and uninvoiced change orders.
    • The idea is to have the project and inside teams design the minigames and come up with ways to reduce incomplete and uninvoiced change orders. They will learn new ways of being more efficient from this process. This is the long-term benefit to the company.
  • If it is necessary to reduce staff, cut early instead of later. This is painful but laid-off employees can be hired back on a contract basis as necessary.
  • A common solution during a difficult period is to cut back to core, reducing overhead as a survival strategy, and focus on winning as may bids as possible to rebuild the business.
    • Look at all departments and the gross margin that each produces minus the overhead that each requires. Focus cutbacks on those that are not positive.
  • Increase annuity contracts – contracts with major companies that are growing and frequently require the company’s services.
  • Transfer equipment to a separate corporation. Lease it back as business requires. This increases cash flow flexibility – for example, don’t make lease payments when cash is tight.

Does a Phantom Stock Plan Make Sense? Three Considerations

Situation: The CEO of a privately held company wants to share company success with employees. An option that she is exploring is phantom stock. The objective is to engage employees in company success. Does a phantom stock plan make sense?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Why would you use phantom stock options instead of real stock?
    • Phantom stock options are popular in the tech sector. Phantom stock confers the right to receive cash at a future point in time, typically a share of the proceeds received upon the sale of a company.
    • The principal difference between phantom stock and real stock, is that real stock must be issued in exchange for cash, property or past services. There is also a tax consequence to the receipt of real shares. When shares are issued in exchange for past services the employee must recognize taxable income, just like wage compensation. Employees may be disappointed to learn that they may face taxable income based on the fair market value of their shares received without compensating cash to pay the tax.
  • Let’s assume that the objective is to increase employee engagement as they observe the value of the shares increasing with company success over time.
    • Under phantom stock programs the value of the company is pegged on a periodic basis, based on a pre-set formula developed by the company.
    • In some cases, employees can “sell” their phantom stock back to the company for the differential between the price when they were awarded the stock and the current pegged price.
    • The structure of the program is determined by management based on company objectives.
  • Employees frequently don’t have the cash to purchase real stock or options at a fair price given the value of the company. Using a phantom stock plan, a company can offer the rewards of stock ownerships without a purchase requirement or tax implications at the time of award. Employees can be apprised of the value of their phantom stock based on a periodic internal accounting exercise.

How Do You Structure an Earnout? Five Perspectives

Situation: A founding CEO is evaluating a purchase offer for his company. The buyer wants the CEO to retain some ownership interest to assure a smooth transition post sale, and ongoing assistance from the CEO so that the company continues to succeed post-sale. Should the CEO retain a minority share of the company? How do you structure an earn-out?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The ideal option is full payment up-front. However, if the CEO is perceived by the buyer as critical to the company the buyer will want to have some assurance of continued services for some period.
  • An earn-out of fixed payments over time is acceptable provided that the language of the agreement is acceptable. However, performance-based earn-outs make no sense if the CEO no longer has control over the decisions that will impact performance. Don’t structure the payment as an earn-out, but as a retention bonus and assure that the terms are favorable.
  • Post-sale a minority share of your old company holds no value if you can’t monetize it. Holding a small share of a non-traded company has the same challenges.
    • It is all about liquidity.
    • If the other party offers this, ask what is the value is to you of the retained share.
  • Minimize the earn-out if one is demanded, but don’t count on it.
  • If there isn’t a strategic fit between the buyer and the company, the value of the company in a sale will be lower.

Does it Pay to Share an Employee? Four Points

Situation: A company has an excellent bookkeeper. However, during slow seasons cash is tight and the bookkeeper is not occupied full time. The CEO contacted a friend at another company, and that company has hired the bookkeeper for 10 hours / week. This is working well for both for both companies. Are there downsides to doing this? Does it pay to share an employee?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • If you share an employee, share at your cost – your fully burdened cost per hour. For the company using a piece of your employee, this may be a significant hourly cost, but is much less expensive than a consultant and lower risk than bringing on an unknown individual.
  • Keep a short term perspective – once the economy improves you will want the individual back full-time. Make sure that this is well understood by the other company.
  • Make sure that this is not a burden on your bookkeeper. Ask whether the individual can handle two bosses. It helps to fully segregate the individual’s time with time rules – for example, by day or half-day with clean break points in time worked for Company A vs. Company B.
  • Overall, the apparent benefits of this situation outweigh the challenges.

How Do You Raise Capital for an Expansion? Five Guidelines

Situation: A company needs to expand to meet growing demand and has opportunities to expand in several locales. They can finance this expansion through bank loans, or by selling either a minority or majority interest in the company. How do you raise capital for an expansion?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Minority shareholders have appeal. Just be aware that they have rights. If they own interest above a certain percentage, they gain legal rights such as the ability to force liquidation. Research this percentage, and figure out a percentage of minority ownership that will work for you. Based on this, look for a minority partner who will give you the capital to expand for ownership below this threshold.
  • Consider a hybrid solution combining a smaller loan with sale of a limited percent of the company.
  • This is a risk equation.
    • The loan option is risk / reward for long term profit. You may have to secure the loan with personal assets.
    • On the other hand, selling a minority interest could set you up for life.
    • Look at both options, plus your personal goals and decide which combination of risk, reward and personal security fits you best.
  • One sale option is a phased buy out.
    • Example: sell 30% now, with options under conditions that you accept, to buy a larger share of your company later.
    • Continue to involve the key stakeholders in these discussions.
  • Assure that you secure your own future, and then secure the future of other family members.

How Do You Respond to a Competitor’s Sales Tactic? Six Ideas

Situation: A company has learned that a competitor has cloned their client development approach. This approach enabled the company to gain early market share. They have since moved up-market and have enhanced their sales tactics. How should the company respond to the competitor’s tactic?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Reconnect with the market contacts that got you where you are. Be sure that they are aware of your track record, the value that you provide your clients, and reinforce your current market development focus. Now that you are established, position yourself as the proven producer who consistently produces results.
  • Study what the competitor is doing, who their target customer is, their close rates, and what if anything they are doing to enhance their close rates. Learn from them and copy or improve on their practices where this will yield benefit.
  • If your sales development is based on referrals, enhance the rewards to contacts who bring you new business in your prime target markets.
  • Your principal concern may not be your client base, which is likely unaware of the differences in your versus your competitor’s approaches, but in the referral structure that is your primary source of new business. Focus effort and resources to shore up your relationship with your referral base.
  • Focus on your strengths – performance and excellence in managing client relationships.
  • If the competitor is focusing on down market accounts that you no longer cultivate, then expect them to succeed in this market. Become the provider of choice to up market accounts and the natural referral choice for these accounts. If the competitor stumbles, you may pick up unexpected business.

How Do You Handle a Side Project? Two Considerations

Situation: An early principal of a company has done a lot of work on a product that no longer fits the company’s business strategy and focus. The CEO wants to reward this individual for past work. An arrangement could include equity plus a big chunk of whatever this individual can make marketing the product that he created. What is the best way to handle this side project?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • There may be benefits to working with this individual as proposed. Letting the individual play in his own sub-market gives you an additional customer and may lead to interesting but yet unknown opportunities. Take care that this does not impact critical timelines for the company’s principal strategy.
  • A set of guidelines for this arrangement may include:

o    No grant of additional stock in the company – the opportunity to pursue the project should be sufficient incentive.

o    Keep this side project as company property.

o    Give the individual a sizable chunk of any revenue that he can gain from the product.

o    Task the individual to manage and solve technical challenges so that this does not impact company priorities.

o    Retain control of timelines and quality sign-off so that this project does not conflict with your higher priorities.

o    Give the individual sufficient support so that he is more likely to succeed.

  • Are there concerns regarding brand risk?

o    Draft an agreement to allow this project to operate cleanly and treat the principal an early small customer. Define the requirements of the project, release timelines, and branding options so that they do not interfere with the company’s larger goals.

Where Do You Currently Stand on Benefits? Three Comments

Situation: A small company (fewer than 50 employees) is reviewing their employee benefit package and wants to get a sense of what others are currently covering in their benefit packages. Where does your company currently stand on employee benefits, and what does your company cover in its benefit package?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • A recent small (unscientific) poll of entrepreneurial Silicon Valley SMB Companies on benefits offered found:
    • Health: 100%, Dental: 83%, Vision: 67%, Disability: 17%
    • 401K: 100%, 401K Match: 33% (most companies eliminated the match to reduce costs)
    • Reduced benefits in the last 6 months: 67%
    • Employee complaints or recruiting challenges following cuts: 0%
  • One company commented that when a key customer cut their payments they had to cut benefits. They reduced the company payment from 100% to 50% of benefit cost. Their employees make choices among options available, with a company dollar payment cap. Management explained the situation when they made the cuts, and there were no objections.
  • Several companies have shifted to consumer directed health care options.
  • A comment of caution was offered by one CEO – employees are unlikely to object to their company needing to reduce benefits to get through a difficult market. However, as conditions improve, employees are likely to expect some level of return to prior benefit levels. If not, the company at risk of increased turnover. It is best to stay ahead of the curve to assure that your benefits packages are competitive.

How Do You Respond to a New Big Competitor? Four Strategies

Situation: A company has just learned that a new, much larger competitor is moving into their market. They are concerned that this may severely impact their growth and even their existence. How do you respond to new competition in your market niche from a much larger new entrant, particularly if the new player comes in with a low pricing strategy to buy market share?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Take a lesson from those who survive a move by Walmart into their territory:
    • Boutiques and high service specialty stores survive Walmart – especially those that focus on personal service. Walmart does not provide the level of service that you find in one of these stores and doesn’t know their customers as individuals. Boutiques may lose some price conscious customers, but these are not the customers that provide good margin to them.
    • Use your personal knowledge of the marketplace and your long term relationships to your advantage – including your reputation with existing customers when going after new customers.
    • You may remain more profitable than the larger company, especially on a per transaction basis, based on your knowledge of the territory or business niche. Walmart can’t tell you the best product to perform a home repair.
  • Focus on your strengths in the market, and don’t assume that all large companies are Walmarts. Walmart has a unique set of talents and a tightly controlled process. This may not translate to other markets – especially services which are very personal.
  • Research the reputation and business practices of the new entrant in their other territories. What are they known for, and what are their weaknesses? You may be able to learn this by networking with their current competitors and customers.
  • If you are a multi-generation family business, consider promoting your “old world skill” and established reputation and expertise.