How to avoid “death by meeting.”

Imagine yourself with a calendar requiring you to be in six meetings in a day.  Day after day.  How long would it take to induce you to rethink your use of time – and that of the others sitting (or standing) beside you?  More important, how long would it take to realize death-by-meetingthat there is something wrong with the enterprise when it takes constant meetings to get the job done?

Slowly in many cases.  And expensively.

The best performers and managers dislike meetings and show their disdain by being abrupt or at the opposite end, distracted.  Often the most attentive ones involved in constant meetings are those who feel protected, shielded from measurement of personal performance, or at times less self–motivated to perform.

And the cost to the company of those meetings?  Staggering, if you take into account the lost production time of those present, not just the salary cost.

[Email readers, continue here…] And yet, there are times when co–ordination between people and groups requires a meeting, whether in person or over digital channels.  So let’s examine ways to make meetings more efficient – those that are actually required.

The concept of a scrum is a good one to use in many cases of immediate need to coordinate a working group.  Attendees stand rather than sit, reinforcing the urgency and need for a short meeting.  Individuals address issues that are blocking them from completing their tasks, requesting help from the others in removing the blockage.  Scrums are effective and should be short, scheduled, and supervised.

Board meetings are often killers.  Hardeners of the arteries of progress.  Most devolve into a series of reports from each constituency, spewing facts that could have been printed and passed to the board ahead of time.  Board meetings should revolve around issues, not progress.  Reviewing sales account by account is not an effective use of a board’s collective time.  Attacking critical issues after providing background information and perhaps a list of alternatives is a good use of board time.

And if there is little to discuss, perhaps the wisest decision of all is to just cancel the meeting and bank the time saved for more critical use.  Certainly, most of us would applaud the decision to return a bit of lost time to its rightful owners.  And to avoid the occasional (slow) death by meeting, so common in companies today.

(Cartoon courtesy of LaughChat.)

Posted in Surrounding yourself with talent | Leave a comment

How to simplify your commission structure

Is your commission structure so complex that even you must have help understanding it – and calculating a commission on a pending bid?

Sales people are incentivized by money.  They usually are able to calculate what’s in it for them before they make the final presentation and ask for the order. But what if the commissioncommission plan is so complex that even the people who should be most excited cannot understand or calculate the winning numbers?

Far too often, I come across companies with commission structures that take into account “all” the possible permutations of profit on a sale, causing everyone to wait for an accounting person to complete a cost analysis in order to find the magic number, or for a manager to rule on percentage splits for territories or products.

[Email readers, continue here…]  For those who have tried (and perhaps built) a commission structure based upon anything other than gross revenue, there are some relatively easy solutions for simplification.

First, forget the extremes in cost of goods or labor costs for the sake of ease in calculation – and for more effective motivation for the sales staff.  Pick a number for the cost of sales for outside purchases of hardware or services, and assign a standard percentage to these.  For example, make all outside hardware and services commissions calculated at 25% of the contract sales price, and all inside services commissioned at 50% of the billed amount (as a basis of that line item for the percentage to the sales person.)  Then make a rule that exceptions for commission calculations can be made only for contracts above some large trigger amount.  Codify that the sales person cannot discount lower than some percentage of the stated prices, usually ten percent, without management approval – and possible commission percentage impact.

For recurring revenue, the commission should be calculated in advance for some stated number of contract months.  Cancelled contracts would result in a chargeback against pre–calculated commissions, and charged against future earnings.

Many smaller companies pay commissions as cash is received.  This complicates the accounting process, but importantly not the incentive to the sales people, who have long since been able to calculate the total commission on the order, and look to the extended payments as a form of deferred revenue, not as a penalty.

Company executives have come up with permutations for protection of cash flow or profitability since the dawn of commission time.  But we can address the motivation and resulting follow–though by sales people as a result of these many types of permutations.

And simplification almost always leads to better sales efficiency, motivation, and more closings by those who now understand their portion of the profit from their work.

Posted in Protecting the business, Surrounding yourself with talent | 1 Comment

A simple test: “Are we managing like jerks?”

Are we who issue orders to associates or employees ever acting as jerks?  We’d never like to think so, or we wouldn’t do it in the first place.

If someone is saying “This is confusing to me” when you’ve given an instruction or order, there are a number of ways to respond.  Of course it may be appropriate to explain your reasoning, or ask what part of the instruction is confusing.

But, as one CEO pointed out to me recently, it may be more appropriate to ask yourself if Manage-like-jerkthe instruction was necessary or worth the effort in the first place.  He worded it a bit differently, as in the headline to this insight.  Sure gets your attention.

Managers can be jerks as easily as anyone with a bit of power misused or misdirected.   So here is the simple test.  Before issuing any kind of order to perform a task, think of how this might be interpreted by the person receiving the order.  Take the cynical view – the worst case possibility.  Because it’s a guarantee that many of those on the receiving end will do just that.

[Email readers, continue here…]  Did your proposed order pass the jerk test?  Will the requested outcome advance any of your goals – or just provide an increment of satisfaction?  Will the output be used in a meaningful way?  Or will this just be another reason for that cynical associate or employee to label you with that term?

Now raise the stakes of that order to the corporate level.  Will a whole department or all those under the level of the issuer feel a bit of the jerk syndrome?

Well, then. You have a tool for the question. And you know how to use it.  Think back to your past.  Ever think that of an action by a leader in your past life?

Posted in Depending upon others, Surrounding yourself with talent | 1 Comment

Hire on ability. Fire on fit.

This is not necessarily the way we intend to behave as managers, but our headline reflects the reality of most experiences when viewed in retrospect.

We carefully vet the potential hire for experience required.  Ninety days or longer later, if that person is terminated by management, it often is for actions resulting from the HR_1person’s relationship with others in the organization more often than failure to perform the specific task for which the person was hired.  Especially in companies with unusually stifling cultures allowing few errors or deviations from the handbook or rules, some new employees just cannot adapt.

Yet, we hired the person based upon our perception of the ability to do the job designated. And yes, some of those hires can be vetted on the job and found unable to perform to standard, deserve a negative review and possible termination within the first ninety days of hire for that reason alone.

[Email readers, continue here…] But experience tells us that more often the person just didn’t fit in, a reference as much to the culture of the enterprise as to the efforts of the new hire.  Should we be so abrupt as to consider letting someone go based upon their lack of a good fit within the organization?

My experience is that it is better for both the new hire and the company to make the termination decision quickly, humanely, and within the first ninety days of hire.   The shock to the employee, to the culture, to the corporate pocketbook, and to legal challenge is much less than when the process is extended again and again to find the right fit for someone who is just not quite right.  And if that person is visibly or vocally unhappy, the problem becomes toxic and even more dangerous to the culture of the organization.

Firing on fit is an important rule to consider when examining the early work of a new hire – within the first ninety days.  For the sake of protection, there should be at least several coaching sessions and a documentation of these sessions in the employee record.  But the ninety–day rule is reasonably common across government jurisdictions to protect employers when making early termination decisions.

Everyone hates to let someone go.  It’s one of the hardest things a manager does.  But it is important to protect the corporation and help the new hire to move on – when warranted.

Posted in Depending upon others, Surrounding yourself with talent | 2 Comments

Celebrate your mistakes!

How do you teach your work force that mistakes are OK as long as they learn and don’t repeat them?  By being a visible example.  A friend and fellow CEO states that he publishes each of his mistakes in his company internal blog along with the lesson he learned.  “If the CEO can do this, he gives permission for anyone to confess as well,” he states.

You may not know it but the National Transportation Safety Board has for years offered a reporting program for pilots, air controllers and others involved in aviation safety.  Anyone Einstein_Never_made_mistake_quote-231x300reporting an accidental safety error (such as flying into restricted airspace) within ten days is granted immunity from FAA prosecution, as long as the mistake was not an intentional breaking of the law.  Even NTSB understands that mistakes are learning experiences as it insulates accidental infractions from prosecution in order to learn and solve problems communally.

What is your culture?  Do you respond to an employee mistake with a warning or even punishment?  If so, it is a sure thing that fear will cause your employees to hide them, cover them up with quick fixes if possible and worry over the consequence of creativity efforts or of pushing the envelope a bit.

Doesn’t the whole enterprise fail a bit each time a learning opportunity is lost or someone hides actions from management?  And what does it say about your corporate culture and your individual management style?  Even if you condone the overreaction of others in management, aren’t you then guilty of reinforcing such a culture of punishment over learning?

Celebrate your mistakes.  Others will follow.  All will learn to share for the sake of safety, growth and open culture.

Posted in Depending upon others, Protecting the business, Surrounding yourself with talent, The fight for quality | 5 Comments

Why bother to sit in with customer service?

Over fifty years ago, I was CEO of a record manufacturing company in Hollywood.  We were the only such facility on the West coast to provide and control the entire process from studio, through finished vinyl record pressings in the same building, therefore able to promise quality control others could only dream about.

As founder and CEO of the then public company, I was expert in several of the “clean” processes such as studio recording, record mastering, cover design and photo–Lead-and-learnlithography.  But if I knew then what I know now, I would have spent time working with my employees in each of the subsequent and more mechanical processes such as printing press management, record press management and shipping control in order to better learn my own business and hear first–hand suggestions from the line.

I lost an invaluable opportunity to learn from the front line.

[Email readers, continue here…]  Later, as CEO of a fast growing computer software company with over thirty employees in customer service alone, I did learn the lesson, as I sat in on customer service calls on occasion to get a more complete understanding of the process, pressures and opportunities for improvement.  Then, when my manager of customer service sent a request up the line asking for funds for equipment or expanded staffing, I would understand the need, sometimes offering suggestions for improvement to try before making the investment.

It had taken years to learn that empathy comes from experience, not just perceived understanding.  And that there is such a thing as a business leader showing empathy while making good strategic decisions.  I learned that employees appreciate knowing that their executives have experienced and can understand their world.  I learned that tough decisions, such as denial of a request, are better received when all affected know that there was a deeper understanding of the issue and reasons for the response.

All because I learned to sit in and understand the position, the workflow, and the challenges at each stage in the process of customer service.

Are you too busy to learn each step along the corporate process enough to understand issues and challenges?  Start by sitting in with customer service.  The benefits are immense.

Posted in Finding your ideal niche, The fight for quality | 3 Comments

Careful with terminations. Don’t disparage.

It happens all the time when you’re a CEO.  Somebody important leaves or is let go, and you worry over the impact upon remaining employees and customers.  You worry that the person leaving will begin to unload all the pent–up garbage from the past, perhaps damaging the company and causing customer defections and even employee unrest.

Your worry is real.

It is human nature for those remaining to blame the departed employee for any sort of sins Employee-terminationfrom the past, real or imagined.  And it is human nature for the person now free of the company to attempt to explain why the departure – in the most flattering personal terms possible.

But in my experience, many of these ungracious outbursts lead to anger, threats and reprisals – all unhealthy for both the individual and the company.

[Email readers, continue here…]  I was able to mute these on both sides in my past life with two simple efforts of outreach.  I’d call in the departing employee, even those with the worst violations “for cause,” and offer an unemotional exit interview asking for their thoughts about their experience – no holds barred. Then, I’d remind each that it is more than just possible that someday we’d meet again, perhaps as supplier–customer, customer–supplier, industry resource or friendly competitor.  Therefore, we should make a genuine pact:  neither of us should give in to temptations to disparage the other no matter what the personal psychic gain.  Shaking hands after such a promise sealed the deal, even with those you’d rather never see again.  And it worked with great effect.  Even today, many years later, former employees who departed during my tenure, find me at trade shows and other industry events, telling me that their experience with us was the best they’d ever had with any employer.

The second thing was just as important.  With the person leaving (for whatever reason) in tow, I’d show up in that person’s department, call a quick meeting, and make the same statement about non–disparagement to those present, addressing their natural inclination to later blame as part of the short talk.  When warranted, a quick celebration including the department employees sealed the deal.

Then there is the formality of codifying this.  Every termination should be accompanied by a termination agreement or release before final payment. It should contain terms of separation, reminder of confidentiality, and a non–disparagement clause.  It’s a contractual reminder that can be used if needed.  Using the techniques above, I don’t recall ever having to do so.  May you be as lucky in your efforts.


Posted in Protecting the business, Surrounding yourself with talent | 3 Comments

Is ‘servant leadership’ too soft for today’s workforce?

It’s a term rooted in ancient philosophy.  Robert Greenleaf may have been the first to resurrect the concept in his book published in 1970.  Not quite as bold as inverting the management triangle, the concept of servant leadership requires that a business manager focus upon his or her people’s highest priority needs first.

The question begged by the headline above is whether this form of leadership is perceived as soft, indecisive, and inappropriate for the fast–moving world of today’s business.

A servant leader uses a participative style of management, as opposed to one that is Servant_leadership1autocratic or (at the opposite end of the spectrum) laissez–faire.  More important, a servant leader involves employees in the process of decision–making, focusing upon the performance and satisfaction of employees.

Doesn’t sound tough or forceful enough for you?  You are not alone.  It is a very thin line between abdication of responsibility and participative leadership.  The world loves bold leadership.  Steve Jobs, who was known to be in charge of each detail in design.  Elon Musk, who obsesses with metrics and constantly asks for employees to feed him their concerns but makes bold moves on his own.

[Email readers, continue here…]  In technology–based enterprises, the question of leadership vision becomes mixed with leadership style.  Can a visionary leader abdicate the execution of that vision by subordinating to those who carry out the execution of that vision?  Or must he or she be more like Jobs or Musk and stand in the center of the storm, constantly testing the execution efforts of those around?

There is a place for a leader as servant.  But the perception of that leader being soft and lacking in strong leadership traits is the sure result of using this method as the leading style for a CEO.   It is fine as a secondary style used in tactical decision–making, when strategic issues are not the focus, and where threats to corporate health or resources are not evident.

But those leaders who will be remembered as having changed the world, even if the world is defined as within the walls of one enterprise, are those who were clear in their ability to communicate urgency, quality and focus upon the customer – not necessarily those who delegated the best or allowed decisions to flow from management concurrence.

Posted in Depending upon others, General, Surrounding yourself with talent | 5 Comments

Is management by walking around an outmoded fad?

One of the CEOs I coach starts his day by walking the floor of his extended facility and checking in with managers and employees of the various departments, especially the call center.  He tries to feel the pulse of the company by the intensity of motion, the metrics of backlog, and the stated problems brought to him as he asks.

Is he a relic of bygone times, when employees worked in a single facility, managed directly Management-by-wandering-aroundby people who could see and speak to them in person?   In this age of remote work forces, self–managed contractors and employees, outsourced call centers and development, is this a dying art?

And does the presence of a caring CEO taking the time to check in personally change anything after the waves of his or her presence pass in the calm of departure?

Well, yes.

[Email readers, continue here…] Everyone knows when the CEO or senior manager stays in their personal office, especially when closing the door, that “something must be wrong” or “the person doesn’t care enough” or “what does he or she do all day?”

It is more than showing the flag when a manager or CEO spends time focusing upon the immediate issues of subordinates and offers resources to solve problems without the need for formal meetings.  It is a mark of corporate culture when everyone knows that those above are serving them in very visible ways by taking the time to hear and react.

But there is something more. A good manager can feel the mood and the level of business activity, but not easily from behind a desk or on the other end of a phone call.

It is one of the reasons that senior managers who travel to the workplace from afar and show their presence only several days each week are not as effective as companies grow and span of control increases.

Does management by walking around still work?  Is it as valuable as it once was before our communications systems became so complex and well defined?

Yes.  Yes. And yes.

Posted in Depending upon others, Surrounding yourself with talent | 4 Comments

Stop managers from gaming the system

Business unit managers are under lots of pressure to perform, and occasionally are tempted to step over the line finding ways to look better than reality reflects.  Of course, this has never happened to you, and you have never done this in your past.  So we are speaking of a theoretical manager here.  Of course.

Here’s a way to prevent such behavior and create a tool for organization – and transparency at the same time.  Create a “balanced scorecard” or single place to review a Gaming_systemmanager’s performance and / or that of the department.  Use the four most important measures of success as the basis.

Financial perspective:  financial statement showing key indicators such as revenue, expense, net income or other measures important to success.

Customer perspective: Ratings of customer satisfaction, statistics of customer retention, market share and even brand strength.

Internal process perspective: Measures of cycle time, response time, waste, purchasing effectiveness, and improvements and innovations.

Learning / growth perspective:  Measures of employee satisfaction, employee turnover, employee education and skill advancement.

[Email readers, continue here…]  Having this information and sharing it with the manager(s) empowers everyone to come up with solutions to problems, emphasizes common focus upon strengths and weaknesses, and eliminates surprises when formally reviewing performance.

You’d probably be doing many of these processes anyway, just not aimed at assembly into a single file or report for review by all.  And this might be the prod you need to increase the quality and perhaps the quantity of customer and employee surveys.  A real win for all.

Posted in Depending upon others, Protecting the business | Leave a comment