Situation: A CEO faces challenges with clients. The first is vague customer specs because they don’t understand the product. Second is misunderstandings as to timelines. Third is insistence on strict timelines while simultaneously demanding revisions to previous work. How do you add more discipline to quotes and pricing?
Advice from the CEOs:
Is the company’s technology strategy aligned with its capabilities? Currently the company is trying to build advanced solutions in multiple international markets with a small staff. There does not seem to be the technology or development discipline to convert current capabilities into a sustainable market advantage.
For near term focus, because of commitments and milestone payments due from the key customers, focus resources on finishing the last piece of these projects. Once this is done, step back. Look at options and determine the company’s technology strategy moving forward.
The key challenge is to define ONE beachhead on which the company will focus and which they can dominate. The objective is to leverage existing engineering creativity to create a sustainable competitive advantage.
As this exercise is designed, start with a clean slate. Don’t burden the process with a lot of restrictive assumptions. Consider using an outside facilitator to help facilitate this process.
Until this exercise is completed does it really make sense to seek additional work or to commit the company to the next phases with current customers?
Once the company has selected and committed to a technology strategy, the decision process becomes different.
The objective is to develop laser-like focus on the technology. Minimize distracting the team with other opportunities.
It may be OK to lose money on development projects if this work will significantly impact or accelerate the development of the company’s core technology.
How does the company justify asking for payment for development for future projects?
First, determine and clearly state the company’s technology strategy. Evaluate all future development projects and decisions in terms of their alignment with this strategy.
Second, if a particular project is completely aligned with the technology strategy, the company may waive the requirement of payment for development. This, ideally, will be the only exception.
Ask for a limited time/scope project to jump start and define new projects. This provides proof of company capabilities and establishes its credibility.
If is it necessary to negotiate or bid, start high and bargain down to but not below the best estimate of the cost of development.
Remember that deciding what NOT to do or quote is often harder, but just as critical, as deciding what to quote.
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 company has had one primary focus for the last few years. They are now developing another capability which takes significant attention from the CEO. How do you balance multiple foci, while maintaining a balance with family life? How do you balance multiple businesses?
Advice from the CEOs:
Find people you trust and delegate – ask them for help. Give them lots of leeway – just ask for updates.
Prioritize your weeks – big boulders and small rocks – decide weekly how you will focus. A week is a good planning time frame.
Identify and come to grips with your situation – the brutal facts – this will help you to prioritize.
Set boundaries based on time, relationships, priority – have realistic expectations of what you can accomplish. Set others’ expectations on when you will respond to their calls, emails, etc.
Compartmentalize your time for full concentration and focus. Focus on one thing at a time instead of multi-tasking.
Eliminate non-value added “stuff.”
Avoid letting others impose their schedules onto yours.
Use exercise time to refresh your endorphins, clear your head and give you time to reflect on priorities.
Situation: A company wants to execute a strategic shift in direction – taking it into a new business which will diversify its offering to customers. The CEO needs to assure that everyone is on-board to both speed the shift and minimize cost. What are the keys to successful strategic change?
Advice from the CEOs:
Be front and center with your vision. State the vision clearly, in terms that everyone will understand. Focus on the benefits of the change for the company and employees and be realistic about the challenges involved.
Be enthusiastic. This is critical to all change efforts. Be cheerleader as well as leader.
Plan ahead and begin to communicate well in advance of the anticipated change. Plant seeds and encourage the team to generate options or solutions. Give all levels of the organization the opportunity to become involved and participate in both design and implementation of the change.
Be consistent in messaging and support across the team. Don’t vacillate or promise what you can’t deliver. Employees will watch for the presence or absence of consistency. If it’s absent, they won’t join in.
Conduct scenario analyses. This enables you to try out different futures and implementation options.
Identify critical issues. Look at possible results – first consider the “most likely”, then “best” and “worst” possible outcomes. Considering best and worst generates new alternatives, and improves the perspective on the most likely outcome.
Conduct visioning exercises. Create a graphic vision of possible futures.
This increases group participation and sparks creativity.
It improves group function, thereby enhancing results.
Visual representation is more memorable than standard bullets and lists.
Special thanks to Jan Richards of J G Richards Consulting – jgrichardsresults.com – for her insight on this topic.
Situation: The CEO typically works long hours and frequent weekends. This taxes family life and has resulted in neglect of activities that were previously enjoyed. How do other CEOs maintain a healthy work-life balance?
Advice from the CEOs:
Life is more than work. Just the fact of your asking this question indicates that you already know that too much focus on work is not good for you.
Develop and devote time to your hobbies. The CEO and engineers in one company developed a company robotics club, and even participate in robotic competitions. This has a number of benefits:
It provides fun away from work while keeping their creative engineering skills sharp;
In the process of competing, they meet and form relationships with potential business partners and customers;
It builds camaraderie and cohesiveness within the team;
They have the opportunity to involve their kids in this activity, and
They translate this into a public service by assisting local schools who have their own robotics clubs.
Regular exercise, particularly with a group, helps you to be more effective at work. This is supported by substantial objective research.
Involve other people – friends and family – in your hobby or exercise activity – it will help to both strengthen relationships and resist distractions.
To assure that this becomes part of your life, put it on the calendar and don’t let other priorities displace it.
Learn to say “no” to things that would displace this activity.