Situation: A company has a key employee who is a high performer; however the company has not developed a good accountability structure to direct this person. The CEO wants to add additional accountability to cover everyone, both current employees and new people as they are hired. The system should be fair and apply to all. How do you hold high performers accountable?
Advice from the CEOs:
High performing employees are essential assets to a company. They thrive on meeting and exceeding expectations. However they need to recognize and accept accountability for the inevitable mistakes or misjudgments that will occur.
Lay out the challenge, and ask your high performing employee, and this individual’s manager, to help design the system for monitoring accountability around results.
Within position descriptions, include not only the role and expectations within the description, but also expected progressions for development. These should be objective, measurable and based on specific skills or capabilities within the development progression. Gather input from current employees as you create position descriptions, so that they reflect the experience of employees rather than idealized generalities.
Set your expectations for new employees appropriately. Expect perhaps 60% of optimal performance early on. As new employees gain understanding of the company and their roles, coach and expect them to increase their performance over time. Provide training to assist their development.
James Fischer, in Navigating the Growth Curve, argues that expectations, for the CEO, management and employees, change as a company grows from start-up to a large firm. If a company is small, it doesn’t want the same structure or processes required to operate a 250 person company. Too much structure stifles creativity and growth if applied to small, nimble companies. Institute a level of structure appropriate to the size and stage of the company.
Situation: A company plans to implement a new CRM system. They have a project road map and have assigned a manager for the implementation. However, the CEO has concerns because this is the most significant software roll-out that the company has ever attempted. She wants to assure that the roll-out proceeds smoothly, and that and that sales, marketing and customer service functions are not hampered. How do you simplify a firm-wide software roll-out?
Advice from the CEOs:
Focus on company business objectives as you plan and implement the roll-out. Optimize the system to company business objectives, not just what the team wants.
Scope this out as a project management exercise.
Build and test.
Roll the system out to preliminary production and collect feedback on functionality.
Rebuild and test.
Plan and conduct system orientation training.
Set a date for the roll-out.
Don’t immediately roll the new system out company-wide. Conduct an initial implementation with a small scale test team. Make sure that everything works as planned and that day-to-day function is not compromised. From the information that you gather during initial implementation, tweak orientation training so that everyone is comfortable with the new system.
During initial planning sessions to set system objectives, meet first with managers whose teams will be impacted by the roll-out. Managers may not speak freely if their support staff are present.
Have a roll-out celebration and be generous complimenting personnel who have been involved in planning and roll-out.
Situation: A company’s motto is that they serve the customer first. As an unintended consequence company projects get lower priority and action than customer projects. Frequently, the CEO finds that company projects are only half completed. What have you done to make company initiatives a priority? Who do you serve – the customer or the company?
Advice from the CEOs:
This is a great question. Clearly serving the customer has to be top priority. However, you also have to complete company projects, particularly those which are critical to company function or which will enhance your ability to serve your customers.
Define the company as a customer for important projects. Call this “billable hours” to the company and credit them as such on these projects. Accompany this with employee training on how to prioritize “company” versus “customer” projects when priorities conflict. It may take time to work through this, and for the message to sink in.
Add completion of company initiatives to the company kudos list. LInk company award eligibility to completion of company initiatives. For mission critical projects, grant double credit for completion of company projects. Adjustment of incentives will help to get the message across.
In employee communications, include updates on company projects along with customer projects and give equal or greater emphasis as appropriate.
Have you defined your “ideal customer”?
Include internal customers within your definition of ideal customers.
This will help to clarify and prioritize opportunities and shift the mindset.
For mission critical projects hire additional personnel or contractors.
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 long-term employee who recently joined a new church. Based upon the guidance this individual is receiving from their new minister, they have begun to evangelize at work, upsetting both co-workers and clients. Both employees and clients have spoken to the CEO with a request that this behavior be stopped. How do you respond to preaching at work in a compassionate, legal and appropriate manner?
Advice from the CEOs:
You need formal guidelines that are not discriminatory and do not impinge on freedom of speech. Augment the employee handbook – with appropriate legal advice – to specify what is and is not appropriate in communicating strongly held beliefs at work. Use neutral language, addressing political, religious and other strongly-held beliefs. Specify a line that divides appropriate from inappropriate communication. Communicate these guidelines to employees and manage to them.
Conduct internal discussions and training as necessary to communicate to all employees what is and is not appropriate expression of strongly-held beliefs. Emphasize the need to respect the beliefs of all employees. Clearly spell out the line that divides appropriate from inappropriate expression of beliefs.
As situations arise, be aware of the impact that they are having on the team. Address individual situations one-on-one, referring back to the employee handbook and training and discussions that occurred in employee group meetings.
Be particularly careful if you feel it necessary to terminate an employee for repeated violations of company policy in this area. See legal advice to avoid wrongful termination suits.
Situation: A company faces dual challenges – assuring that payments are collected for work done and developing a business model that facilitates growth. How do assure that payments are collected to support your cash flow needs and that employees are focused on growth?
Advice from the CEOs:
It may be that the two problems are closely related. Ask whether your compensation and incentive system is focused on cash flow and growth. If not, you need to change it.
Restructure your compensation and incentive systems to create a direct link between profitability and compensation. Augment this with training. For example, if your engineering team isn’t good at assuring that change order costs are paid by their clients, teach them how to write statements of work to anticipate change requests and to include charges in the SOW. Then tie the team’s compensation to how well team members follow though in assuring that work is properly accounted for, billed, and payment collected.
Create simple procedures that are innate and complementary to team members’ natural behavior. The best way to do this is to involve them in the writing of the procedures.
Give them easy tools that take the guesswork out of negotiating change orders with clients. For example, if a client asks for faster delivery, give them a formula that ties delivery to cost::
Standard Delivery = 8 weeks at Price X
4 Week Delivery = Standard delivery price times Y
2 Week Delivery = Standard delivery price times Z
This turns client demands into a simple economic question – what is expedited delivery worth to you?
Hire a contracts manager to track contracts and change orders with authority to assure that change order costs are being billed.
Create “learning” teams to develop solutions. Allow the teams to speak to each other and to learn each other’s best practices. Supplement this with regular tutorial sessions to bring the whole group up to speed on new technologies.
Situation: A company just hired an individual to fill a key position. The position has a steep learning curve, and requires an on-site presence so the CEO made sure during the interview process to emphasize that he wanted a 3-5 year service commitment. Two days after the new individual started he told the CEO that his wife and child are moving to North Carolina and asked whether he could he work remotely from NC. The CEO said this was not an option. The employee says that he will stay, but the CEO is concerned whether this individual will fulfill his verbal commitment of service. How should the CEO handle this situation going forward?
Advice from the CEOs:
Verbal commitments made during an interview process are difficult to enforce. Further, under California law once you have hired an employee, you cannot fire or let the employee go except for cause – performance or company financial adjustments such as layoffs.
What should the CEO say to the employee at this point about the situation?
Thank him for his honesty. Let him know that if the situation changes you would appreciate knowing as soon as possible. Assure the employee that you will not fire or otherwise penalize him for giving you this notice.
Is there anything else that the CEO can do to protect his training investment?
As the employee moves from training into productive work, make it one of his responsibilities to thoroughly document the position and responsibilities. If he eventually leaves, this may reduce the learning curve of his successor.
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: As a company has grown to multiple sites around the world they have lost some of the culture that originally bound the company together. Many new hires are hired locally by regional managers and don’t have a strong bond to headquarters or the broader company culture. How do you build a unified culture in a company with many geographically diverse sites?
Advice from the CEOs:
Company culture starts with a common set of values. These values should drive everything, from hiring, through on-boarding and training, to performance measurement and evaluations. In a strong company, these values should be reinforced regularly and expressed in the day-to-day behavior and decisions of the company.
Look at how you hire new personnel. Is alignment with company values part of the selection process?
Next, look at your on-boarding and training process. Company values and culture should be thoroughly expressed and reinforced in the training process.
There is no substitute to face-to-face meetings to build shared company values and culture. At least once or twice a year you should host national meetings that bring the regions together. At these meetings company values should be reinforced, there should be business content, and there should also be recreational bonding component to help employees get to know one-another.
Consider an annual reward or recognition trip or special event, and include spouses at company expense. This creates a completely different level of bonding, and spouse involvement communicates a company commitment to the families of the employees.
If you have a large number of locations, you should also have a human resources department. Among the important responsibilities of the HR department will be developing uniform selection criteria, uniform training which includes emphasis on company culture and values, and assistance in planning national or multi-regional meetings.
Situation: A small company has a candidate who seems a great fit for their culture and comes with excellent references. However, this candidate has little experience in their industry. They are struggling to assess which is more important – the quality and character of the person or their experience and skill set? What is your opinion – do you hire for character or skills?
Advice from the CEOs:
Overall, personality, character and values consistent with the firm’s values outweigh skills. However, if the individual needs significant training to attain the skills required for their new role, you must assess the ability of your firm to provide that training. Either that or bring them in at a lower level and let them grow into their eventual role.
If the candidate will fill a business development role, put them across the table from you and others, one-on-one, in a sales role play. Can they sell you on hiring them for the position? If the candidate will have to develop their own leads, make selling you on their ability to do this part of the role-play exercise.
Open up the search to other possible candidates, and assess the current candidate vs. others who may want the position. See if this individual rises to the top in a competition for the position.
Large company experience may not be relevant to the needs of a small firm. Better to find an individual with experience in a firm more similar to your size than with only big company experience.
Key Words: Hire, Candidate, Character, Culture, Skills, Experience, Training, Business Development, Compete, Large, Small