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Accidental CEO

What’s an accidental CEO?  Are you one?

You may or may not know the type.  They’ve spun out of government or a large integrator and had a good consulting gig as a 1099.  They are well connected with their customer (they used to be colleagues) and they deliver.  Since they can deliver, they are asked for additional resources.   They, in turn, hire their trusted network.  Within a few years, they’ve built a 10-20 person show churning $2-10M.

Everything is sunshine for a bit.  The SME/CEO is still billable, doing what they love.

Inevitably, the business side of the business rears up.  The SME finds themselves running a company of highly technical folks, spending most of their time on administrative tasks – cash flow projections, recruiting, contracts, minutia.  They spend less time on customer delivery and more on the day-to-day running of the company.  Their customer becomes frustrated as the SME can’t deliver the same level of service.  The employees become frustrated as their trusted colleague is always busy with other tasks and is often unavailable.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the SME-turned-CEO wakes up wondering how things got to this state.  They hate their day-to-day life.  They hate not delivering to the customer and find themselves questioning why they are running a company.

If this sounds like you, let me be the first to tell you the following:

  1. You are not alone, by a long shot
  2. It’s not uncommon at all
  3. You need to decide on your path forward before you completely lose it

There are several options that can move you out of this state, but before you can move forward, you have to take a hard look in the mirror and ask yourself what you want out of your career and what success looks like to you.  For some, it’s a dollar figure in their checking account.  For others, it’s flexibility in working on high-value work.  Still for others, it’s in cultivating a culture that they want.  Regardless of the answer, knowing your definition of success can help guide your path.

Admittedly this is a difficult step to take (aren’t all first steps that way?). Luckily you don’t have to go it alone. BOOST has the resources, personnel, and experience to help guide you through this process. Whether it be executive coaching in the form of mentoring or strategic planning from a whole-business perspective, BOOST can help. Let’s sit down over coffee and discuss your next steps. [email protected]

Seven Tips for Navigating 4Q18

As we start into the last government fiscal quarter, it is feast or famine time. Some have hit the beaches, getting some much-needed R&R and family time. Some are heads-down in proposal mode, worried about when the next one will hit. Others are in purgatory, the stretch between proposal submission and proposal award, with their fingers crossed thinking about the to-do list should they win.

All in all, summer is notoriously a time for going all out or taking off in the federal space. The battle rhythm is hard to hit. Here are some key points to consider, if only for your sanity.

  • Proposal Hell – make sure you’ve locked in the proposals you plan on bidding this summer. If it isn’t in your pipeline and you haven’t been tracking it, you aren’t ready to prime.  Don’t burn out your team on a bluebird, low probability win. You’re going to need them for your must wins.
  • Proposal Heaven – It’s late in the game, but make sure your templates are up to date and ready to bang out. Opposite of above, be ready to turn a bluebird subcontracting proposal over quickly. If you are doing less of the heavy lift, take more risk and bid more. This is where your templates can greatly reduce effort and your team can respond with agility. Besides, some percentage of revenue is much better than no revenue. Expand your book of business without needing to prime everything.
  • Pricing – As you close June’s books, have your folks review with leadership actual vs. planned for the first half of the year. Is your multiplier running as you expected? Does your pricing strategy for the summer need to be adjusted? Do it now before you turn in those bids. What is the impact for your proposal? Where can you tighten up? Impact on Operations (particularly CPFF work)?
  • Recruiting – It’s a tight market and it’s hard to compete for key folks. Be aware of summer schedules and be flexible as an employer. If they can’t interview in the next two weeks, it’s not necessarily because they aren’t interested. Adjust your expectations for days to hire.
  • Leadership and Recruiting – It’s a great time to schedule those pipeline candidates for coffee where you can. They want to interact with leadership, not the recruiter. Take the time to touch base so when the contract award hits, you can move quickly.
  • Mental Health – This is important for everyone. Take the vacation, take the time off. Get off your phone and dear god, stop driving your team endlessly. If leadership can’t take a vacation and check out for a bit, what have you done wrong in your business? Delegate, empower and document. This goes for CEOs to administrative staff. Absolutely no one is irreplaceable. Create an environment where taking time off is actually a good thing, not something that is frowned upon.
  • Be Efficient (a tip from Courtney Fairchild of Global Services) There will be a great deal of opportunities arriving at the end of the fiscal year buying season, but working smart will save you valuable time and energy. Looking ahead at forecasts; touching base with current government clients; having up-to-date GSA schedules with all the services and products you offer, and being mindful of micro-purchase thresholds can provide meaningful wins and cash flow.

 

Before you disconnect for a bit- get everything in order to jump back in well-rested and energized. If you find you’re a little light on recruiting or pricing preparation, let BOOST know. We’re happy to jump in and have a conversation with you to see where you can tighten up and delegate when possible. Email[email protected] and let’s talk.

Why Pricing?

BOOST is excited to announce the launch of our new strategic pricing initiative, designed to support your proposal pricing needs and provide Price to Win strategy that incorporates all back office functions. We want you to win work, grow and succeed. Strategic pricing can get you there. 

Pricing impacts absolutely everything in an organization. If you haven’t been thinking about it strategically, or have just relied on your accounting shop to pull together a spreadsheet, you are going about it all wrong.

Here’s what I mean:

Capture –

  • How much does this customer have in the budget?
  • What did the incumbent bid?
  • Is it worth it to pursue this strategy?
  • Is this a profit play or increase past performance, new client, new offerings?
  • Impact to teaming decisions and teammates?
  • Did you know that Capture “owns” pricing? They’re ultimately responsible for the bid price.

Proposal Team –

  • What key personnel do we bid?
  • What type of labor mix will show the customer that we can deliver?
  • What price will come in competitively?
  • How do we price our solution?
  • How will our competitors bid?
  • How will we ghost weaknesses?
  • How can the pricing volume help win themes?
  • Other volumes impacted by price, such as SB volume, Contracts volume?

Recruiting –

  • Who are the key personnel and how can I ensure exclusivity (if possible)?
  • What is the geographic location, skill set and salary rates we need to start pipelining beforehand and hire in execution?
  • Greening plan? Innovative hiring solutions for continuity of ops over the contract years?
  • What flexibility do we have on credentials?
  • What type of benefits can we offer to supplement for lower base salaries?

HR –

  • What training do we need to offer to current staff?
  • Who can move from existing work to new work, allowing for career path?
  • How do we manage the workforce needs of the new team?
  • If changing badges, how do we ensure they understand our culture, benefits, etc.?
  • What is the cultural impact to the organization?

Operations 

  • How soon can we transition fully and hire?
  • Will we be stuck managing a team of unhappy badge changers?
  • What is the impact to the other projects if we trade players?
  • How can we keep the customer happy with a new team?
  • How can we hire the talent we need at the salaries we bid?
  • How do we overcome a small (or non-existent) annual increase and keep the team motivated?
  • How will the contract type affect performance metrics? Should we account for risk in the bid?

Finance –

  • What is the cost to hire, how quickly will we hire and what are the cash flow requirements?
  • What will be the impact to margins?
  • How do we deliver for maximum profits?

Leadership 

  • What does the win do for us in the marketplace?
  • Can we deliver operationally and do so profitably?
  • What is the impact to our culture that we need to recognize?

Shareholders –

  • What does this do to the company’s overall position within the industry/market?
  • What is the financial impact?

Absolutely everyone in an organization is impacted (directly or indirectly) by the pricing strategy that you employ on the bid. It goes without saying that to start, you’ve got to win. But the need to win MUST be tempered with the above impacts. Winning a poorly priced bid for headaches in execution is NOT worth it. Do not fall into the trap of “must win at any cost” mentality. It can wreck culture, margins and reputation.

For all the above reasons, we are extremely excited to announce our strategic pricing shop. We’ve got 10+ senior pricers that cover practically every agency, who have won billions. As we push towards fiscal year end, utilize professionals who can help you think through all of the above and win.

Leading Your Troops

Much has been written about management versus leadership.  There are many overly shared images about what characteristic leaders have versus those who are considered ‘just’ being a boss. Many books have been written on the subject yet we still find an abundance of poor leadership.

But what does it mean to be a leader in the GovCon world?

How can you lead a team of folks who mainly work on the government site and tend to identify with their customers (i.e. going native)?
How do you lead when your re-compete is up and you’ve got to reduce your team’s salaried personnel by 25% to win?
How do you enforce the rules and compliance in an overly regulated industry that doesn’t always make sense?
How do you continue to motivate and push your staff when you are beholden to 2% cost of living raises and a focus on keeping the multiplier down?

As you can already tell, there are a variety of situations that compound the already overwhelmed concept of leadership in GovCon. I believe there are many theories out there, but two common themes that have resonated with me are communication and authenticity.  At the heart of practically every conflict or issue in this world is communication.  If you cannot effectively communicate as a leader, even with the best intentions, you will fail.

What is effective communication?  Saying what you mean, leaving nothing for wild interpretation and being authentic in your message.  Hollow sentiments or glossing over issues will only come back to bite you.  Having hard conversations is never easy, but it’s part of the job.  If you must cut salaries to be competitive on a bid, say it.  Say it clearly and unequivocally.  Provide your rationale and allow for feedback, but make it clear that you are responsible for this decision. Take ownership and allow those looking to move on, an opportunity to volunteer if possible. Communication is vital but so is being authentic.

What is authenticity? Providing and promoting an image that is sincere and true to your character as a leader or a company.  Employees, stakeholders, partners and clients can all spot a fake.  You can fake it for a bit, but eventually your true colors come out and the damage will be near-impossible to correct.  Instead of hiding your personality, embrace your strengths, and be yourself. The effort that it takes to hide or cover your personality can be better spend on leadership decisions and building a reputation on trust and authority. It is much easier to act on the truth than it is to remember and perform on a fallacy.

Regardless of your journey to leadership once you find yourself in a position of authority focus on solid communication and reputation based authenticity. Most companies that find themselves consistently winning awards and crushing the re-compete are those that excel in communication and authenticity. To effectively lead your troops into the GovCon space you must be clear and focused, always.

Forced Promotion

Did you fall into management? Were you rewarded for your technical skills with the extra bonus of now having direct reports? This cycle happens time and time again where folks excel at their trade. Generally, very few people are asked if they want the additional responsibility of a leadership role or guiding a team. Even fewer are given any training on how to be a good manager. Instead, they are given timesheet approval responsibilities, a list of when performance reviews are due and told to make the team work. There’s no Cliff Notes or Management 101 class for how it’s done and most learn via on-the-job experience. A trial by fire, if you will.

As small organizations grow, the scenario above becomes more normal than unique. This is dangerous for several reasons. First and foremost, it takes a brilliant, high-achiever away from the thing they do best and forces them to spend time on tasks they may not enjoy. Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t always the case. There are some people that want the additional management responsibilities and enjoy managing a team. If that’s the case, good grief, encourage it! Yet in many cases, it’s a technical engineer or high-tech professional who enjoys their trade and wants to spend more time doing it, not less.

This is also a dangerous move as these types of managers may not have the instincts to follow employment laws, cultivate a team or build morale. Those traits can be gained through experience, but only if the participant wants to. Many times, the management piece filed under “other duties as assigned” and those who are not prone to leadership are less likely to spend time improving their skills in this area. This leads to issues within the team and potentially putting the company in legal risk (unintentionally). Thus creating more problems where a simple conversation, gauging the interest of your team and gleaning appropriate leaders from the ranks may have avoided many issues.

If you are a technical company, I recommend you seek out those who are keen to manage and have the skills or drive to learn. Encourage this and build from there. For those who don’t, allow them to continue to climb in their careers, but do so with the top cover support from managers who understand their talents. Micro-managing a highly technical person is a recipe for disaster. Instead, hire leaders who respect and understand the technical expertise. In return, they will win the respect of the techies.

Happy Techies, Happy Leaders, Happy Company… for the most part.

When it comes time for you to seek new leadership for your teams- invest in reviewing skill sets, employee goals and find the best fit on paper and in person for the needs of your company. Want to learn more? I’d be happy to throw some pointers your way! [email protected]