Situation: A CEO’s company has experienced margin erosion due to designs that did not transfer well to manufacturing, and inefficiencies in the transfer process between design and manufacturing engineering. He wants to transform the culture without losing technical performance while meeting cost targets and delivery timelines. How do you improve internal processes and procedures?
Advice from the CEOs:
Reinventing the culture of a workforce is an organizational design challenge.
The heart of the challenge is understanding the motivations and desires of the individuals involved – particularly the natural leaders within the groups.
Learn this is by speaking with them one-on-one, either as the CEO, or through individuals with whom they will be open and trusting.
Once their emotional drivers are understood, design accountability and incentive solutions that will align their personal reliability and accountability drivers with their emotional drivers.
Tailor the language of communication with the organization so that it responds to the emotional triggers discovered during the 1-on-1s. For example, if there is a negative reaction to sales within the engineering teams, use a different term like client development.
Expose the designers to the “hot seat” that gets created when their designs produce manufacturing challenges. The objective is for the designer to see the manufacturing group as their “customer.”
Involve manufacturing engineering in design architecture meetings. Do this early in the process so that they can communicate the framework and constraints under which manufacturing occurs and suggest options that will ease manufacturability.
Shift from individual to team recognition on projects. Instead of recognizing the contributions of the design component or the manufacturing component, recognize the contributions of the team of design and manufacturing engineers that produced a project on time, on budget, with good early reliability.
To kick off the new process:
Identify some of the waste targets.
Involve individuals who are known to be early adopters.
Have them look at the problem, develop and implement a solution.
Deliver ample recognition/rewards to these individuals.
Next use these people to mentor the next level of 2nd
Situation: A CEO is concerned that the current management team is not mature enough to support planned growth. Sales skills are necessary to start an office, but there is a wide range of business acumen and people skills among the managers. How do you develop current managers to support growth?
Advice from the CEOs:
Company policy requires manager candidates to demonstrate competence in at least three of five areas: sales, technical skills, customer management, customer management, and business acumen. A coaching or mentoring process from senior management would be beneficial.
A minimum number of clients is required to start an office. There are important differences in the skills needed to grow and sustain an office. More evaluation of the managerial skills of manager candidates will help.
Another CEO shared story of a regional office with a manager who was technically competent but had poor business development skills. This created a growth issue. Clear, mutually agreed upon, written goals helped. Office growth requires good administrative performance as well as technical or sales skills.
Frequent group meetings with managers and a deliberate agenda help. There is merit in allowing the field people to contribute to the agenda, having a “round table” type of review, and peer dialogue. In addition to current individual weekly telephone conversations and quarterly operations reviews, there is an opportunity to modify the format.
Sometimes there is a double loss in taking a good individual contributor and making them a poor manager. For example, of a good salesperson may turn out to be a bad sales manager. The transition may not play to the person’s strength. A more rigorous selection process will help.
Another CEO shared a story of one of his plant managers who reached the limits of his competency and could not continue to grow the plant. He was moved to a support position and a new plant manager was hired. The former manager found new satisfaction in the support role and was successful sharing his knowledge and skill with the new manager and a broader audience within the company.
Situation: A CEO is concerned that her #2 is being challenged by others in the company. An option is to hire a technical project manager; someone who carries the CEO’s authority and who can get things done. What are the obstacles to achieving this? How do you boost company morale?
Advice from the CEOs:
The technical project manager must have a non-threatening role – they shouldn’t challenge the technical skills of the developers. The role is to oversee schedules, progress, and to resolve barriers – both technical and personal. The job is to get things back into shape.
While the business involves highly technical software, operationally it is people centered, not software centered. People centered means a team that collaborates and supports one-another. The important questions are:
Where do the needed people skills come from?
How do the model and reality transition to a people centered business?
Look for someone who can nurture talent. People skills are more important for this role than technical skills, with the caveat that individual must be able to understand technical challenges.
An option is a 3rd party within company to straighten this out.
“COO” Responsible for Technical Direction – title is important because it conveys respect.
The CEO’s voice and ears.
Run weekly meetings and is the go-to person when the CEO us traveling.
The focus is to manage the primadonnas and keep them focused on their jobs instead of on interpersonal conflicts.
This role focuses inwardly on company vs. the CEO who focuses outward on the broader vision, key stakeholders, etc.
The bottom line – this is your company, your vision. Make it work. The task is teaching maturity – learning to give rather than worrying about making a name for themselves.
Have regular lunches with each of the developers and have frank conversations with them. What’s up and what’s wrong? Listen and let them air their concerns. Talk them through these concerns, but make sure that they understand that the CEO sets the direction both for the company and the boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behavior within the company.
Situation: The CEO of a small technical company is in the process of handing off responsibilities to a new President who lives in another state. The CEO and President have known each other for a long time and have a strong relationship. The CEO will hand off several key responsibilities immediately, while retaining financial and HR because of the President’s location. How do you transition to new management?
Advice from the CEOs:
Most of the current hand-off plan concerns non-technical areas. The next logical area to delegate is Customer Support.
Establish a trigger process for new requests for support that keeps key parties informed and meets customer needs on a timely basis.
Think about bumping up Customer Support to a more proactive Customer Relations function. This is important during economic downturns when trade show attendance is low.
Next in line are Installation and Installation Planning, since the new President will already have Installation Support.
Think about Technical Support. This could be combined with Customer Support and makes sense because many customer support questions come through technical support.
Beef up the financial function to support future growth. Growth brings new complexities into the picture. Consider handing this off to a part time professional who can provide regular updates of the company’s financials. A professional can also look at the structure of the books and suggest changes that will provide more insight into company operations, opportunities for savings, and sources of funding to support planned growth.
A founder CEO is faced with two options – either selling his company or buying
a complimentary company. The acquisition would fulfill his dream as CEO, but he
is concerned both about the synergy between the two entities and his ability to
manage the combined company. Should he sell, or buy the other company?
from the CEOs:
Given these concerns approach the
purchase opportunity skeptically. Be more prepared to say no than yes.
In evaluating his ability to run a
larger operation, the CEO should objectively assess his own abilities.
A good CEO is not a Superman. A good CEO
creates a viable business model and vision and hires a good team to bring that
model to reality.
Consider past accomplishments. In an
industry where nobody makes money the CEO has created a business model that is
sustainable, highly profitable, and technically superior. The only thing lacking
is size in terms of revenue.
The new opportunity – on the right terms
– can launch the company from dominance in a niche to dominance in a
significantly larger industry.
Assess the new opportunity both as a
technical and cultural match. If there is a good cultural match:
Fewer things must go right to add value.
The purchase provides a channel to a
The acquisition will rapidly speed company
The biggest concern will be the time to
manage both entities.
The most important factor will be the
chemistry between the two company teams. If the chemistry is good, the
combination offers reasonable assurance that the two teams will complement each
Look at the purchase as an opportunity to
build a win-win with enduring value.
In considering outside investors to
support the acquisition, be cautious about financial partners and the conditions
behind each financing option.
Situation: A company’s clients are demanding increasingly faster response times, particularly in areas that historically have not been considered mission critical. Clients also want faster answers to technical questions. Is this a common occurrence, and would you adjust pricing in response? How do you handle demands for faster delivery?
Advice from the CEOs:
If clients are demanding faster delivery, it’s entirely reasonable to tier your rates for different levels of service and delivery. Create cost / ROI breakdowns for different options, and let your clients make a business decision about the level of responsiveness that they need.
When brining on new clients, do a worst case down time analysis for the prospect as part of your evaluation process, then provide price options and let the prospect evaluate what is important to them. This is similar to different price / deductible levels with health or car insurance.
You will need to educate your current client base on what you are doing for them, and when they are reaching the upper levels of service provision under their current contract.
When you provide remote service, communicate what you have done.
Email individualized update reports to client contacts.
When you meet clients face to face, have a printout of service provided and toot your own horn about your service and delivery.
Be aware of the needs of clients who have distributed locations across time zones. A two-hour response time on the West Coast at 8:00 in the morning, translates to a half day for an East Coast location because they can’t call you until 11:00am Eastern time.
Interview with Anju Bajaj, CEO, Zuna Infotech, Inc.
Situation: The US economy is slowly trying to get back on its feet, but many potential obstacles remain. In the mid-west, there is good talent with deep enterprise-level IT experience, and lots of new young talent looking for positions. How can private business help to retool the workforce and boost employment?
Advice from Anju Bajaj:
Working in IT services to provide end-to-end technology solutions, we have found highly skilled talent in the American Midwest. In recent years, many seasoned IT professionals have lost their jobs as Midwestern companies downsized. These individuals have deep enterprise level IT skills, but may not be up to speed with the latest technologies. There are also many brilliant young people available who have good web-based technology skills, but no experience in legacy systems or the working of complex enterprises. Our focus is on cross-training both groups as they collaborate to build IT solutions for our customers.
We have found that by organizing these two groups into small teams, guided by a lead who knows both web-based and legacy systems, we can leverage their individual strengths to cross-train each other. It turns out that both sets of workers are smart, capable and, in live project settings, collaborate and acquire technical skills and domain knowledge relatively quickly.
The bigger and more subtle challenge is teaching younger workers about business processes. Each process must fit the workflow so that a process change in one area doesn’t produce difficulties in other areas. For this, you need to have people with deep expertise in functional and domain disciplines as well as technical experts. By teaming talent, we can produce functional experts who understand all areas. We have found that in three to six months of working together, about 25% of team members reach almost guru status; while the remaining 75% have become quite skilled.
Like most leading service providers, we at Zuna Infotech also build capability through our Centers of Excellence. We focus on developing practices within different industry verticals. With this comes knowledge and structure which we can then pass on through train-the-trainer programs.
We have been inspired by the desire to help keep US workers working while retooling their skills. The results that we’ve found to date have been very encouraging. We hope that this can provide a model for other companies.
Situation: Despite high unemployment, a company is finding it difficult to attract qualified candidates for technical positions. Many applicants don’t possess the requisite skills, and recent graduates aren’t responding to job posts. What works best attracting good candidates for open positions?
Advice of the Forum:
There is a wide array of specialized online resources to help you find qualified candidates. As an example, for tech candidates, try DICE.com. For a reasonable cost, you can post position on DICE.com or get employer access to the database and search it yourself using key words.
Better results come through networking with vendors, suppliers and customers to identify currently employed and highly qualified candidates. This should be regular company practice.
It is feasible to hire nationally and to relocate. As long as the employees and young and not invested, relocation expenses are not severe, and the Bay Area is appealing to young workers.
For distant candidates, companies frequently use an initial telephone interview, and then bring qualified candidates to the office for a face-to-face 2nd interview.
Push current employees for referrals. Give them a reward for successful hires that stay with the Company for a pre-set time period.
One company pays $5-10K for referred employees who stay with the company for 1 year. This is inexpensive in comparison with recruiter costs.
There are some highly targeted recruiters in Silicon Valley who specialize in technology positions. Get to know these companies. They may already have candidates for your positions.
A number of companies have had success with semester or summer interns from local colleges and graduate schools. Current students are highly aware of the challenges finding a job once they graduate, and unemployment among recent graduates is very high.
Key Words: Human Resources, Candidate, Technical, Applicant, Job Post, Networking, DICE.com, Relocate, Referral, Recruiter, Intern