[ t h i n k ]
[ t h i n k ]
Like it or not, successful leaders can come in all stripes: good, bad, and ugly.
Some teachers are cruel to their students, while some teachers change students’ lives.
Some coaches are jerks, while some coaches inspire greatness in their athletes.
Some CEOs are flat out assholes, while some CEOs are fair, honest, and visionary.
Some presidents are philandering, big mouth blowhard’s, while some presidents are soft-spoken, strong, inspirational leaders of a nation.
This is the way of the world. It is frustrating to the average civil person who plays by the rules, when a CEO or a politician or any person in a position of leadership and power can be as successful as they are mean, conniving, and dysfunctional.
As to our newly elected President Donald Trump, we must give him the benefit of the doubt because that is what we do as Americans. As to his character and performance going forward, time will tell, the ball is in his court.
One of the most important responsibilities of the CEO is to communicate the current and projected future performance of the organization. A well accepted technique for this is called a “dashboard of key indicators.” If you sit on a Board of Directors, you want to see regular updates of key indicators in an easily accessible, simple, visual format. I’ve found that Prezi provides a perfect platform to do this.
Corporations have the capital to purchase and deploy fancy enterprise systems (or cloud-based systems) and the financial staff to take care of this kind of thing. But if you’re an entrepreneur or small business person, you’ve got to figure out a way to do this for yourself. I will show you a way to do this using Prezi and other common off-the-shelf tools (software) that you probably already have access to.
But first, let me show you what the end product can look like and talk about the benefits of using Prezi.
The beauty of the Prezi dashboard
Online, anytime, anywhere, on any mobile device: I think this benefit is pretty self-explanatory. Click on the following link and it will take you to a public dashboard which we can use as a demonstration:
The picture below shows you that a Prezi dashboard looks great on any device: PC, laptop, iPad, and smartphone.
The infinite whiteboard: Prezi is famous for what they call the “infinite whiteboard” concept. The navigation functionality made possible by this is what makes it so powerful and appealing as a presentation tool.
The first thing most users will do is click on the home icon along the right-hand border of the window which will pop the entire dashboard inside the window giving you the big picture overview of the dashboard.
From this vantage you can navigate one of several ways:
Click on the full-screen mode icon and a slide will fill the monitor screen (similar to presentation mode in PowerPoint). This is the preferred mode when making a presentation to an audience.
The user can either manually advance through each slide by clicking on the right or left arrows on the bottom of the window; or, the user can set “autoplay” to one of several different timing intervals.
On any given slide, the user can zoom in or out at will thanks to the “infinite whiteboard” of Prezi. Back-and-forth, zoom in and out, pop back to home, this is the kind of easy flexibility a user wants when navigating a dashboard.
Privacy: You can share online your dashboard using Prezi’s three-level privacy functionality:
To get started you need the following:
Creating the graphs: Microsoft Excel gives you everything you need to set up all of your key indicator data and then convert that data into visually impactful graphs and charts. Each chart can be copied and pasted into a PowerPoint presentation file as an image.
Once all your slides are transferred into PowerPoint, you then need to “save as” the PowerPoint file as a PDF file. It is true that you can directly import a PowerPoint file into Prezi but I have found that sometimes formatting of the slides can be lost. By converting it to a PDF file, the formatting of each slide is “locked” and when you import the PDF file into Prezi, each slide comes out perfect.
Next, you import the PDF file into your new Prezi presentation space which you have created online. When you do this, Prezi magically unbundles each slide within the PDF file and arranges them separately in their correct original order.
And finally, you click “edit path” in the lower left-hand corner of your Prezi window to then click on each slide in the order you want them presented, and then click “done”.
You have now created a world-class dashboard!
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Cash is king, as the old saying goes. It is the one resource a company cannot survive without for any length of time until the doors are closed, voluntarily or involuntarily, which is why the CEO must find or develop a method to reliably understand and predict the company’s current and future ability to generate the cash it needs to pay all of its bills.
Forecasting cash flow is much easier than it used to be, thanks to the convenient number-crunching power of PCs and spreadsheet software which allows one to build an Integrated Spreadsheet which links a projected balance sheet and income statement for the business. The Integrated Spreadsheet is a tool that will give any CEO the positive direct control they must have over the financial rudder of the business.
A wise time investment for CEO’s
A company’s cash flow at any point in time is a juxtaposition of payables, receivables, debt service, capital expenditures, sales/repurchases of stock, and other factors. An Integrated Spreadsheet handles this complex financial interaction with electronic precision. Using this tool, a CEO can more carefully predict where the company is heading. That’s powerful planning and peace of mind for the executive/owner that shoulders the burden of consistently meeting payroll and staying current with suppliers on all bills.
Assuming the user knows their way around a spreadsheet and double- entry accrual accounting, the structure of an Integrated Spreadsheet can be set up in a few hours. It will take a day or so to input the previous twelve months of operating data; a day to input informed estimates of revenues, expenses, and capital expenditures for the next twelve months and to fine-tune those estimates; and a day to train all users who will have access to the Integrated Spreadsheet.
If the CEO cannot spare the time, this task can be delegated to inside accounting staff or subcontracted to an outside accountant or consultant. If this project is delegated, it is still important that the CEO be trained in the use of the Integrated Spreadsheet so that he or she can perform what-if analyses and generally watch over the constantly revising forecast of the financials of the business, a function that should be owned by the CEO. Financial forecasting involves hundreds of experience-based estimates of highest-probable outcomes of revenues, expenses, capital expenditures, debt service, equity inflows and outflows, extraordinary gains and losses, and other income and expenses, by someone that has the overview of the business. The CEO has this overview as it is part of the responsibility of the position.
Basic structure of the integrated spreadsheet
It is important for the user to have a general understanding of how the spreadsheet is laid out and functions. The integrated spreadsheet has three major components:
These three components are linked or integrated so that they balance or tie out in accrual accounting terms. These integrated accounts are highlighted in various colors as shown on the diagram below:
The major points of integration are identified by the matching colors. For example, the link between “depreciation” on the balance sheet and “depreciation expense” on the income statement is shown in brown, since these two entries must be identical in double-entry accrual accounting. There are in fact numerous links between the income statement and the balance sheet as a result of the double-entry methodology. The beauty of the spreadsheet is it affords the user the flexibility to add/subtract/modify at will and build increasing sophistication into the integrated spreadsheet enabling a more realistic modeling of the financial dynamics of the business.
I’ve posted a power point presentation on prezi that leads you through the basic construction of the integrated spreadsheet. The secret sauce in this process is the synching of a cash flow adjustment (plug) at the bottom of the spreadsheet below the income statement as shown in the diagram below:
By wiring together these key accounts to calculate the actual cash flow for each month, this will cause what’s known as a circular calculation in the spreadsheet which is normally a no-no, but in this case it is a good thing! The user simply needs to go into “settings” and set the automatic calculation to 100 iterations and the spreadsheet will automatically recalculate and balance the statements after each new value entry to a cell.
Using the tool
Once the integrated spreadsheet is set up, using it effectively involves inputting the actuals from each monthly financial statement as they occur and reforecasting the numbers going forward from the most recent actuals. This process repeats itself every month — inputting the most recent actuals and reforecasting ahead — and as each month goes by and the user gains experience in using the spreadsheet and making experience-based judgments of how the numbers will track, the integrated spreadsheet becomes an expert system that does a better job over time of forecasting the financial fortunes (or misfortunes) of the company. The key point is that all of this boils down to one most important account: cash flow.
Once the process of updating actuals and forecasting ahead is complete,
the CEO looks at the impact on cash and then develops a financing plan
that optimizes the uses of working capital in the next six months and beyond.
If the projected cash flow shows surpluses being generated, the CEO can
decide how that excess cash could be used today and in the coming months
If the projected cash flow is negative, the CEO must plan for how the
minimum working capital requirements for the business will be generated to
carry the company through tight cash periods by a combination of:
If the CEO can build the integrated spreadsheet for the business and start using it each month ( if not each day), learning by doing is the most efficient user’s manual. The CEO will quickly discover the many dimensions of value that are derived from the integrated spreadsheet aside from the very tangible value of forecasting cash flow. The integrated spreadsheet causes the user to think about every aspect of the business, across all accounts, across time, across strategies, by looking back to look forward. And at the end of the exercise instead of saying, “I hope we’ll have the money in the bank when we need it,” the CEO can say, “We expect to have the cash we need, and here’s how.”
That’s powerful business confidence!
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No company is too small to create a board of directors, and no company is too large and sophisticated that it cannot improve upon its board because directors have the potential to add significant value to management and the company in countless ways.
That said…excuses, excuses
There is no good argument (generally) against using a board of directors, yet owners and CEOs continue to cite the following excuses:
1. I don’t have enough time
There are certain high-leverage activities for CEOs and owners that they must put at the top of their priority list because even though these tasks do take valuable time to plan, prepare, and execute (e.g., financial audits; a strategic planning retreat; a performance review with a key employee; a board of directors meeting), these activities hold the potential to make a substantial positive impact for the business. Executing these high-leverage tasks as a business leader is simply something you have to do, so you make the time.
2. I can’t afford it
The cost and complexity of a board of directors scales to the size of the company. In a large or public company you can expect to attract sophisticated directors and they will expect a compensation package commensurate with company size and the commitment required.
But if you are a start-up company and only a few people are involved, you most likely won’t be attracting public company directors that expect big fees. But you can attract successful local people that were once in your shoes and know what it’s like to start and build a company and they’d be pleased to serve on your board as a way to give back – sometimes only for the price of a dinner and a few beers.
3. I don’t know anyone to ask
Many people say this initially but if they take a few minutes to reflect, they can always think of someone to invite to be a director. Also, they usually know someone who could be an intermediary to a director candidate. Good intermediaries can be a friend; a relative; a business colleague; your accountant, attorney, or banker; a professor; the Chamber of Commerce; a valued and trusted key supplier or client.
There are also organizations that foster better corporate governance and directorship that can match directors looking for board assignments with companies looking for good directors. For larger companies there are search firms that specialize in recruiting directors to large and public boards.
4. I don’t know what value they would bring – I know what to do
An executive with this kind of attitude most likely feels this way about many things, not just a board of directors. This kind of insulated, ivory-tower attitude only limits new opportunities for management and the company.
The objective evidence indicates that boards do provide real value to management and shareholders. However, it is true that boards also hold the potential to screw up royally and there are many examples of that from both for-profit and nonprofit boards, big to small. But that is not because the value proposition of a board is not valid, only that those particular boards were dysfunctional and acted irresponsibly. The overwhelming majority of boards do great work for their constituents.
5. I don’t want anybody to know what we’re doing
It’s a valid concern for many companies, but you cannot operate inside a top-security box forever. You need a few select trusted advisers that you can lean on and use as sounding boards so that your thinking and decision making does not become inbred and myopic. Directors can give you fresh and unbiased insights and they will respect and maintain the confidentiality of your plans and intellectual property.
6. I don’t know how to set up and manage a board
If you can create, manage, and grow a company, you can create and manage a board. Most attorneys are very helpful in making sure you cover the legal basics. Experienced directors themselves will be very helpful and patient as you proceed and learn on the job.
There’s a wealth of good books and training programs at your disposal. In essence, a board meeting is just like any other meeting where you set a prioritized agenda, meet, discuss, and get things done.
7. I don’t want any outsiders involved – this is a family business
It is a truism that there is family, and then there is everyone else. Experienced directors understand this as it relates to the dynamics of a family business board, and still you would be surprised how effective (and refreshing!) an outside director can be inside a tight-knit family business and board.
Family members are constrained in so many ways from being totally honest with each other. The outside director is unconstrained and sometimes the only one to tell it like it is. This can be an invaluable resource for a family business.
Just do it
If you’ve been dragging your feet to develop a board, just get on with it.
At the outset of building a board you will find that you can learn quickly with the help of the directors themselves. In a year’s time you will be the expert. You will find that your directors may refer you to other non-competitor CEOs who are looking for good board members. This is one of the primary ways the community of directors populate their ranks.
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Kudos to Mr. Pickens for throwing down an idea! We need new ideas and the discussion they instigate is good and is our democratic way. But I think the greater problem than the election process is the accountability process on the back end. If the federal government was a corporation and we were its shareholders, the CEO (President) and board (Congress) are driving our company towards bankruptcy and we have no way to stop it. The best idea I ever heard was Warren Buffett’s idea: “I can end the deficit in five minutes. You just pass a law that says that anytime there’s a deficit of more than 3% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for reelection.” You may argue that an idea this radical can never be implemented (the same feasibility of passing a flat tax), but until we have a real financial check-and-balance that does not depend upon politicians, a new election process will not bring us any improved accountability. “Trust” and “accountability” are what we must restore and the irony is that the way our current political system is designed, the overwhelming objective evidence shows that professional politicians cannot get the job done. So how does it get done?
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Businesses face adversity from time to time which directly impacts profitability, such as:
Each era in our history has had its challenges. The automobile industry has been able to respond to the adversity imposed by fuel standard regulations and over time, improve the quality of the cars and their competitive advantage. Manufacturers have been able to respond to the adversity imposed by water and air-quality regulations from EPA to build new corporate cultures that embrace green and sustainable practices requiring innovation along the way while building goodwill, brand, and competitiveness in the market.
Today, drought is one of the most serious and pervasive adverse challenges facing farming and farm communities worldwide. Instead of waiting for it to finally rain, the farm industry must pursue innovation in several key areas:
Research is ongoing in all of these areas and when successfully applied, innovation will sprout wherever drought is an issue.
History teaches us that adversity at first may seem like a direct attack to profitability and the sustainability of our businesses, and this typically instigates a stubborn defensive reaction in the beginning. But history also shows us that when companies face adversity head on, people rise to the occasion and solve some very difficult problems and those solutions benefit everyone.
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