CEO Tune-up

By Hannah Wallace July 31, 2006

It doesn't matter if you head up a company that makes airline or lawnmower parts or sporting equipment, you'll still need the same "tools" as other leaders if you want to be successful, says corporate motivational speaker Kraig Kramers, who has worked as a CEO in all three industries and has been teaching CEOs skills for 20 years.

"Just a twist of a wrench can literally change your world," says Kramers, 63, CEO of Corporate Partners Inc., an Atlanta-based business consulting firm.

Kramers travels with his toolbox, talking to 150 groups every year throughout the United States and Canada. He was recently in Sarasota to teach The Executive Committee, a local chapter of an international leadership development organization for business leaders.

Top 10 Executive Tools Kramers advises managers to get out of their chair for 20 minutes a day and "walk the four corners." "Ask employees, 'How can we improve things for the customer? How can we improve productivity?'" he advises. "What you're really saying is, 'I trust you. Give me your opinion on these things.'" The most frequently asked question in organizations is "How are things going?" Kramers says. "Tell them."

1. What gets measured gets done.

2. Focus on customer-impacting jobs. Make sure your strongest people are in the jobs with high customer contact. "Go to those people and get those jobs right," Kramers says. "You want superb performers for the customer."

3. Set big, audacious goals. "What most managers do is set a goal and cram it down people's throats," Kramers says. "You have to get buy-in and participate with people in setting the goals. Goals should be reasonable but reaching. Say, 'That's the main goal, but let's have fun with it, go for the brass ring!'" Employees need to know it's OK to fail. The important thing is that the company is setting higher goals and some of them will be reached.

4. Create a one-page business plan. Condense a business plan to one page and give it to every employee. "When you're walking the four corners, talk to people about the plan," Kramers says. "By repeating, employees get it and understand each element."

5. Set priorities and update them quarterly. "Everybody is tangled up in the day-to-day," says Kramers. "Write your top five priorities that relate to the big picture." Ask for criticism about the company's priorities and have employees compose their own. Share them on a regular basis.

6. Create meaningful charts that show you the "big picture." Monthly revenue charts are a staple of every corporation, but Kramer says most lack "big picture" data that show a company's true financial position. Kramers has created a series of charts that include details such as the company's remaining credit line, forecasts, and daily cash inflows and outflows. The charts "trail" or carry data from one week to the next. "Tables of ordinary numbers lie to you," Kramers says, because they often don't tell the whole story. (Samples charts are available on his Web site,

7. Figure out the best sources of sales. It might be the number of telemarketing calls, or it might be the number of ads you place. It's different for every business. "Most people don't have a clue," Kramers says. It may take some brainstorming as a management team to find out, but it's critical information.

8. Write a CEO's or manager's monthly letter. Keep it to one page and use it as an opportunity to update employees on how the company is doing. "Repeat the goal every month," Kramers advises.

9. Create a regular recognition and celebration system. "Most CEOs are not good at recognition," Kramers says, "and as a result they don't do it consistently." It's a big mistake, too. "If you pat people on the back when they do a good job, they'll genuinely want to do a good job."

10. Establish one-on-one meetings with each of the people who directly report to you. Kramers says managers should schedule weekly meetings for about five weeks and then switch to a monthly lunch. "Talk about anything but business," Kramers says. People relax and open up when they're talking about their "other world." It builds relationships and trust, which is the key to all successful companies.

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