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
Situation: A company has experienced rapid growth. This is creating stress for the staff and CEO, who finds it difficult to break away from the day to day to focus on strategy. Employees are not keeping pace with the evolving needs of the company and turnover has increased. What have you done to manage rapid growth?
Advice from the CEOs:
The first task is to improve forecasting of business growth, and the infrastructure needed to support this growth. This includes:
Regularly updating your sales and production forecasts.
Updating staff and training plans to meet growth forecasts.
Updating infrastructure and support plans.
Without these, the organization will whipsaw in response to market demands.
Take a critical look at your staff development plans and staff training.
Look at those areas that are most impacted by business growth. Determine whether you have the right managers and support in place.
Evaluate whether you have the right people and whether they have the skills to handle new demands of their positions.
Critically evaluate each now job that you take on. Assure that you have the staff and infrastructure to meet client demands.
Always assure that you deliver on your company’s integrity, reputation and core values.
In addition to addressing immediate needs, look at long-term plans strategically. Ask where you will be in 10 years. Articulate this vision in detail, and drive plans down through the organization. Make sure that everyone is on the same page, aligned with the same values, aiming at the same targets.
Also differentiate your vision from your mission:
You vision is a 10 year time frame, not one year.
Your mission is what you will be doing this year and in 5 years – the activities you will undertake to realize your longer term vision.
Fine tune your vision and mission and drive these through the organization. This will give you clarity on how you wish to do business and will help you to make hard choices as you handle rapid growth.
Situation: A company has been struggling to meet objectives. Financials aren’t completed on schedule, limiting the ability of the CEO to manage by the numbers. Milestones are behind schedule. The CEO was advised to consider stringent measures, including financial penalties, to force compliance to performance goals. In your experience, are negative incentives effective?
Advice from the CEOs:
There are at least three potential roots of this problem. Have your hired people who lack the skills to perform their functions? Is there a clear plan and set of priorities in place? Or are you as the CEO being consistent in your demands of the team? You need all three to meet your objectives.
Be sure to set SMART objectives: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. In addition, make sure that everyone understands how their performance impacts not only the plans of the company, but their salary and benefits as an employee. Be sure that everyone has the resources to complete what is expected of them.
Be careful if you are considering financial penalties, and negative incentives.
Many studies have shown that positive reinforcement is more effective than negative reinforcement.
If an employee is chronically behind on deliverables, ask what is happening and why they are not getting the job done.
If the response is not satisfactory, and performance doesn’t improve, you are better off terminating the employee than using negative incentives.
Often the question is not one of motivation but one of focus. Focus has to start at the top, and has to be maintained through departmental and team leadership. Make sure that there is proper training in setting and monitoring achievement of objectives throughout your leadership team. It helps if everyone clearly understands what the company is trying to achieve.
Key Words: Objectives, Achievement, Failure, Schedule, Manage, Numbers, Penalties, Compliance, Positive, Negative, Incentive, SMART, Resources, Achievable, Motivation, Focus, Training, Great Game of Business, Jack Stack, Understand
Situation: The environment has become more complex for leaders. Not only must leaders perform classic roles, they must also deal with increased uncertainty and change. How do you build a new leadership paradigm to address ongoing change?
Jorge Titinger’s Advice:
There are three challenges facing leaders today.
First, given that change is constant, what does the next likely settling point look like in your environment look like and how is this different from past settling points?
Everything starts with the people.
Once you determine the likely next settling point, do a capability inventory within your leadership team to determine whether you have the right people to handle the new reality.
Can current members be trained?
Do you need to bring in new talent?
Second, are your processes limiting or enhancing your flexibility?
Do current processes encourage adaptability and cross-functional connection and communication?
If not how will you change them?
Deconstruct/reconstruct all critical processes to make them more agile.
Third, how are you linking desired outcomes with rewards and incentives within the company?
Growth in the past focused on building up infrastructure – adding more people and capacity.
Knowledge management focused on tools and processes to make people more effective. Individualized assessment and reward structures became an obstacle and had to be shifted to emphasize the importance of collaborative versus individualized performance.
Agile leadership and management focuses on reaching outside the boundaries of your own company. To deliver differentiated value suppliers and customers must be included in the exercise. We must reinvent how we engage with suppliers and customers so that they are part of the collaboration.
The agile paradigm focuses on the unspoken needs of suppliers and customers. This takes the conversation beyond the transaction and includes quality, on-time delivery, and other differentiators that are mutually important. It can include competing for your competitors’ suppliers by being a better customer!
Situation: The CEO wants to build the team, identify leaders within the company, and develop managers. What are best practices to develop your staff?
Advice of the CEOs:
A great resource is “First Break All the Rules” by Marcus Buckingham. Among the key findings:
Great leaders are not the same as great managers. Good leaders are outgoing and goal-oriented whereas good managers are people-oriented.
Expecting good leaders to be good managers and vice versa is not effective. Only the exceptional individual exhibits both sets of talents.
The traditional business structure assumes that talented people will want to “move up” the organizational chart. The reality is that some people are very good at a particular level of responsibility, and are happiest with this responsibility.
How do to enhance your team’s leadership and management capabilities?
Evaluate your team for candidates who possess the qualities of leadership or management. Tailor your training to enhance the natural strengths of your candidates.
Draft agreed upon written responsibilities and performance objectives.
Regularly follow up and provide feedback.
Establish trial projects for new candidates that will allow them experience additional responsibility, and allow you to see how well they perform. Make the steps small at first. If they show talent, make successive steps more challenging.
Look at your organizational chart. Does it provide room for both leaders and managers? Does it provide room for the skilled role player who thrives in a particular role? If not, how will you fix it?
Situation: The Company wants to expand its sales force by adding “diamonds in the rough” – hungry individuals motivated by a high commission/low salary opportunity with high total compensation potential. How can they find these individuals?
Advice from the CEOs:
Hire “out of school” and use a good sales assessment tool to evaluate which candidates have the right attitude and skill set to succeed. Create a career path through a lower paid inside sales position to eventual higher paid outside sales position while the individual gets up to speed understanding your technology and as they develop sales skills. This helps to generate revenue to cover costs while developing new sales candidates.
Accept that you will likely experience turnover hiring candidates out of school. High commission sales forces in other industries deal with 85% turnover over 3 years to find “keepers.” This may be a significantly higher level of turn-over than you are used to in other positions.
Look to sales job fairs and Craig’s List for candidates.
Give your current sales people a bonus for referring friends or acquaintances who will stay with you for 6 or 12 months. Pay out theses bonuses over times.
Find a good sales recruiter to find experienced high-producers in industries with a similar product sale.
The appeal to these individuals is a high earnings opportunity combined with the chance to sell a sexy product.
Because these people will already be high earners, you may have to create a draw system so that they do not have to make too great an earnings sacrifice by switching to your Company.