Situation: A company is preparing for end of year reviews. They use several performance measures to evaluation employee performance, including 360 Reviews. The challenge is that both managers and peers tend to rate everyone at the highest levels – even though everyone knows that this is not valid. How do you get managers to honestly rate their teams?
Advice from the CEOs:
This is a common problem for companies. The central issue is that managers want to get on well with their teams, and may fear that giving someone a less than stellar review will impact individual and team performance. You have to change both the perspective and the methodology.
Start with the basics. Performance reviews are about communication and documentation.
Expectations should be based on an up-to-date Job Description for the position.
Job Descriptions should address skills, expertise and behavior. Clarity and specificity are essential.
They should anticipate growth, and include standards of performance to measure growth.
To prepare for a review meeting, the manager rates the employee against the standards specified in the Job Description, as well as any objectives established in past reviews. The employee self-rates against the same measures.
Following the review meeting, the manager must document the discussion and objectives for the next period set during the meeting. The employee reviews and signs this document.
For managers, a key performance measure is quality and substance of reviews.
Besides individual reviews, have your managers rank their people 1 to X along several metrics:
Reliability on the job
High or low maintenance
Use zero based thinking: Knowing what I do now, would I hire this employee for their current position?
Align the review process with the company’s goals.
Do a total ranking among company employees. Tell managers that those ranking last place(s) must be upgraded. The CEO approves the final ranking.
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.
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 faces a question branding a new product – what should lead the branding focus: product design or product attributes that will be an eventual part of the branding strategy? Which should lead in building brand focus?
Advice from the CEOs:
There are two areas of focus – each an important part of the overall trademark and branding strategy:
A distinct name or symbol, for example Amazon.com or eBay, will gain the right kind of attention and be easy for potential customers to remember. The prime risk here is stepping on someone else’s mark.
Your overall branding strategy. The point here is not confusing your customers. Marketing people will advise you to KISS – Keep it Simple Stupid! One tack is simplifying the complexity of technology.
It is important to develop a consistent set of product attributes – one that you know through research will resonate with your client base – before your Alpha launch. It is dangerous to conduct an Alpha launch without clarity on this point. Subtleties of the eventual brand do not need to be finalized, but the overall framework of key product attributes should be consistent and clear from the beginning.
Design and the development of important product attributes ideally take place in synch with each other. Positioning will depend on your audience, and the unique needs and expectations of the audience.
The name itself could be important. Being clear and easy to spell may be important. Test alternative names for this trait.
Situation: A company’s employees are increasingly getting offers from other companies. They believe that they have a good team, a good work environment and offer a competitive pay and benefit package. However, they are concerned that the job market in Silicon Valley is heating up. How do you keep your employees on-board when they start receiving offers from others?
Advice from the CEOs:
Make sure that your wage and benefit scale continues to be competitive. The Silicon Valley Index, published by Assets Unlimited in Campbell, is the best local survey covering Silicon Valley and the San Francisco technology market.
Survey after survey finds that compensation is basically a hygiene factor – it has to be good enough so that needs are satisfied, but it isn’t one of the more important factors in retention. The Gallup Organization has determined that respect, challenging responsibilities, and personal recognition are much more important factors in employee retention. Be sure that you are actively involving your key personnel as leaders in formulating and updating your processes, and that there are plenty of opportunities for recognition and celebration for your staff.
If you are generating a profit, share this with the employees as an incentive. This may well be better spent in fun and team-building activities like a weekend in Tahoe for a team, or supporting their creative needs by sponsoring their efforts in engineering design competitions. Whatever is appropriate for your company, involve your employees in setting company performance goals and give them a voice in determining how achievement should be rewarded. Making them part of the process builds better long-term loyalty.
On the sales side, establish a reward incentive structure for bringing in new business for the company to prompt field personnel to develop and exercise their business development skills.
Whatever you and your team decide, be sure that your choices support your overall strategic plan.
A company has focused on developing future leaders and managers. They do this both to increase their managerial and leadership bench strength and to boost employee retention. What has worked for you in developing managers and leaders?
Advice from the CEOs:
Trying to make a leader doesn’t work. Leadership is a trait, not a skill. Leaders can arise from anywhere within the organization. An effective CEO recognizes this and works with both the leaders and the managers, whatever their position.
The Gallup Organization found that exceptional managers and exceptional leaders are not often the same people. Usually, the best managers are people who excel at bringing out the best in their employees, but may not be either visionary or strategic thinkers. Leaders, on the other hand are those to whom others look to for guidance and direction. Good leaders know how to identify and delegate to good managers.
Identify and develop strengths within your people; don’t try to fix weaknesses.
Gallup found that talented people have identified and developed their strengths. Instead of fixing weaknesses they find ways to work around weaknesses so that they are not harmed by them.
Use informal mentoring. Assign mentors to employees, and include cross-departmental mentor assignment to extend skills development, as well as managerial and leadership development.
Ask mentors to report progress to the CEO on occasional basis.
As you develop your talent pipeline, track the number of employees added to the pipeline per year as a key company metric. As an additional metric, look at the number of individuals in your pipeline compared with the number that you believe you need to fill future needs.
Situation: A company has a long-standing relationship with key partner which has become strained for the last 9 months due to a combination of conditions. The partner’s Board recently terminated their CEO and their management is now in flux. Is there an opportunity to reestablish the old relationship by approaching the partner’s Board and how would you go about reestablishing this key partner relationship?
Advice from the CEOs:
At this point, the Board of the partner is likely focused on selecting a successor to the CEO, and dealing with internal matters in the interim. It may not be timely to approach them now, as they may dismiss your entreaty as a distraction.
If this tactic is to work, you will need a champion within the partner to promote reestablishment of the relationship. Try to identify such a person and approach them individually instead of approaching the full Board. The champion may be a Board member or someone with whom the Board has a strong relationship. This carries less risk than approaching the full Board. If the champion is not receptive, your likelihood of success with the full Board is slim.
Is there a past President or senior executive of the partner company with whom you have very good relations? An individual like this can act as a quasi-third party to help you to reestablish relationships with the Board or key management of the partner company.
Because of the risk involved, it may be best to do this quietly through a party whom the potential champion will respect and listen to, and take the lead from the champion if this individual is supportive of your cause.
Situation: A company has two businesses in different locations serving different sets of customers in two separate markets. The CEO is evaluating whether it makes more sense to have one umbrella web site with pages for each of the two businesses, or to create two complete web sites with different URLs. How many web sites should a small business have, and why?
Advice from the CEOs:
The first question is whether you call both businesses the same or different names. Many small companies have separate businesses at different sites, and just differentiate the businesses through division names. Moreover, because you use the same company name for both businesses, you want to make it easy for customers to find your web sites. This argues for at least a single splash page, listed under your current company URL.
There are many corporations with diverse, unrelated businesses. Generally, these corporations don’t have any problem having a general web site, with separate links to the individual division web sites where customers and partners can drill down to detail specific to each division. The advantage to this strategy is that by having one corporate site, the larger entity strengthens its own market presence.
Given that the advice of the group is to have a single splash page how do you construct it?
You want to prominently feature your company name on the splash page, but not to include much detail. Maybe just an overall positioning message that expresses your core values or a distinctive visual that shows what you do.
On the splash page, create two links with distinctive pictures and names that enable your customer to easily go to the side of your business that interests them.
Situation: A company has a board which is uncomfortable with strategic issues. Faced with a strategic decision, they gravitate quickly to tactical issues. What can you do to increase the Board’s strategic focus?
Advice from the CEOs:
Change the focus of your Board meetings.
Change the agenda of Board meetings. Start with a review of the Strategic Plan and progress toward meeting the objectives of the Plan. Over time, input to the Plan grows as Board members become more comfortable with the strategic issues addressed in the Plan.
Develop a Board Charter and annual objectives for the Board as a whole.
If you have an individual on the Board who models or nearly models the behavior that you wish to see in the full Board, ask this individual chair a Board subcommittee to work on the Charter. Devote time at Board meeting to discussion of the subcommittee’s recommendations.
Develop annual objectives for the Board, including both global objectives and specifically how you want individual members to contribute. Outline your most important expectations of the Board, what you need from them, and ask them to develop objectives to meet these needs and expectations.
Start to proactively educate your Board on how they can be most helpful to the company.
Gather benchmarking data from similar companies. Educate the Board on best Board practices.
Look at the best performing companies in your industry – preferably organizations that do not compete directly with you – and ask to attend their Board meetings as a guest. You may want to take one of your own Board members along. Look for practices that will augment your meetings.
Augment the Board with individuals who will help to steer it toward the strategic focus.
As you begin to bring the right talent to the Board, recommend the creation of Board subcommittees to work on key strategic areas. At meetings, after the Strategic Plan update, the Subcommittees can formally present their updates to the Board for discussion and consideration. Choice of subcommittee chairs is important to success.
Situation: An organization that provides an online network for senior financial executives has an immense amount of content on its web portal. To improve the user experience of their target audience, they want to simplify access to this knowledge. How do you simplify access to knowledge?
Advice from John Kogan:
We have a rich portal with an immense amount of content potentially valuable to senior corporate finance[K1] executives. We have many ways to access this content – perhaps too many. Our objective is to get the highest quality answers in front of the user with the least effort on their part. Google has done a very good job of pulling the best content to the top given a million possibilities to each query. If we can do this, we become the Google of finance and accounting!
Most people know what they want when they come to a site. We have started by creating a clean user experience to allow them that good “line of sight” to what they want.
Our objective is to help the user identify the right content with the smallest number of queries. From the user perspective, exposing the wrong content is a waste of time. We want to show them high quality, compelling content which directly addresses their need.
To develop quality content, you must have an open mind. It’s not about what we want to say, but understanding the user’s needs and addressing these. You have to be guided by the data to tell you what’s happening on the site and what the user wants to see, and then provide them relevant information.
Achieving this means that we must find people who are smarter than us in these areas and gain their input. In the end, your company is no better than the ideas that you can either dream up or gather from others. We constantly seek fresh perspectives from investors, advisors, users and potential users.
Finally, you must take action on the data you gather. Too many companies suffer from information paralysis. The solution is Vision plus Will plus Doing it!