Situation: The CEO of a small but profitable company has a promising employee who she wants to promote to a supervisor role. The challenge is that this employee has limited English. Promoting this individual may upset the current supervisor. Do you promote an employee with limited English?
Advice from the CEOs:
Before making any decisions consider taking the “lead” position in manufacturing short-term instead of promoting or hiring a supervisor.
This will allow you to fully understand the manufacturing operations, as well as any points of art in the operation that can serve as the company’s foundation IP.
To think about the role of supervisor or Plant Manager, visit a Starbuck’s for an hour and watch the Starbucks Manager. This individual will, over the course of the hour, perform all functions within the establishment. This is a good model for a hands-on supervisor for a small operation.
Given the small size of the current operation, look for a more modest role for the position. Instead of Operations Manager perhaps Plant Manager. This will allow the individual time to grow into a larger role as the company grows.
How should the message be delivered to the promising employee with limited English as well as to the current supervisor?
Tell the employee “We like you and think that you have real potential. Would you be interested in an English as a second language course to build your English skills? We’ll pay for the course.” It is important to be enthusiastic and positive with the individual as you have this conversation.
A supplemental alternative is to reimburse the individual’s use of one of the online programs like Babbel or Duolingo that enables learning or improvement of language skills using a mobile phone. These programs are inexpensive and highly effective with diligent practice.
Promoting this individual above the current supervisor may generate a problem. This doesn’t prevent the promotion. Just assure that it is done carefully and be prepared for the current supervisor’s reaction.
When it is timely, instead of promoting this individual immediately, consider offering a temporary lead role for key tasks of increasing levels of responsibility. This will allow time for the individual to prove their merit and capabilities to others over 2-3 months.
Situation: A software company relies on in-house expertise to both position itself and come up with unique solutions to clients’ problems. The CEO wants to significantly scale up the number of clients served per year. The challenge is that it is difficult to find software engineers who are experienced in a wide range of code languages. How do you scale with scarce talent?
Advice from the CEOs:
Start by looking at the load carried by your current employees. Do they have the capacity to significantly increase the number of clients that they serve? Do you have sufficient back-up to serve existing and new clients should something happen to a key employee? It’s one thing to have ambition to expand, but another to assure that you have the capacity to serve both existing and new clients.
Take a close look at your org chart.
What happens and where are the exposures when you double the current service volume? Where will the greatest stresses occur? These are the first areas in which you should start to build redundancy.
From an HR standpoint, you need a leadership development plan that extends down your organization chart. Use the stress analysis just mentioned to identify the areas in greatest need of additional resources and leadership development.
Look for areas where you can off-load current responsibilities to support staff to increase the capacity of your current talent. This increases potential capacity as well as the overall value of the company.
The lack of redundancy may prove to be detrimental to your ability to attract new large clients. Large potential clients and partners will use whatever means they have at their disposal (including stealth visits to your offices by local reps) to vet your organization before they make a commitment to you.
New client and partner relationships are like new product introductions.
A few early adopters will jump on your opportunity.
Many of the most established clients or partners will sit on the sideline to monitor the experience of early adopters.
If you trip in your service delivery early in your scale-up, most of the remaining targets will be slow to support your offering.
Count on the first two years of building additional clientele to be very intensive. It will distract you from many of the functions you perform today, unless you have additional personnel to support this.
Situation: A company has a long-term relationship with a Japanese distributor that is also an investor in the company. Due to time zone differences and language difficulties, communications are very difficult. This leads to significant cost overruns for the company. How do you satisfy a difficult foreign customer?
Advice from the CEOs:
In working with a difficult partner, it is critical to set expectations, establish ground rules and repeat these at the beginning of each conversation or teleconference until it is clear that both sides understand each other. Even at this point, these should be repeated and reinforced any time a new individual is participating in the conversation.
Do you want us to give you (a) our honest answer, or (b) do you want us to tell you what we think you want to hear? – They would be foolish to choose (b).
Preface each critical response with this choice to reinforce the agreement at the beginning of the meeting.
In a situation where you are losing money under a fixed price contract, you may have to have a “Come to Jesus” meeting. During this conversation, you want to understand and establish:
Whether this relationship is profitable for both of us, and
Whether this project is doable by each of us.
Usually this will result in a radical shift in the model.
If it does not they it is better for both if you part ways. You are unlikely to reconcile the situation.
The bottom line is to establish, mutually, whether you can satisfy your partner through your efforts. This is critical to your future with this customer.
If you cannot find an acceptable solution you must abandon the effort.
It makes no sense to take on business that is not profitable to you, even if the revenue is important to plan achievement.
At the current rate, you will not make up the loss in profitability through additional volume.
Situation: A company is rapidly expanding and is considering the pros and cons of domestic versus off-shore expansion. One of the appeals of off-shore expansion is the availability of good talent at lower costs overseas. However there are appealing counterarguments for domestic expansion. What is your experience, and how would you advise this CEO?
Advice from the CEOs:
This is a challenging question. Based on others’ experience, success off-shoring depends on your ability to be disciplined and rigid in your design specs. If this is the case, then off-shoring can work. However, if either you or the partner changes the spec then delays and difficulties result. You have to make sure that the off-shore labor force possesses the skills that you require to successfully complete your projects and that your specs are sufficiently detailed to overcome challenges of language and understanding of usability.
Tightly specify each job that you want to have done off-shore, and develop performance metrics so that shortfalls will become obvious quickly.
Some large technology companies operate off-shore centers not to save costs, but because they actually find better talent overseas. India and China are producing excellent engineers, and given the size of the populations, the top percentile of talent can product a large number of talented people.
Some companies contract through off-shore entities, and tightly integrate the work of off-shore and domestic engineers. This is a perk for the off-shore engineers and helps to produce value.
One large company sends US Indian employees to India for 2-years stints to oversee their Indian operations.
Maintain strict hiring policies for your off-shore operations. Some companies have encountered difficulties when the managers of off-shore entities hired relatives because of family ties as opposed to talent or qualifications.
Over the past five years, the differential in pay for off-shore and domestic talent has shrunk. A large number of companies have found that domestic talent is easier to manage and in many cases is more productive. Further, there are no language challenges and time zone differences make working with domestic talent easier.
Key Words: Expansion, Domestic, Off-shore, Talent, Cost, Design, Spec, Skills, Integration, Hiring, Policy, Language, Time Zone