Situation: A CEO senses that employees don’t have his sense of urgency regarding the business. A case in point is responding quickly to new customer inquiries in a competitive market. Too often, he takes over to assure that bids are submitted quickly. How do you get comfortable delegating to staff?
Advice from the CEOs:
Prepare for a meeting with staff by defining the key desired standards in advance.
Initiate the meeting with this message: “We have a company image. This is how we define it.” Work with staff to create standards that define this image.
Agree on standards with the team.
Discuss standards with the team but have them make the decision. Guide the conversation – through questions – to focus on the desired standards. Be open to using the language developed by staff to enhance ownership.
Examples of standards that may apply:
Response time to incoming calls, maximum number of rings before response.
Time to return telephone messages.
Time to return emails.
Invoices completed the day or the order, or whatever is appropriate.
Establish a response regimen – assure that response is professional.
Train all people who pick up the phone.
Assign rotating office days for salespeople with responsibility to answer the phones.
Emphasize the importance of speedy response with an explanation that everyone will understand.
When a customer calls, assume that they are also calling 2-3 other suppliers. The first responder can shape the conversation in favor of their company and offering – for example the company can offer both a solution plus design and logistics assistance.
As first responded, assure that the focus is on the company’s strengths – this puts the competition at an immediate disadvantage.
Enforce and maintain the standards
Once standards are set, make review and updates of performance against standards part of weekly sales meetings. Use large charts to track this.
Create friendly internal competition. Who got the most business last week? Who did the best with incoming calls? Have the team develop competitive goals.
Recognize top performers with $50 – $100 cash award, restaurant certificate, etc. Make it fun!
If “everyone” is supposed to pick up the phone this becomes “nobody” because nobody is responsible for picking up the phone!
Situation: A CEO is considering a new revenue model for his company. The existing model is profitable and stable, but not scalable. A new model, and perhaps additional locations may be needed to add scalability. How do you assess the risks of the model? What steps can be taken to reduce these risks. How to you evaluate a new revenue model?
Advice from the CEOs:
Project both the current and new models on a spreadsheet. What do profitability and return look like over time based on current trends?
Include assumptions about adding new customers within the model. Consider capacity constraints at the present location. Add start-up investment needed for the new model. Does overall profitability increase in the projections and will this adequately cover new customer acquisition costs?
Are performance standards for the current and new models different? Would it make sense to have different teams managing the models? What kind of experience will be required in the people who will build the new business? Account for personnel additions and start-up costs in the financial projections.
Critically evaluate the upfront financial exposure as new clients are signed up for the new model. Consider hybrid options which can be added to customer contracts. Examples include:
A variable flat fee model. Customers contracted under the new model will receive services up to X hours per month for the flat fee, with hours over this billed separately.
How do current time and materials rates compare with industry averages? If they are high, it is not necessary to quote existing rates to new model customers. Create a new rate schedule just for new model customers. Taking a lower rate under the flat fee model will not cover all costs and profit; however, it will at least partially cover utilization exposure and a higher rate for additional hours can make up the difference.
During the ramp up period of a new operating unit, client choice is critical. If, based on observations and responses in client questionnaires, heavy early work is anticipated, charge an initial set-up fee. Alternatively, ask for a deposit of 3-4 months to cover set-up exposure. If either at the end of the service contract or after a burn-in period some or all these funds have not been used, the client is refunded the unused deposit. This can both cover early exposure and make it easier to sign new customers for the new unit.
Draft contracts under the new model to include one-time fees in the case of certain events – e.g., a server crashes in the first 9 months of the contract, or an unplanned move within the first X months of the contract. These resemble the exceptions written into standard insurance policies. They can be explained as necessary because standard contract pricing is competitive and does not anticipate these events within the first X months of the contract. Most companies will bet against this risk. Those who do not may know something about their situation that they are not revealing. In the latter case you will be alerted to potential exposure.
Consider a variable declining rate for the new model. The contract price is X for the first year, and, assuming there are no hiccups, will be reduced by some percent in following years. This resembles auto insurance discounts for long term policy holders with good driver records.
Adding hybrid options may make it easier to sign new clients while covering cost exposure. The view of the CEOs is that most clients will underestimate their IT labor needs and will bet against their true level of risk. Provided that the new model delivers the same service that supports the company’s reputation, once clients experience the company’s service, they will be hooked.
An additional benefit to hybrid options may be faster client acquisition ramps within new satellite units and faster attainment of positive ROI.
Situation: The CEO of a company has a niece working in the company on a project basis. The niece is has helped to develop a strategic plan and has performed well. She now wants to move from part-time to full-time and to receive a raise. Does it make sense to promote a relative?
Advice from the CEOs:
If you are pleased with the individual’s work, don’t worry about the family relationship – go ahead and hire her. This is especially true if she can play a significant role developing the strategic plan and help you to improve your sales organization.
Give this individual a set of responsibilities, a budget, and a time line to do the jobs you want done.
Evaluate her performance just as you would any other employee. Don’t compromise your standards for a relative.
This may offer the opportunity to improve your sales. Have your niece work and travel with your sales people as a systems engineer. This will allow her the opportunity to learn your products, customers, and process – and will provide you with valuable input on how your sales team is performing.
You are really addressing two problems:
What is your niece’s passion? Don’t make work for her simply because she’s related and available. The work must serve your and the company’s needs.
Do you have holes in your business? Put your best people on these If your niece is one of these people, then give her a chance but don’t play favorites.
Situation: A CEO notes that the company’s employees surf the Internet during work – some excessively so. The CEO has visited other companies and noted very different behavior around surfing. Does your company monitor or manage employee Internet use? How do you manage Internet use by employees?
Advice from the CEOs:
The first question to ask is whether your company culture allows or does not allow surfing during work.
Do you want it to or not?
Based on your desires for the company’s culture, set a policy that works for you.
If you want to more tightly control surfing, look at Surf Control software which allows you to create surfing rules, and allocate time allowed to surf.
Create and communicate your policy. It’s OK to let employees know that you’re not comfortable with what you’ve observed and that it’s time to set boundaries.
Act quickly, keep the message positive – for now – but make clear the consequences of inappropriate behavior in the future.
Don’t create double standards. Furthermore, a free-for-all atmosphere is corrosive.
Once you set your policy, if it is necessary to deal with a chronic and unresponsive offender, let everyone know what action you’ve taken and why.
Different companies around the table have created varying policies consistent with their cultures.
Company 1: Surfing during breaks and lunch is OK, as long as sites are appropriate.
Company 2: Surfing is OK – on your time and with our equipment – as long as you ask.
Company 3: As long as you are productive, we don’t monitor your surfing. Caveat: it is important to define and measure what is meant by “productive.”
Situation: While women comprise the majority of US society and business customers, they continue to be underrepresented in business and government. For girls growing up, it’s hard to be what you can’t see, so girls and young women don’t see the opportunities that business offers them. What can SMBs do to empower women?
Advice from Linda Gold:
Women contribute greatly to the business community, particularly in small and medium-sized businesses which are the principal job creators in the US. For example, in tough times, smart companies and CEOs face outward rather than retreat inward. Women are naturally more collaborative and can be better at networking and building communities of interest that can open up new opportunities. Smart CEOs will leverage this talent.
Dr. John Gray (“Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus”) points out that business is like a football game—it’s about getting the ball and running with it. While women know we should be given more credit for our contributions, we need to learn how to take more credit. We need to accept the credit and accolades we receive and deserve. And if a male team member takes “our ball” and runs with it, defense needs to “kick in” and recover the ball. You can only score if the ball is in your possession.
Dee Dee Myers, President Clinton’s former Press Secretary gives an example of how to gracefully take credit. When a colleague told her she had done a great job, instead of deflecting the credit, Myers simply and elegantly replied “Thank-you.”
Small and medium-sized businesses employ a significant population of women. This gives them the opportunity to raise the profile of their women employees both in the local press, at local social business events, and through social media.
The YWCA TWIN Awards – Tribute to Women and Industry – recognize women for excellence in their area of expertise, and for giving back to the community. In Silicon Valley, CEOs nominate their high-achieving executive women for this prestigious TWIN award each year.
Girls For A Change (GFC) is a national organization that empowers girls to create social change. GFC encourages young women to design, lead, fund and implement social change projects that tackle issues girls face in their own neighborhoods. The program depends on volunteer coaches – local business, professional and career women – who receive coach training and meet with girls for a 12-week period after school. By publicizing this opportunity within your company or sponsoring a GFC team, SMBs can make a significant contribution.
SMBs have a vested interest in encouraging public education to adopt more relevant curriculum and teaching methods. We are in the information age, not the industrial age. We can learn more about opportunities to offer services to and partner with local schools and educational foundations like the Silicon Valley Educational Foundation. We can also lobby for more H-1B visas.
Situation: A company is transitioning from a time and materials to a fixed price bid model. Estimators and project leads find this transition difficult. We need them to think like business managers. How do you help managers to see and think in terms of the big picture?
Advice from the CEOs:
First, set up a framework that repositions projects in a business framework.
All projects are business go/no decisions with expenses, minimum profitability targets, and incentives provided for beating initial projections.
This will help generate more consistency in bids and final gross margins per project.
Next, teach managers and employees industry and company standards within your new model.
Do post-mortems on all projects. Did we make or lose money versus initial estimate? How much? How did we perform against estimated time and expense? Were client expectations met? Were they exceeded? What was good or bad about the project? Were there errors in the original estimates? Where could we have saved cost?
Use this information to improve your estimating process over time.
You have a long history of T&M projects. Categorize these by project type. Look at the hours required to complete the projects – both engineering and management time – as well as other costs. Establish range and averages within each category.
Look for key variables among the project categories: scope of project, learning curves, efficiency of team members.
Work through known costs and outcomes on past projects as examples to teach the process.
For new projects, calculate best, medium and worst case hours and costs. Bid based on your worst case as you develop your learning curve.
Make sure to include a project management fee on top of your T&M estimates. Eventually you want to develop an overhead percentage to cover project management.
Team your estimator with the project lead both for project input, and performance against the bid.
Evaluate and compensate both based on project outcome.
The critical measure will be gross margin generated versus gross margin estimated on the project.
Key Words: Leadership, Project, Time and Materials, Fixed Price, Bid, Framework, Consistency, Standards, Variables, Estimator, Lead, Incentive
Interview with Dirk Boecker, President, Toto Consulting
Situation: Through the technology revolution in medical diagnostics, products in some markets have become commoditized. For example, a proliferation of low cost blood glucose monitoring products has driven down price while increasing incidence and prevalence of diabetes has driven up demand. How do you create new value in a commodity market?
Taking a broader view of the market is key. Analyze the entire customer experience, not just your segment. Assess markets and industries surrounding your primary offering and look for un-served interfaces and gaps.
Where you find opportunity, elevate your offering to the next level by integrating your product as component. Create a compelling advantage but avoid unnecessary adaptation of your existing product or service.
Blood glucose monitoring is used to support insulin and diet adjustment in diabetics, a disease which is accompanied by a number of complications and complex to manage. Can your monitoring technology become part of a broader service offering, or even part of a personalized solution? Can you move higher up in the value chain?
Begin your transformation at the first signs of commoditization. Being first brings a huge advantage.
Once you identify an unmet need, consider working with related industry groups to create new standards addressing these gaps. Implementing the resulting standards will give you a new competitive advantage against your competitors.
Find other applications for your product or service. Consider new applications for the components used in your current offering. Find new customers outside of your historic customer base. Consider alliances with other companies experienced with the new opportunities you find.
Within your own organization begin a process that routinely analyzes the customer experience and general needs beyond your current offering. Working with an outside consultant can help by adding a new perspective.