Every business owner thinks about exiting their business. Some hope to sell. Others may have plans for somebody to ‘take over’ (e.g., next generation; partner/co-owner; employees via employee stock ownership plans; etc.). Maybe the plan is to step away slowly and continue to take an income or profit. Regardless of the plan, the success of each is largely contingent upon the health of the business.
Any buyer will want some assurance of continuing revenue, as well as the ability to continue operations at a profit. The likelihood of recurring revenue lessens when the ‘Selling CEO’ exits and there is no team in place to drive sales. Let’s assume there is a sales and marketing team to drive revenue. Is there an operating system with the accountability in place to execute on delivering the products and services sold? Does the system measure the effectiveness of those responsible? Do you have trusted relationships with suppliers? How well documented are your systems and processes?
It might seem counterintuitive, but a good test of this happens with a passive CEO. What happens when you (the owner/CEO) take time off? Imagine taking a two-week vacation with no access to your phone or computer. Would the business thrive or would you come back to a firestorm? Take it a step further. Does your management team have a clear direction for the next 3-5 years? Are your vision, values, and goals clear? Would they share the same view of that long-term goal in your absence?
Based on our collective experience in leading Peer Advisory Boards (Mastermind Groups) and one-on-one executive coaching, if the answer is ‘no’, it’s unlikely the team will be able to provide strategic direction, much less daily tactical direction.
The following article shares similar guidance. Please tell us about your experience, as you dream about exit and begin to move closer to leaving your business.
Why Many Small Businesses Cannot Be Sold (NY TImes)
The primary goal of leadership is to have influence. Leaders should have the answers. They don’t need help. Right?
Wrong. Attaining leadership is more complicated than it might seem. How about leading through power and authority? Lead the way. This, too, has inherent limitations.
Why? What if he doesn’t know the way? What if this (whatever-it-is) has never been done? Power and authority only get you so far. They have a limited sphere of influence. They can maintain the status quo and strengthen boundaries. They might even extend borders, build strong walls, control or mitigate bad outcomes, contain and constrain you-name-it. A leader who wields power and authority to get stuff done inherently imposes his ‘way’, which is, by definition, limited.
On the other hand, the leader who has the courage to be vulnerable immediately creates opportunity for all possibilities. She opens the door to the unknown. She invites change, collaboration, discovery, evolution, growth, innovation, invention, questioning, transformation, and transparency.
The leader’s job is to enable this environment and provide a framework within which her team can influence reaching whatever goal lies ahead.
Are you courageous enough to be vulnerable?
Courtesy: Glenn Lopis at Entrepreneur
In this article by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), they share a study by Harvard Business School reporting that CEOs spend 60% of their time in meetings and 25% on the phone and events, with the balance (15%) going to everything else. Whether your ‘free’ time is 15% or 50%, how you spend it is key to whether you are investing it or simply spending it. Now is the time for reflection.
We, too, have found that time can be spent unwisely, with limiting decisions (from poor planning) that lead to unclear goals and lack of clarity. This quickly turns into lots of questions, is often accompanied by low energy. Fear eventually takes over, resulting in a reaction plan.
On the contrary, empowering decisions that invest in the future typically lead to higher energy and a sense of gratitude about the situation. This clarity on the end goal is accompanied by strategic questions and the courage (determination, faith) to take decisive action that moves ever closer to the end goal.
You might ask, what is the common denominator between thought and reflection (as highlighted by BCG) and an investment in empowering decisions? The answer: an investment is foundational and long-term, whereas ‘solving immediate problems’ is situational and short-term (i.e., putting out fires).
BCG notes the value in allowing some structure and schedule to allow time to step back and consider the big picture and long term. In so doing, having the perspective from an outsider (whether it be a trusted partner from within your industry or an advisory board from outside your industry) helps provide a level of honesty and accountability that goes beyond the immediate ‘need’ to put out (forest) fires, helps avoid fires in the first place, and may even chart a path beyond the edge of that forest to whatever it is that you dream about achieving.
Please read further to enjoy The Rewards of CEO Reflection.
Throughout my career I’ve focused on practical and objective business skills as I transitioned from an engineer to a program manager to a Six Sigma champion to a sourcing professional. However, as an executive leading from a strategic vantage point, I find that soft skills contribute more to success than reams of results and objective data. Aligning functions and establishing partnerships create an atmosphere for better communication, greater teamwork and, ultimately, greater success for supply management and the overall company.
Create a Positive Environment
However, coupling soft skills with transparency, alignment, partnership and accountability can be transformative for any organization. Following is an examination of the importance of those elements and the roles they play in successful leadership.
Transparency. Fear often is created by a simple lack of information. When direct reports are unaware of your goals or how those goals may affect them, the tendency is to “fill in the gaps,” which fuels worry and uncertainty in an organization. A leader should effectively and frequently communicate the goals and objectives of a change initiative, explaining how the change will affect and improve the organization. Transparency also has the added benefit of creating a better understanding of the need for change.
Alignment. Alignment speaks to the “what’s-in-it-for-me” thought process that most people share. Consider how large troop movements are conducted during warfare. The troops are aligned and move in a coordinated and synchronized manner. This concept can carry over to the business world. Aligning separate, functional elements throughout a company requires that each group understands how their contributions support the company and advance their own careers. There is a greater chance for success by finding and creating this “skin-in-the-game” perspective.
I have used the concept of “servant leadership” to help me meet this element. How to first meet the most important needs of others. When I joined a company with a highly engineered product line, I knew that engineering support was critical to our success in supply chain and cost reduction. In my first meeting with the VP of Engineering, I simply asked, “What can Sourcing do for you?” He responded with, “Please improve the turnaround time on quotes, it is way too high.” I employed transparency, tracked and reported on each and every buyer and their individual time to respond to quotes. Over the next three weeks, we went from an average of 60 days to nine days for response. When I recalibrated with him after a month, he was happy and excited and said, “That is the first time Sourcing has ever come to ask Engineering what we can do for you, and I like it.” Our relationship and our results have continued to grow using the same philosophy.
Partnership. True partnerships can only occur when the internal business units are informed and synchronized. For example, when a highly engineered product goes through a cost-reduction initiative, the project can’t be successful unless the engineering, operations, marketing and procurement teams work as partners. Several years ago, I was in charge of a project to reduce costs of a product line. More than 2,000 ideas were generated from staff, but were considered because a partnership among various functions had not been formed. Marketing, for example, rejected many ideas claiming that customers would never accept some of the suggested changes. The engineering department, which had to approve any proposed changes, became defensive about changing the original design plans.
Thus, the project was relaunched for greater success — only this time we changed the approach. Support from senior level management and all functional leaders was conveyed throughout the company. Functional leaders met weekly with their staffs, which kept visibility high and allowed for transparency and alignment. A clearly communicated mandate for cost reduction was issued by senior management. It also was decided the results would be scored by the finance department, which other business units considered an impartial function. We required that all ideas be judged objectively, and found that previously unacceptable ideas were harder to criticize. The result was a high approval rate of the same or similar ideas generated during our first attempt. There also was a better acceleration of results due to partnering and alignment of resources across all functions.
Accountability. Accountability, which includes tracking, monitoring and reporting successes and failures, is an area where many companies fall short. Too often, there is a lack of clear ownership of a task, project or initiative. We all know that “when everyone is responsible, no one is responsible.” That’s why I believe holding others accountable also requires us, as supply chain leaders, to hold ourselves accountable. Without accountability, it is difficult to achieve true success. In the cost reduction example discussed previously, a senior executive was selected to champion each project to be certain that someone owned the end result.
Trust Holds It Together. Transparency, alignment, partnership and accountability are important to successful strategic leadership, but the glue that holds them all together is trust. If a leader at any level in the organization has a hidden agenda or fails to be a true partner, none of the four elements will be effective because trust will have been lost. Ethical behavior and demonstrated consistency is critical for effective leadership.
I recall an incident when a senior procurement leader at a decentralized organization rolled out a purchasing card program to nine separate business unit presidents. He failed to mention the program included a 2% surcharge on the card’s use that would help fund the creation of a centralized procurement organization. When the business leaders realized they had not been consulted or given the option to approve the use of money from their operating budgets, the establishment of a centralized procurement department ceased and ultimately reversed. Because of a hidden agenda and an ethical lapse, trust was lost.
Strong, successful leadership involves many skill sets, and when those skills combine with a leader’s commitment to transparency, alignment, partnership and accountability, amazing results can follow.