Situation: A CEO and his COO find it difficult to focus on core tasks when business is booming and everyone is busy. The company is small but has been very successful. However, the pressure of simultaneously attending to key customer relationships, training new people, and formulating plans is overwhelming. How do you stay focused when it’s busy?
from the CEOs:
If the CEO and COO are doing a mix of corporate and project tasks, the first step is to delegate so that top staff focus on strategic areas rather than execution.
Over the next week, keep a record of what the CEO and COO are doing. At the end of the week sit down and determine which activities were corporate activities, and which should have been delegated to staff.
As an example, training of new personnel should be a key role of someone else. The CEO and COO will be involved, but only tangentially. The bulk of onboarding should be handled by staff.
Similarly,restrict sales activity of the CEO and COO to high level discussions and decisions.The rest should be handled by sales staff.
What must the CEO and COO be involved in? Intellectual property development, high level decisions about new service offerings, high level decisions on business expansion opportunities, and occasional oversight of company operations.
It is important to focus. The first priority should be the company’s principle revenue stream.
The second priority should be new service offerings which are central to efficient delivery of the primary revenue stream.
Meet with top staff and develop a five-year vision. The order of priorities that are developed will determine where to focus.
In the process of developing priorities, ask the following questions:
What do you love and what do you need to love?
Analyze the comparative importance and urgency of each activity of the CEO and COO. Which require top level input, and how much? Which are better delegated to staff?
Situation: A company has multiple locations from which it both sells products and provides services. One location has been in place for several years and produces good revenue but consistently fails to be profitable. The CEO has met with the managers in charge of this location and has set broad objectives to demonstrate a trend toward profitability. However, she is concerned that these objectives won’t be met. How do you manage for profitability?
Advice from the CEOs:
To be effective objectives must be specific, measurable, and timebound. In addition, there must be clear consequences for failing to meet objectives.
If a business is not covering its own costs, there are three alternatives: increase prices, reduce costs, or both.
Calculate the revenue impact of a 1% cross-the-board price increase at the location or across the company. Is this enough to cover the loss? What about a 2% increase? What is required to produce profitability?
Historically, have the location managers been responsible for business results? If not, does it make sense to continue with these managers and to expect different behavior or results?
While the managers may be well-intentioned, do they possess the necessary business skills? Would training or education assist?
Once objectives are set and incentives are changed to make the managers’ pay dependent on profitability, the CEO may be surprised at their ability to comprehend and tackle the situation – with the CEO’s oversight.
How do you change pay and incentives without sending a negative message?
A person who is paid hourly has the incentive to maximize hours worked, not productivity during hours worked. If the manager is shifted to salary at the same level he receives now or lower, with the potential to more than make up the difference through regular incentive bonuses, it becomes easier to direct him to make efficient use of his time.
How do you change the roles and focus of the managers?
The customer development manager is the only one who can impact revenue – by bringing in more business. Bonuses are based on both new business acquired and total revenue received.
The operations manager cannot contribute to revenue within his current responsibilities but can look for places where the cost of operations can be reduced. Bonuses are based on cost savings achieved.
Situation: A growing technology company is faced with several opportunities. The CEO is too busy to devote the time to analyze each of these. In addition, the CEO wants to develop her staff so that they can take on more responsibility and mature into a full organization. How do you choose between opportunities?
Advice from the CEOs:
Everything starts with a strategic plan for the company. Either the CEO or an outside consultant should coordinate a strategic planning session to develop and rank the opportunities facing the company. The ranking exercise is best done as an open departmental or company-wide exercise so that everyone is involved in the process. This helps to build consensus and commitment to the opportunities developed.
Once the opportunities have been identified assign one to each of the employees that you want to develop. Each of the employees will be the champion for that opportunity.
Ask each champion to develop a business case and plan for their opportunity. This will include a development plan and ROI analysis. Allow each champion to access all company resources as they develop their plans. Set a deadline for all champions to complete their plans.
Once the plans have been completed, reconvene the group that participated in the strategic planning session and have the champions pitch their plans to the group. The group will provide feedback and suggestions for each plan. At the end of the session repeat the ranking exercise based on the new information developed and presented.
This will provide a wonderful training opportunity for the champions as well as valuable insight into their talents and potential for future development. In addition. Because the strategic planning sessions will be conducted as a company-wide exercise, they will act as team-building exercises and excite everyone about the potential facing the company.
Situation: A CEO is concerned that there is insufficient fairness and accountability within her company. One manager is paid hourly and the CEO is thinking about shifting this person to salary plus bonus both to put them on par with other mangers and to create more accountability. How do you create accountability?
Advice from the CEOs:
What exactly are you trying to achieve? An operations manager is paid competitively at hourly rates, even compared to salaried employees. The issue is that this person has no responsibility for results as they relate to the P&L. Given this, the group consensus is that it is better to have this person on an incentive program that ties compensation to the performance results that you want.
One objective is that you want this employee to contribute more to planning, strategy or the company’s attempts to develop solutions to the challenges that they face. Have you spoken to the employee about your expectations? Does the employee realize that you want or value their input? Direct communication with the employee is important.
While the employee understands his responsibilities in the operations area, be sure that he is aware that he is also important to the profitability of the company, and managing operational expenses which are contributors to that profitability. Depending upon the individual’s background, he may need training about the links between expenses and the P&L.
Given these factors consider the following options:
Adjust the employee’s compensation by switching from hourly to salary. Make the base livable, but not comfortable, and tie the bonus (which will make the total compensation package comfortable) to the profitability of the business. This will have an immediate effect.
Clearly explain to the employee that you value his creativity and input. Give this person the freedom to contribute and make it clear that his contribution is expected. Early on encourage this and acknowledge contributions in meetings.
You may want to make this person a part owner of the business. This will have a long-term effect.
Situation: A company started small with everyone wearing many hats including the person in charge of HR. They wish to create a more formal HR structure with professional advice, but don’t yet want to hire a full-time HR professional. How do you create HR using outside resources?
Advice from the CEOs:
One company outsources their full HR function. Services include:
Putting records in order and maintaining them.
Developing different hiring packages for different levels of employees.
Keeping the company and employees updated on compliance regulations.
Coordinating on-boarding and training.
There are several national HR and personnel outsourcing companies that can help. Examples include Paychex and ADT. There are also a large number of local providers. Network with your business peers or check out your local Chamber of Commerce to learn who these providers are.
What about training?
Outsourced HR professionals can organize training for formal certifications and some aspects of job skills training.
Training in company culture should be done by company leadership. Outsourced HR can organize schedules for this. The key point is that company leadership is the face of the company and the foundation of company culture. This can’t be effectively outsourced.
In some cases, training can be done via video. Outsourced HR can help to plan and coordinate creation of the videos, and can then schedule video training for new employees.
Have your in-house person join an HR roundtable to embellish their own training.
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.