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 and her staff are struggling with a difficult employee. This individual fails to send invoices on a timely basis, doesn’t provide required reports to management, and doesn’t return vendor calls. The CEO has spoken to the employee, who acknowledges the issues but then rapidly defaults to old habits. How do you manage a difficult employee?
Advice from the CEOs:
Ask for specific weekly/biweekly AP/AR reports, and be very clear as to everything that this should cover as well as the required deadlines. Make it clear that these deadlines are mandatory and that there will be disciplinary consequences for failure either to meet the deadlines or to create the report as specified. Address issues with timely mailing of invoices and timely return of vendor calls the same way. Make all three standard operating procedure.
This is not an at-will employee so assure that there is very good and complete documentation over a period of time to demonstrate that the employee is not meeting required job responsibilities.
Tell the employee that he has 90 days to demonstrate that he can consistently meet required responsibilities, and that there will be a retain or termination decision at the end of this period.
Update policies that are not being following so that they are clear.
Check with a human resources expert for advice on what needs to be done. Regulations are shifting, so this will assure that the company is following regulatory requirements.
If the final decision is to retain this employee, adjust responsibilities to mitigate potential future damage.
Given the current challenges, why is this employee’s behavior being tolerated? What message is this sending to other employees?
Situation: A CEO wants to create new markets outside the US. They have investigated options and locations and are starting to plan. One question is how long it will take to start seeing results, so that they budget accordingly. How do you build international sales?
Advice from the CEOs:
Decision timelines internationally are longer than they are in the US. For example, in Europe timelines are easily twice as long. This means that new entrants must budget for a sustained effort.
It took another company three years to develop traction in Europe. They have an office in Germany, but most new sales are coming from Eastern Europe. After three years their European operation is now break-even.
International markets, especially in Europe, can be very conservative. Job security and maintaining cash flow are the focus.
Labor laws encourage companies to do things themselves rather than outsource. The result is that a new entrant will face competition from internal departments of potential prospects.
In European the emphasis is not growth, but on conservative steady operation. Growth tends to come from acquisition.
Sales pitches should be tweaked for international audiences. For example, highlight reduced need for additional personnel to manage the systems, fewer breakdowns and glitches, and the ability to count on seasoned outside expertise to quickly address complications.
Relationship selling is very important internationally. Sales and tech support are best provided, and in some cases required to be provided in the local language.
In Europe, Italy can be an important lever to sales with the right partner. Italian companies can be excellent at marketing and can jump-start European sales. This will be a very personal relationship.
Situation: Start-ups and early-stage enterprises are typically both resource and talent constrained. The CEO of a start-up asks how others successfully outsourced infrastructure cost effectively and when they were early-stage so that they could focus on critical success factors and improve their opportunity to succeed. How do small companies outsource infrastructure?
Advice from the CEOs:
In the early stages of company development, outsource everything possible and focus our efforts only on the key functions.
In order to focus on the most important things first, decide what must be accomplished and when. Set priorities, establish key milestones and create a timeline to measure achievement. Celebrate your successes!
Identify the most important strategic foci within your business model and outsource everything else.
For example, use outside data centers instead of developing these yourself.
With the increase in Cloud-based options, early stage companies can do without the IT infrastructure that they used to need. Just be careful to safeguard your intellectual property!
Attend relevant meetings and functions to learn about existing and available capabilities. Look for local networking opportunities relevant to your market.
Incubator sites have developed in a number of high tech centers. These are designed to cover infrastructure needs at a reasonable cost so that founders can focus on product and service development.
Hire a virtual assistant – you can find these locally using a Google search.
Take advantage of lower cost labor and enlist younger, less experienced labor to manage databases and clean records.
Set up a wiki for information. This exchange is free and you can tailor it to your needs. It is permission-based; you can find it at pbwiki.com.
Situation: A company has a business relationship with another firm. The relationship involves co-development of technology as well as marketing and other support. Portions of the relationship have worked, however, the other firm has not kept its part of the bargain in terms of marketing and support promised. What is the best way to approach the other firm to resolve this situation? Is it time to change horses?
Advice from the CEOs:
Have you have clearly communicated to the firm both what you are pleased with about the relationship as well as your level of dissatisfaction regarding lack of marketing and other support promise? To whom has this been communicated? Are you sure that your message has gone all of the way to the top?
Do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis on the current arrangement and alternatives available to you to support your trade-off analysis before taking action.
Present a marketing option that will address the situation and ask whether the firm will support it as previously agreed.
If they say yes, have a contract ready for them to sign.
Negotiate other key items at same time.
Be sure to involve all parties on your side in the preparation, including the individual(s) who made the introductions that led to the relationship. Additional heads can bring more insight into the options that the firm and relationship offers. Bring the key parties involved to the negotiation, and be sure to prep them in advance.
Business relationships should be based on clearly stated deliverables and timelines. If deliverables are missed then it is time to make a business decision – either repair the situation or part ways.
Situation: A company that has been in business for several generations has been approached by a government official with an unexpected regulatory requirement and a stringent timeline for compliance. This was completely unexpected and it will be disruptive to comply. How do you respond to a regulatory wild card?
Approach the agency and negotiate an extension of the deadline, or a series of steps that will bring you into compliance but under conditions so that compliance does not disrupt your business and workload.
Dig to determine the ultimate reason behind this development. Is it a neighborhood evolution issue where new neighbors want you or your business out of the way? If so, is there a win-win alternative that gives you a new or better location in exchange for moving.
Seek legal assistance – local lawyers may be knowledgeable of the officials involved or their superiors, and will know the language to use to ask for the leeway that you require.
Circle the problem from every angle – look for other city contacts that can assist.
Trade a tax concession for compliance – particularly if the issue is a long-standing situation that has just now been brought forward.
Look for a way to turn the problem into an opportunity by solving the problem uniquely in a way that favors you.
Consider asking them to help solve the problem.
Do NOT respond with an attack. Local officials can be in place for a long time and may hold a grudge.
Situation: A company has developed and shipped equipment that puts it into a new market. They can continue to pursue this direction or make a significant shift that will open up a larger opportunity. What are the most important considerations to this decision?
Advice from the CEOs:
There are a number of points that you need to clarify before making this decision:
What is the magnitude of difference between the two opportunities?
How much of a shift in technology is required to make the jump to the larger segment?
How much of the expertise to make this shift do you have in-house, and how much must you bring in, acquire or develop through partnerships?
What is your most likely exit strategy and how will each opportunity impact it?
Are you being realistic in your ability to meet development timelines?
If you don’t have deep expertise in the area that you want to develop, the answer is most likely yes. If you do you can often beat your initial estimates.
If the shift includes both there is risk that you will underestimate the time required to develop both the prototype and to turn the prototype into production quality technology.
If your ultimate objective is to sell the company, be aware that selling any company can be tricky, and you may not be able to sell the company for the value that you need to support yourself after the sale.
Study other companies in your geography and market, and determine both the price that they received for their companies and how they positioned their companies for sale.
As an alternative to selling, consider hiring a general manager to run the company. This can free you to concentrate on your passion and also increase the value of the company if you decide to sell at a future date.