There are two ways to be a more relaxed CEO. The first – available to everyone – is simply to be a calmer person: meditate, read the Stoics, train mindfulness, try to distance yourself from things a little more. There is also a second way that the average person cannot access (because they don’t control their time and professional life as much as the average CEO): systematically remove everything that disturbs your peace. If you are interested in the first one – read Jacek Santorski, because I don’t think I have read any better publications on this subject from a Polish manager.
This post is about the application of the second idea. The vast majority of disturbances are caused by two things, people and printers.. We won’t deal with printers, because the case is hopeless and cannot be won – just accept that if it made you scream or cry, the printer won. Let’s focus on people. Those who annoy us in our business life are divided into co-workers, clients, and employees.
If you hear or read that someone in your company is talking about the clients badly – let them know that they will be fired the next time they do that. If you catch someone doing it again – actually do fire them. If someone in the company says “the customer XYZ is so stupid…” what they are really saying is “we work for stupid people”, and “our rent is paid by stupid people”. I have not yet seen a team that would be motivated to work by working on such a belief.
In addition, if someone refers to a client using foul language in an e-mail or CRM, it’s only a matter of time until someone forwards this to the client by mistake or shows their CRM tab to the wrong person. Then the CEO will have to get involved, apologize, and burn with shame – and that disturbs the peace. That’s why it’s necessary to strike the problem at the source – reprimand your employees first and fire them if they don’t listen.
If you notice such qualities during an interview – do not hire, regardless of how badly you need them and how good they seem to be. The well-being of you and your team is not worth it. There’s no such thing as “great but antisocial genius programmer”. Sooner or later, such people cause dramas, and then you have to clean up the mess. When someone like that joins your team, people who work with them stop recommending their friends as potential employees (and this is always the best recruitment channel).
Sometimes someone slips through the recruitment process. If you already have a strong corporate culture – team members will reject such a person very quickly. Unfortunately, it takes time, so before the culture settles, you just have to fire people for having a bad attitude.
I heard a story once on the Jocko Willink podcast:
Two sergeants did not like each other to the extent that made cooperation between their teams impossible. The commander asked them to solve the problem over the weekend. When on Monday it turned out that they still did not get along – he fired both of them.
That was the right decision to make. We do not have to like each other – but we have to respect each other and be able to work with each other. No drama.
These days, about 10% of candidates who reach our interviews get offers. Of all the people whose CVs and LinkedIn profiles we read, less than 10% gets the interview stage. This means that the conversion rate from job application to making an offer by Casbeg is less than 1% (although the conversion of recommendations from people working inside is significantly higher). It is much harder for us to attract good candidates to work with than to find the clients they could serve.
This state of affairs is desirable for us because it means that we can provide quality in the projects we are involved in, and these people represent a certain level of maturity which helps to eliminate the problems that I mentioned in the first three points.
Regarding your employees, pay attention to the moments when you avoid short-term pain. This is a hint that you should do something. When you build a company what hurts you in the short term is usually good in the long term. A good example is dismissing the people I mentioned in the three points above. Only psychopaths enjoy laying people off. Since it is so very unpleasant, we all do it too late. From the dismissed person’s point of view, it makes people spend time in jobs where they don’t deliver as expected, instead of taking up something where they can prove themselves and do what they enjoy. From the company’s point of view, it generates additional costs and weakens its culture.
In many cases, after dismissing someone, people who take over the job after the fired person say that it was much worse than it seemed from the outside. Fire, even if it hurts.
Since you got rid of the people who were causing drama, the assholes, and those who talk badly about clients, whom should you hire instead?
Hire goal oriented people. People who ask, “How was your run yesterday?” and “What have you read lately?” instead of “Have you seen the last episode of Game of the Thrones?” and “How do you holding up after the party last night?”. People who have a sense of humour. This is very difficult at first, but when you manage to hire the first 10 people thinking in this way – they will create a kind of gravity that will attract more good people.
Make all the people in the company accountable for the contribution they make, count every buck. I’m not saying you should exploit your employees and stretch their targets beyond the stratosphere. The point is that if you know exactly how much profitability a particular specialist has brought you, any talks about potential pay raises are not stressful (stress comes from the conflict between wanting to give someone more money and not knowing if you can and if you can afford it).
In addition – it allows you to be the one initiating such conversations, thus no one can surprise you by asking first. For example, all pay rises at Casbeg so far were initiated by managers and the only conversation about a raise that was initiated by the employee had no solid grounds – so it was easily refused.
If you pay people for overtime, you’re messing up the company budget (usually overtime is paid extra). If you do not pay people for overtime, you’re an asshole who, without paying them, disturbs their private lives, their gym workout schedule, the time spent with the family and the ability to educate after work. In both cases you address the effects (“stay after hours, otherwise we will not achieve our goals”) instead of the reasons that force employees to stay after hours (poorly priced project, leaky processes, doing unique projects, not employing enough people, greediness of the company owners)
As managers, we often forget that we have a superpower which allows us to shape the culture of the organization in which we live every day. This culture – if we don’t shape it well – will eat our strategy for breakfast. Unfortunately, the main instruments to influence the shape of culture that we have at our disposal are dismissals, our own habits, and employment – and none of these is simple, but once we learn to use them, it gets less stressful.
Ask yourself and your employees a question about which 20% of customers generate 80% of fires, conflicts, problems, returns, complaints, and customer service queries. Identify what would have to happen in order to change each of these clients into a non-problem-generating client. Start implementing it (if possible). Set a deadline for the customer to be dismissed if you cannot turn the situation around. If it is impossible – dismiss them. If you cannot dismiss them because they are too important for your company to deprive yourself of their money – develop a plan to change this situation.
If you have a problem with it, I will give you a hint: you have too few leads, too little new sales, and low customer retention over time. It is possible that you have to stop settling in a success fee. Don’t worry – we do all of this in Casbeg, and you can become our client.
In relation to these most problematic 20% of clients, write a postmortem and address the reasons for which this client is generating problems. Maybe you have to remove clients in advance. Maybe you shouldn’t work only with a particular industry. It might not work with some particular type of decision maker. Maybe you shouldn’t take customers with projects which have to be completed yesterday. Or maybe you should, but for 100% more money? It may be better to determine the scope of cooperation. Or maybe just stop working with assholes.
If your website is based on a CMS that’s supported by only one company in the world – you are screwed and you must come to terms with WordPress. If you have just thought, “but we have such a good relationship with this company,” then you don’t have a good relationship with them – it’s the Stockholm Syndrome. If your product is made of a component that’s produced by only one factory in the world – you are screwed and you need a plan to diversify your supply chain.
And don’t forget to say Hail Marys every night so the factory doesn’t burn down, as it once happened to a hard disk components factory, and so that they don’t raise prices by 100% just because they can.
Once you’re not in a vendor lock-in situation, it’s worth having a partner with whom you do little business from time to time and who cares about doing more business with you. On the one hand, it will discipline your main partner to carry on delivering, and on the other, you will be immune to catastrophes you have no control over – bankruptcy, your partner’s CEO car accidents, factory fires, takeovers, etc.
If your partners earn almost nothing for working with you, it’s no wonder that they bomb terms, have poor customer service and delegate their cheapest people to your projects. Let go and treat it as a kind of tax you pay to get mental health, good night sleep, and happiness in marriage.
Ever since I began to respect my peace of mind more and applied the measures I described above, I am capable of much harder work. Work makes me less tired. I’m happier. I haven’t started to fire more people at all. Despite the media narration, hundreds of articles, and biographies of Elon Musk, there is no indication that there are any additional points for heroism in entrepreneurship.
And if it isn’t so, why struggle?
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