Top Challenges Facing CEOs (How to Solve Them)

June 6th, 2019 by Julie Lough

CEO Retaining Employees

If you’re a CEO — whether your company is big or small, new or old, successful or working on it— there’s no doubt certain problems do a great job of keeping you up at night.

These are the challenges you just can’t seem to master. They plague you day-to-day, quarter-to-quarter, year-to-year. Yet try as you might, there seems to be no getting around them.

The good news is, yours are likely the same problems that all CEOs face. In other words, you’re in good company.

Below, we take a look at a few of these common CEO challenges and offer up some useful tips for tackling them once and for all.

Top Challenges CEOs Face

#1 – “How do I hire the best talent (and keep them motivated)?”

Attracting the best employees is certainly a leading cause of concern among CEOs. As a CEO, your team is the engine that drives your business. You may be the “ideas man” or “ideas woman,” but you need great talent to bring your concepts to life.

The Solution: Top employees can definitely hard to find, but it’s important to take your time. Quality hiring is doable if you know where to look, what to look for, and how to entice the right people.

First, make sure you’re clear about your job descriptions. Don’t be wishy-washy with prospective candidates.

Next, know where to look. Job fairs, sites like LinkedIn, and open job searches are good places to start. Still, you should always thoroughly review applications and prescreen candidates with a tight checklist before narrowing your best options.

Be thorough about checking your candidates’ references, backgrounds (job and education history), and experience. After you’ve made a short list, hold in-person interviews to get a feel for each candidate’s interest level and how they behave.

Lastly, when you find the right candidate, make sure you have a stellar hiring package ready to show them. Make it one they won’t be able to say no to. Budget restraints are certainly a challenge here, so if your resources are tight, find ways to promise pay and benefit increases with improved performance and company success. This shows your investment in your company — and in your employees as members of the larger company family.

#2 – “How do I retain my talent?”

Keeping employees motivated is certainly essential for extending and prolonging the flow of unique, creative ideas and hard work. Still, if you’re not taking care of your employees in other basic ways, some of them will walk away. Of course, this won’t necessarily be because they want to … they simply might have to.

The Solution: To ensure a consistent, long-lasting team of the best talent in your industry, you have two jobs:

1. Find ways to keep your employees motivated to do well.

2. Reward them for their hard work.

Many CEOs have trouble grasping the fact that their best employees won’t necessarily hang around just for the love of the work. This is often because, as CEOs, they’ve turned over their own life over to their business.

But remember that your employees — no matter how similarly passionate they are about your company — have lives of their own. Many have mouths to feed at home, student loans to pay, and second mortgages on their homes. If you’re not providing for them (as you said you would when you hired them) and incentivizing them to continue doing amazing work … you can probably expect their two weeks’ notice sometime soon.

In order to motivate employees, you’ve got to have a great idea that’s worth working for. Of course, it helps if you’ve hired a team that’s passionate about the same things you are.

Team-building is another great way to keep employees motivated. Organized company events, fun incentive programs, a comfortable work space, and opportunities for self-development within your company are key.

# 3 – “How do I make my product (or service) stand out?”

Yes, your company solves “problem A” … but so do six other companies. What you have to decide upon and sell is how you solve your problem better than anyone else.

Easier said than done, right?

The Solution: For the most part, the key answer here is creativity. Unfortunately, whether you like it or not, there are a lot of creatives out there doing awesome work. You’re probably creative too. But you have to be more creative than your competitors.

The good news is you have some options.

If you know for sure that your company is just like another company, for example, look for ways to differentiate by:

  • Unique branding
  • Varied size, shape, or level-of-service options
  • Amazing discounts and sales
  • Bonuses for loyal customers
  • World-class customer service
  • Added, unique features
  • Exceptional marketing *

* This is key. By investing in your marketing strategies, you’re tinkering with the first thing potential customers and clients will see — and that’s the right place to begin.

It’s true, if you can get someone to your website to read about your unique product features or see your amazing discounts, you might be able to turn them on to your product or service. But if you can “have them at hello,” you’re going to see a much higher and more immediate rate of success. Smart marketing will also give you one of the highest returns on your investments.

Generally speaking, all CEOs will face the above challenges at one time or another. The key to overcoming them is two-fold: First, try to anticipate whatever key issues you’ll have before they become serious dilemmas. Second, using the advice above, don’t be afraid to face these issues head-on. When something doesn’t work, don’t give up — simply try a new tack.

CEOs Guide To Corporate Mobile Device Security

June 3rd, 2019 by Julie Lough

Mobile Device Security

One of the major advantages of newer technologies is their ability to connect employees working remotely. Connections to colleagues, data and files help make doing business more productive, effective and accurate, no matter where employees and their teams are.

That’s why more companies are establishing bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies. Such guidelines allow companies to save on the costs of providing employees with their own mobile devices or paying for their maintenance and replacement.

Adopting such policies requires companies to set clear guidelines for the use of such devices and what obligations employers and employees have.

What Are the Advantages to BYOD Policies?

Along with the cost reduction, there are several other advantages for companies that choose to use BYOD rules:

  • Increased employee satisfaction. Employees who can bring their own devices are more satisfied in the workplace, don’t have to manage multiple devices and can use their own device for work-related tasks.
  • More productivity. Employees with access to workplace apps on their own devices can respond faster to inquiries, gain needed information and address issues quickly.
  • Flexibility. Make it easier for employees to work from home, remotely or while traveling with ready access to communication and apps that let them do their work effectively.
  • Reduces uncertainty. For companies that pay for voice and data services for employee devices, switching to a BYOD policy saves not only on contract costs but also on data and voice overage charges.

“Employees who are willing to spend their own money to procure their own devices can be a boom for their bottom line. In some ways, this is a perfect arrangement. Employees get to use their chosen device, which can improve productivity and morale while saving companies money,” notes a recent article.

What Are the Primary Disadvantages to BYOD Policies?

The primary concern for many companies considering adopting a BYOD policy is security. Consider that for every device you add to your network, that’s one more device that has access to sensitive, proprietary or protected information. A company-owned device provides far more control of what websites are accessible, when devices are updated and how usage is monitored. Companies can control what anti-virus, anti-malware and anti-phishing tools are installed and how frequently they’re updated. Control means a greater understanding of what’s protected and how.

Another concern to BYOD workplaces is compatibility and support. Your employees are likely using multiple devices with multiple operating systems and capabilities. Your IT team will likely be responsible for some aspects of device management, including installation and updating of apps, security processes such as VPN and other protections, and ensuring security patches are applied. Having more devices in play means more expertise is required of your IT employees.

When employees leave, there need to be clear procedures and auditing rules about ensuring that all access to company files, apps and data is removed immediately.

Scalability is another concern. As the number of employees grows, with some of them using multiple personal devices, the staff demand for management and updating grows accordingly. Company network infrastructure also needs to be expansive enough to accommodate all the new devices.

For employees, the main concern is privacy. Employees may wonder how much of their personal activity and device usage is accessible to their employers.

Are There Other Options Besides Company-Provided and BYOD?

Some companies choose one of two alternative policies that reduce the risk:

  • COPE. Corporate-Owned, Personally Enabled devices are those employees can use as their own but are purchased by and owned by the company. However, employee privacy concerns can make such an approach unpopular.
  • CYOD. A choose-your-own-device approach requires employees to select from a limited number of devices for use with employer applications and access. While this helps minimize the amount of support required, it may require employees to spend more on new equipment.

How Can Employers Maintain Security with BYOD?

Clear and consistent policies are key to effective BYOD workplaces. Here are a few of the considerations you should use when implementing BYOD policies:

  • Determine what operating systems and devices your company is willing to support
  • Create device enrollment practices, requiring devices to be registered and authenticated before they are connected to your company network
  • Require strong password or passphrase guidelines, including length, complexity, change frequency and failed-attempt blocking
  • Create automatic lockouts on devices after a period of inactivity
  • Require employees to immediately report lost or stolen equipment
  • Mandate that personal devices can be disabled or wiped in the event of a loss or theft
  • Install required anti-virus, anti-malware and anti-spam software on all BYOD smartphones, tablets and laptops
  • Automate regular backups of company applications and data from personal devices
  • Keep devices and applications up to date using automated patching and updating tools
  • Encrypt all BYODs, ideally with full device encryption. If that’s not possible, require all sensitive data to be stored in encrypted folders on the devices
  • Determine if BYOD users will be allowed to print, copy, save or email information pulled from your servers
  • Require employees to sign an agreement stating they understand all the policies, procedures, regulations and consequences for noncompliance
  • Detail the consequences of not adhering to company policies

When companies pay attention to the policies and guidelines necessary to ensure secure and proper use, BYOD policies can be an advantage to employers and employees alike.

A CEOs Guide to Artificial Intelligence

May 31st, 2019 by Julie Lough

CEO Artificial Intelligence

Today’s CEOs are increasingly being asked to lead their business into a data-driven world, but does that mean that immersive courses in understanding the technology are crucial? Not necessarily — in fact, it’s much more important that CEOs understand the potential of the technology and how to drive culture change throughout their organization. While Artificial Intelligence (AI) is truly changing the landscape of business, it’s doing so because fearless leaders are dreaming about the changes and improvements that are now possible through the genius of technology. See how this cultural revolution in the way we work is sweeping through business and leading a fast and furious discourse on how organizations will interact with data and individuals in the future.

The Promise of AI

CEOs have likely seen several generations of “transformative business models”: cloud-based computing being the most recent. As businesses are still reeling from this rapid-fire shift to Software as a Service (SaaS) models, the promise of artificial intelligence has the C-suite scrambling to understand the implications for their business. Scrappy start-ups do as they have always done, harnessing a new technology direction to quickly make changes to their business model as tech is introduced into the marketplace. Larger businesses and enterprises may be slower to act, as they can be weighed down with limited budgets, heavy infrastructure and disparate legacy systems. It takes time to move in a new direction, but the promise of AI is significant enough that business leaders throughout the world are exploring how to deploy data-driven decisioning in their operations, marketing and accounting solutions. From computers that recognize an individual human’s face to predictions of sales based on the weather, AI can be found in any number of practical applications throughout the business world — as evidenced by the 270% growth rate that AI has enjoyed in the past several years according to Gartner research.

Understanding How AI Works

In this season, the hype around AI is beginning to manifest itself in workable business models such as chatbots, next-best actions for customer service and predictive analytics. These systems can sense, analyze and respond to their environments in a way that is both interactive and intelligent. Creating a machine that is able to make better decisions over time based on the validation of its hypotheses requires a great deal of programming and math. However, the beauty of AI is that once the background work is done, humans are able to interact with the systems to continue the cycle of learning. AI systems “see” and “hear” sensory inputs and are able to translate that information, extract value and provide intelligent feedback to the user. Sensors and IoT (Internet of Things) connected devices also serve as input mechanisms, allowing machines to “feel” when something is cold or hot, positive or negative. This level of intuition is what is new to the business horizon, and it provides organizations with an ever-expanding range of possibilities to solve business problems.

3 Levels of AI Comprehension

While AI may have initially brought to mind futuristic robots that have taken over the world, true intuitive thought and “leaps of logic” are still beyond the limits of current AI technology. For example, an AI program can identify the difference between dogs and humans. The same program may be able to recognize how the two relate to each other as owner and pet and make the leap that they were going for a walk because the owner was holding the dog’s leash. However, it would not be able to intuit — or make an educated, quantifiable guess — anything about their relationship to each other in the future. This type of abstraction is still beyond the limits of current AI computing. The three primary levels of AI comprehension can be defined as:

  • Recognition: Identify items in a picture or video
  • Comprehension: Determine how the items relate to each other
  • Abstraction: Evaluate the information and make a prediction about future performance

Each stage in the evolution of AI has taken years, but the advances are coming more quickly all the time as business leaders and technology teams come together to dream and create the interactions of the future.

Bridging the Knowledge Gap

Business people are struggling with an unfathomable knowledge gap between their understanding of business intelligence and AI and the possibilities for the future. Data scientists are swiftly becoming the bridge that helps cross this gap between technology teams and business leaders, providing the insight that can translate business needs into practical applications of AI and machine learning. As CEOs deepen their understanding of data and possibilities for their business, a data scientist or business analyst may provide the necessary cohesion to maintain forward momentum on these highly technical projects.

Creating a Culture of Innovation

Perhaps the most important challenge faced by CEOs when it comes to AI isn’t technical at all — it’s cultural. If the organization is not willing to embrace the future potential of this emerging technology, it’s unlikely that AI-based projects will be successful. There is a fundamental fear within many organizations that AI or machine learning tech will replace individual knowledge workers as the AI can produce similar results in some instances as long as the correct inputs are being provided. A great example is in healthcare, where nurses or intake professionals traditionally gather basic information while assessing patients in an emergency room. AI chatbots can be programmed to not only gather and log this information quickly but also use micro-data to determine the level of distress of the individual — potentially classifying their level of pain for more immediate action by doctors. Minute facial changes, heightened breathing and sweating are all inputs that an AI can process in milliseconds that might be overlooked by a harried charge nurse.

While that scenario sounds as though it could potentially replace a position, what it actually means is that the human nurses are freed of repetitive tasks so they are able to add more value to other interactions. These lower-level engagements with patients are simply a distraction for nurses, taking time away from patient care and their ability to connect on a deeper and more proactive level instead of being stuck in a place of reaction to outside stimulus. CEOs who are able to clearly communicate the value of AI to their organizations in a way that is both non-threatening and that drives excitement within staff are more likely to be able to successfully sustain change initiatives for the future.

Rethinking Traditional Business Models

In a traditional business model, managers, directors and even chief executives are accustomed to making decisions based on incomplete data or inaccurate assumptions. While this often works out, the deluge of data that is now available allows for more informed decisions to be made — as long as business leaders are willing to take the time to ask questions and refine their understanding of business problems. Machines are exceptional at uncovering patterns, and many of these designs can fool people into making certain decisions based on their intuition. With the introduction of AI-driven decisioning, it shouldn’t be surprising that there are unexpected variances in the data that point to inefficiencies, inaccuracies and outright errors. Understanding how to interpret this information can often fall on the shoulders of a data scientist, but helping work through those questions and drill into root causes of issues will be a crucial skill for all business leaders in this brave new world of data.

Getting Started with AI

Whether you have a million ideas you want to vet with your team or are just starting to consider how AI can impact your organization, the time to get started is now. Organizations of all sizes are embracing basic AI — everything from social media chatbots that can help customers place a simple order or learn more about a product to connected systems that predict which products consumers may purchase next based on the buying patterns of others throughout the world. Determining where to begin is challenging, but here are a few basic considerations as you’re prepping for action:

  • Determine the reporting structure for AI, and this could change for every organization depending on the needs of the business. Will AI be mostly used in marketing or communications, operations or as a predictive analytics engine to determine when a potential breach has occurred? Understanding the application of AI technology can help ensure that the project gets the support that it needs to be successful.
  • Will you hire or rent the technical know-how for implementation and ongoing support? Here again, there is no “right” answer, but it requires contemplating the breadth of the engagement and how quickly you want to ramp up for your AI-based project. A similar question is needed to determine whether you will buy a codebase that contains the majority of what you need and customize it, or build your AI applications from scratch.
  • What’s the business case for AI? The most successful organizations are the ones that are able to quantify the value that they expect to gain from AI in terms of time savings, productivity boosts or improved customer engagement rates.
  • Understand (and be able to articulate!) the “Why” of your project. Are you solving a problem, beating a competitor to a goal or simply exploring the potential for the new technology within your business? Being realistic about expectations helps reduce the potential for pushback from non-believers within your organization.

Artificial intelligence has far surpassed the time when it was simply a buzzword that people loved to throw around and is now a thriving part of the business landscape with over 60% of businesses adopting some form of AI in the past year alone. Understanding the potential for disruption in your industry — both positive and negative — and how AI can be leveraged will be crucial skills for successful CEOs both now and in the future. There’s one thing for sure: AI is here to stay. Business leaders can make a decision to avoid moving forward with any AI-driven initiatives, but the cost to the organization may be higher than stakeholders are willing to pay.