strategic consultant to:  

~ serial CEOs & CTOs in software, Internet, technology & digital media
~ experienced consultants in all fields to maximize their practices

In our fast-moving world of sound bites, information overwhelm, time-shifting and 24/7 availability, it is rare for a CEO to hear any advice that includes having patience. But you must have it, and the capital to sustain it, or your company will fail.

You don’t have to build your entire vision all at once, or at the outset of your new venture. If you have the patience to plan and execute carefully, while still being agile, your patience will pay off in those hidden strategic assets that make a company successful (clarity, responsibility through the ranks, market responsiveness, and a single collective vision of the company’s goals).

Timing: you must consider timing, including ~

  • time to market
  • time to complete a deal ~ to structure it, and test it in the field, and then wait long enough to assess its value over time.  So few CEOs integrate how long it takes to complete a deal, when planning their implementation.
  • time to acceptance of your product and pricing by your market and your channel.
  • time to know the experience and cooperation of your strategic partners.

It helps to remember that just because you want it to move faster, doesn’t mean that it will. I remember one young buck in Sales, during his first presentation to the Board of Directors, promising revenue from channel sales within 4 months of product launch, and this was before any electronic downloads were available, and before he had a list of potential channel partners. In his eagerness to please, and his lack of planning, he “wished away” the months of recruitment and training required for effective sales through an independent distribution channel.

Successful partnerships are based on clarity and trust, with each of the partners contributing their best efforts to the partnership and its common goals.

To create this clarity, the partners should write a deal memo with benchmarks, timing and assessment criteria. After the initial performance and evaluation of all parties by the other parties, then write a letter of intent (LOI) for consideration which covers the unknown “what ifs.” Evaluate what value if offered by each partner. Determine which partners assume what liability within the partnership. Then commit to the full contract, when the partnerships are clearly understood. Everyone will move forward with more clarity. In our personal lives we call this process courtship, perhaps now a fading art.

Be slow to commit your time and resources to ventures, strategic allies or partners on which you have not conducted appropriate due diligence. Due diligence questions include:

  • How well do you know each others’ companies, cultures, strengths and weaknesses?
  • What do others say about them and their ability to deliver results ~ speak directly (not by email) to five or more references, and ask about specific weaknesses, strengths and ethics.
  • What is the real scope of work for each party involved?
  • What are the roles of each?
  • What benchmarks and timing for delivery of the benchmarks have been agreed among the parties?
  • What are the consequences for missing each benchmark – to the alliance or venture, and to each responsible party?
  • Who is assuming what liability for which venture or partner?
  • What is the real time commitment to the next benchmark?
  • Will your early commitment create a dependency from which you cannot extricate yourself and your partners?
  • What conditions would end of the alliance or venture – even conditions with no fault to any of the participants (like a market shift, a disruptive competitor or an economic downturn)?
  • If the alliance or venture must end, who will take what steps and assume what responsibilities?

Make a plan, however rudimentary or evolved.

  • What needs to be achieved to respond to pressures of time to market?
  • What needs to wait until other divisions, products, market movements (some outside of your company and your control) are more mature?
  • What is the timeline for these plans?

Know that as your involvement with a venture (your own or others’) or a partner becomes more deep, your commitments will experience “scope creep” – the inclusion of tasks and responsibilities not documented or assumed on your part, but perhaps assumed on the other party’s part, or missed by all involved.

Pacing involves your managing this scope creep, and anticipating time for handling these unexpected responsibilities.  Pacing also involves giving your strategies the time and capital needed to allow them to succeed.

When hiring, give yourself and your new employee time to settle in, and to create value for each other. But have the patience to attend to this new relationship. This is achieved again by clarity of roles, benchmarks and expectations, and of regular evaluation of those expectations.

Early in my career, I had a client who sat in a huge office surrounded by windows, high up over New York, at an empty desk that held a telephone. He was a highly successful deal maker. He once told me, “If a new employee doesn’t exceed your expectations within the first six months, then fire him and replace him with someone who does.”

This is not impatience, but effectiveness. It works if you have conducted the correct due diligence on a new hire, clearly defined (and re-defined) your expectations, and had the patience to listen during the initial months to feedback from your new hire and your staff.

So, assess your priorities, plan your path, and make sure you pace your value, commitment, contribution and return on investment. Assess also the ultimate value and ROI of your time commitment – to a venture, a new product line, a new hire, a deal, or an alliance.

Yes, there is your vision, and there is your energy. Sometimes you have too much of both, especially if this is your first time as CEO of an early stage company. I respect all the “time to” issues in play, and also know that the time and energy spent on the wrong path or with the wrong partners will cost you much more than the patience to plan and implement correctly. The agility you need is to not to move more slowly, but to move ahead with clear direction, being patient enough to take all the steps required, no matter how quickly, to build the vision you see.