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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Just Do It!

Did you ever have a decision to make and the advice you received was not definitive?  Maybe you found that your team torn on a subject and they could not find a common way to address a problem.  You might have asked for directions to a location only to receive 7 different routes to get to the desired place.  This is far more common than you think!  Sometimes, there is no right answer or one method of achieving a goal.  In fact, the answer to the question might be a correct guess; i.e.Your Guess is as Good as Mine.”

It is not so important how you arrive at your destination as long as you get there safely and on time.  Planning a project may have several paths to the same end with the costs and timings being the same.  No one can predict the future and all plans come with potential impediments down the road.  Missteps or unknowns can delay or add cost to any project.   

Predicting which path is the right one is often an educated guess.  The best one can do is to weigh all the facts and make the best guess possible.  Do not be so locked in on the steps of achieving the goal that you fail to achieve the goal.  Sometimes being tied to a process can result in your missing roadblocks or missteps and you not effective in resolving issues in a timely manner. 

Many articles address the art of the pivot.  The reference implies that good entrepreneurs must see the changes ahead and pivot to change and adjust.  This ability to shift directions and make midstream corrections can make the difference in success for failure.  The entrepreneur will make many guesses along the way and they may guess wrong.  Recognizing the errors or impediments and changing direction is a crucial part of the winning strategy.

Being concerned on how to achieve a goal is important.  Making excellent plans toward achieving a goal helps ensure the prospects of success.  Determining the right course of action is sometimes a guess but an educated one.  Failing to take action or make a decision because you are unwilling to guess wrong can be one of the biggest roadblocks of all.  The indecision of moving forward can result in no movement at all.  The entrepreneur will not have a chance to pivot, change direction, or determine what does not work and fix it.

In short, this article implies that making a decision to move forward sometimes involves guessing.  Do not be afraid of guessing wrong, there may not be a right or wrong.  You should be vigilant enough to fix things that go wrong and change course.  Failure to move forward is sometimes like the kiss of death!  Like Nike says, “Just DO It!”

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Should We Tell Pat to Depart

Unexpected departures of key employees can be hard to manage because of loss of experience and morale changes in the company.  Great employees are what you want and never want to lose.  What if a great worker is engaged in activates that are counter to the culture you want to build in the company, or if the employee’s work habits have changed and they no longer fit the requirements for the job?  There may come a time when you need to assess the situation and suggest Pat look elsewhere for employment!

Management of a startup comes with duties of managing personnel.  Personnel have differing personalities and needs.  Some require little maintenance while others require significant handholding.  Compensation is always a difficult issue to contend with, especially when the company has limited financial resources.  What if Pat is requiring more equity or compensation than the business can afford or warranted for the job?  Some employees take negative compensation responses and go on about their business, while others fester and spread discontent among the others in the company.

Team members can be leaders but some lead in a negative manner.  Their focus is on themselves rather than their team.  They choose to focus on tasks to improve their visibility but downplay the performance or activities of those that work for them.  The leader may be great at what they do but they are not so great when it comes to keeping the team motivated.

As the CEO entrepreneur, leaning which members are best suited for which task is an important function of the job.  You may never know how those people are behaving when they are not in direct contact with you.  Walking around and interacting with the other staff may help you take the temperature of the morale in the company.  It is always best that you learn about how your team is working when visible as well as some of the activities that go on in the backrooms. 

Managing your team properly means knowing what is fair and unfair.  Compensation is a great example.  You should learn what is fair in terms of equity and salary and hold the line on those levels.  Compensations too far outside of the range have implications on the way the company functions, meets budgets, and morale.  Do not think you can give someone a raise and others not find out.  In fact, you cannot even give yourself a raise without the others eventually finding out.  The gossip starts as soon as one person learns the secret.  What happens next is anyone’s guess, but usually it is not good for the company. 

In short, you have people that work in the business with you.  They have differing personalities and traits.  Knowing their wants and needs as well as their less desirable attributes can help you manage the business to a higher level of performance.  Eventually, you may have to tell that great employee to leave because they no longer fit the needs of the company.  Try to do it with grace and appreciation of past service, but do it when you see they create more to the downside than the up side.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Oh No, We Just Lost John!

It never fails.  Every perfect situation has a downside and it usually shows up at the most inopportune times.  Loosing key employees is one of these events that can really set your programs back or worse.  You can try to guard against this, but it is inevitable that when an employee is ready to leave, they GO.

It is like having a facility with key equipment and the operations are running smoothly.  A piece of equipment breaks and you call the repairperson.  Then wait, and wait, and wait!  The operations are at a standstill because nothing can take place due to the outage of the key equipment.  Once repaired, the processing can resume and eventually it gets back to normal.

Losing a key person in your company is manageable but this depends on you and the remaining team.  It also depends on how much overlap you had in the team functions.  Sometimes, the loss is a person where there is no overlap and the team was not involved in the related activities.  This can cause a shutdown of parts of your program and missing milestones in your timelines.

There are activities you can consider that may prevent maximal downside from the loss of an important team member.  Here are just a few:

Overlap Functions: To the extent possible, having other members of the team involved in every aspect of the business may allow someone to step in the role of the missing member.  The individual assuming the new responsibility may have a learning curve but that is much better than starting with no background or knowledge of the duties and functions left behind.

Hire an Experienced Consultant:  It is possible to find people that have relevant experiences and retain them in a consultant capacity.  You may even be able to transition them to a permanent position, but your immediate need of bring the job up to normal speed will be quicker with an experienced person.  The learning curve will mostly be figuring where you were at the time of departure of the key employee. Things will proceed smoothly once the background is learned.

Hire Over-lapping Consultants:  Sometimes, the job is such that it may take more than one person to fill the knowledge gap left behind.  Retaining more than one consultant can fill the gaps and the needs in house will center on coordination of their efforts.   One of the in house project managers may be able to manage the process and lead the effort.

YOU DO IT:  It is not as if you do not already have too much to do.  One of the best ways to manage your small startup is to understand and participate with each of the activities in the company and know where the team is at all times.  When you lose someone, if all else fails, you can take the lead to maintain the activity until a new hire fill the role.  This way, you can also provide the history of activities to the new hire and help them get up to speed efficiently.

It is important to be involved with your team and fully understand their activities.  Try to be aware of sighs suggesting you may be losing people can cause serious setbacks.  In doing so, you can guard against the losses and plan for such events.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Inform the NEW HIRE

Personnel turnover is inevitable.  There is no way to eliminate it and you must learn to work with the changes that take place.  Hiring new people takes time. When you find the right candidate, everyone is excited to get the replacement on the team and working.  The new hire often comes in with a background that looks like a perfect fit with the tasks and with the team.  After all, you likely had everyone review the candidate and provide input before offering the job. 

The reporting day for the new hire is one of confusion.  The employee gets familiar with the personnel office and fills out all the appropriate forms.  Benefits are selected and meetings with the boss take place.  Perhaps you have a general discussion about expectations and the current needs the employee should address immediately.  The processes over the first week or two are mostly becoming acquainted with the team members and the boss, learning the dos and don’ts, and developing a task list intended to address expectations.

One discussion often forgotten is the history of work the former employee applied to the tasks currently needing attention.  Take for example that your company is outsourcing a project.  The former employee may have handled the discussions leading into the contracts and the timelines, budgets, expectations, and milestones.  There may have even been discussions of performance of the processes and integration of the outsourcing activities with your company.  As a second example, a business deal is of interest to the company.  The new hire is to seek viable companies and network to find possible partners.  The former employee may have already contacted half of those prospects.  In both examples, the new hire would benefit greatly and perform much better by knowing the history of what was accomplished.  It may even take a few discussions to help the new hire remember what was completed previously.

Hiring a new person is going to be part of the routine activities of any company.  Many of the new hires will be replacing someone that left the company.  Keep in mind that to get optimal performance the new hire should not have to redo what the departed employee already completed.  The new hire when informed of the history should be allowed to determine whether the tasks are better performed from scratch or picked up where left last.  Not knowing what the history was can lead to embarrassment and confusion.  Try calling a prospective partner to convince them to work with you and discover they agreed to engage in discussions months ago. That is very awkward!

In short, when a new hire comes on board, do your best to bring them up to speed as quickly as possible.  Try to incorporate a discussion of the work history as part of your briefing discussions.

Monday, June 11, 2012

You Cannot Fix STUPID

As an entrepreneur starting a company, you have a serious obligation to know or at least learn the business.  Starting new business has enough risk without adding the risks of managing a team developing a product of which you do not understand.  Unfortunately, the concept of starting a business with limited understanding or background happens.  It is possible to learn what is needed to do a great job, but people usually assemble and process information at different rates.

The business covers many parts.  No one expects the CEO to know all the details of each facet.  It is important to know your own strengths and weaknesses and especially be able to stay out of your team’s way when you do not understand what they are doing.  You should learn the areas you do not know to a level to provide oversight.  Giving instructions or guidance other than budget or timings can really confuse the team when you think you know what to do but do not.  They may not be willing to challenge the instructions of the CEO and therefore head down a path that will ensure greater difficulty.

Sometimes simple steps can help address the information gaps.  A few suggestions are below:

Hire an Expert as a Coach – The first important step is for the CEO to realize that it is not necessary to know everything on day one.  The information can be learned and having a coach may be just the step that will help you in transition.  The coach must be familiar with the key areas of knowledge that you are missing.  The coach can attend meetings and help facilitate and later discuss and help educate the CEO. In time, the CEO will be better able to manage the company.

Hire a COO - If the CEO really is unable or does not want to learn the information, hiring a person to run the day-to-day business can solve the problem.  It is important that the COO be given all the key responsibilities.  The CEO should make decisions in concert with the COO when it comes to operational aspects.  The CEO should not give instructions directly to the team in order to avoid confusion; i.e. 2 bosses are tough to take.  Assuming the COO has the skills, all operational aspects of the business should be under this person’s control.  The CEO can focus on investors, finances, raising capital, PR, IR, partnering, legal, contractual matters, and general oversight. 

Build a Great Team – The team can consist of key heads of each division.  Those members must be exceptional and highly trusted by the CEO.  The CEO can provide key budget and timings constraints and then request the team coordinate activities and bring back goals and timelines.  The CEO can hold them accountable to the timelines and milestones they create.  Overtime, the CEO will learn from the team.  

One bad ill-informed decision can create catastrophic consequences for your company. It is critical to remember “You Cannot Fix STUPID.”  Making decisions and providing guidance when you do not have the knowledge or skills have the potential to result in major problems.  Understanding what you do not know and learning those skills will benefit the company.  There are several alternatives of addressing knowledge deficiencies. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Words Can Kill, Sometimes!

Processing information is unique to each individual and team.  Many are able to hear words of others and react in a well thought out manner.  Others hear the same information and either fixate on one aspect of what was said or immediately react.  Neither action is wrong, but if one is not careful, the follow up can be deadly.

Mentors, advisors, and investors are well intentioned.  They want to provide advice and comment in order to help the company.  Similarly, prospective investors and partners fall in that category as well.  However, it is important to keep in mind that the analyses of advice or comments are the company’s responsibility.  The integration of the advice or comments into the company is critical its survival.  Overreacting or poor execution can cause the demise of the business.

Your team lives with the company day-to-day just as the CEO founder does.  They see all the positive and negatives of each situation as they arise.  One of the most critical things to consider when reacting to comments is to gain the input of your team.  You may have heard a prospective investor make a comment that seems negative and interpret it, as making a change will cause the investor to fund the company.  That can happen, but the investor may not be aware of all the issues the company faces at each point in time.

The CEO has the responsibility to weigh each of the ideas and suggestions and decide how to run the company.  Running the company and changing day-to-day activities or goals based on comments or ideas from others makes sense only when the information is analyzed and the integration strategy well executed.  The team can be instrumental in both the analysis and execution.  In addition, it is critical that the CEO involve them in the process.  Asking the team to execute on ideas that they feel are doomed to failure is a recipe for disaster.  Even if it was a great idea, their lack of enthusiasm or commitment may lead to failure.

Being in charge comes with responsibility.  The CEO has the responsibility of calling the shots.  The Board of Directors expects this.  They also expect careful analysis and proper execution.  Some CEOs can execute without input from others and do a great job.  Other CEOs try and only cause anxiety in the team. This causes a loss of their confidence, morale, and performance problems.

In short, when you hear or think of something that may require a shift in strategy or change in the business, involve the people you hired in the analysis.  Build some consensus if possible or at least help them understand why you feel the change in directions is important.  You will find the process of change to be more effective and may even get advice from the team to help make the change more efficient or even make it work.  Keep in mind that “Words Can Kill, Sometimes” when actions in your company are poorly executed.