How to Tell If Your CEO Is Clueless

A few days ago I had just finished up our most recent all-hands monthly company meeting, in which I pontificated a bit on our amazing company, what we’ve accomplished and what’s coming next. I happened to be walking by one of my team members’ desks* and she had this open on her screen in big blue letters:

“How to Tell If Your CEO Is Clueless”

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that! It was the title of a recent blog post by Guy Kawasaki, the original marketer of the Apple computers back in 1984.

But being an introspective kind of CEO, I thought maybe I should determine if I meet the criteria for “clueless” or not. Kawasaki poses these 16 criteria – many of which I realized I’d recently uttered in the company meeting!  If the CEO uses these lines, apparently they’re clueless.

1.  “Let me tell you why the Sequoia memo really doesn’t apply to us.”

The Sequoia memo is a bit scary. No doubt, there will be many challenges for small and large companies. But Geonetric also is in the safest financial position it has ever been in, has recently closed its best quarter ever, and will end the year very, very well. The overall economic challenges are real, but we’ve seen little direct impact and anticipate little impact over the long haul.

2.  “Our team is totally engaged and believe in the company.”

Funny – I had just claimed that one in particular in the company meeting. Every quarter we survey the entire team, and the vast majority responded thoughtfully and provided great insight into what’s going well, and what’s not. Sure, we have our cynics too, but I think our clients would attest, after attending our 3rd Annual eHealth Symposium, we’ve got an incredibly engaged team here at Geonetric.

3.  “Our market is so large that a 20 percent reduction won’t matter to us.”

A 20 percent reduction (presumably in sales or in market share) would matter. But since we’re selling more than we ever have, and we’ve never lost a client to a competitor (though we have a good track record of bringing their clients to the Geonetric community), I’m not worried.

4.  “We aren’t changing our long-term strategy because this is a short-term problem.”

Our long-term strategy is always open to change. And we review it often. At this time, we aren’t changing it in broad strokes.

5.  “It’s still too early to tell if we’ll be affected.”

I believe it’s far enough along to know that we won’t be materially affected. As I mentioned earlier, Geonetric is doing better financially than we ever have in the history of the company.

6.  “The sales pipeline that we’ve already booked is still strong.”

Our sales pipeline is very strong. Geonetric just closed our most successful quarter ever and our sales pipeline is growing. We have doubled the number of RFPs we receive and proposals we send, and are visiting more prospective clients than ever before.  We expect to close another very successful quarter at the end of the year.

7.  “The start of sales results is just around the corner.”

We’re already off and running, not just around the corner.

8.  “We can accelerate revenue with a few tweaks to our product.”

This is the first one I agree hints at cluelessness. In my view, there are always tweaks to the product that can better respond to the marketplace and help win new clients. If this occurs to you only during a down turn, yes, you’re clueless. This is why we’ve adopted a methodology that puts out new product releases every six weeks – we’re constantly improving the product and deploying those capabilities to clients. The old-school “we upgrade you every few years” approach died long ago.

9.  “We can reduce expenses without affecting headcount.”

I agree that this one hints at cluelessness too. Geonetric invests heavily in training (so much that we win awards for Best Place to Work), advanced software development tools and hardware, and in building an amazing team and culture. If you’re spending money on other stuff, perhaps there are places you can cut expenses. But why didn’t you do that before?

10. “Our investors are totally engaged and believe in the company.”

Of course they are. Ben and I are the vast majority owners of the company. We believe in it so much that we work here every day.

11. “We think we can raise another round right after the holidays.”

Ah, this is where Geonetric diverges from our venture-backed competitors. When you live off of venture capital and ride the rollercoaster on raising money – where one moment you have money and the next moment you are suffering from layoffs – it’s hard for your team to really believe in their company.  Yes I find this business model unreasonable for what we’re trying to accomplish. I am proud to say Geonetric has none of these challenges.

12. “We heard that our competitors are in trouble, but we’ve been more conservative with expenses.”

That’s pretty much true, too. Our expenses are spent building an incredible team to do exceptional work for our clients. But we’re not conservative in investing in our team.

13. “We have twelve months of cash even with our most conservative sales forecast.

True, too.

14. “In these times, (Some Big Company) needs what we offer to increase sales.”

15. “In these times, (Some Big Company) needs what we offer to reduce costs.”

Presumably these are about acquisitions. We’re not aiming to be acquired. We’ve got too much to prove, and too much to do to think about that.

16. “We’ve built an extremely viral product so we can reduce our sales and marketing expenses.”

Ha! Though there’s some truth to this, if anything we’re ramping up our sales and marketing teams and efforts over the next year – along with every other area of the company.

So here’s the funny thing. The blog post is designed to identify startups that are at risk of having clueless CEOs. I suppose since Geonetric is coming up on its 10-year anniversary, we’re not really in the startup realm. (Though, I think in spirit, we’re absolutely a startup.)  This list is the heart of cynicism – that running a truly great company (“Our team is totally engaged and believe in the company”) should be seen as a sign of a clueless CEO. That’s a sad state of affairs. Maybe some CEOs are blind to what’s really happening in their companies, but I am not.

So by his definition, I’m well into clueless territory. And I’m proud of it. This company is an incredible machine, we’re doing incredible work for our clients, and financially we are in an enviable position. I look forward to fighting the cynicism and proving Mr. Kawasaki wrong.

I don’t hold it against Mr. Kawasaki – I went out and got his (ironically titled) new book, “Reality Check.” I’ll let you know what I think of it.

* She shall remain unnamed 🙂

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Eric Engelmann

About Eric Engelmann

Eric gets people excited. About healthcare. About technology. About Geonetric. It only takes a few moments of being in his presence to feel his passion and see his vision. A healthcare reform junkie, Eric can usually be found uncovering new ways to show healthcare executives how to leverage technology investments and develop patient portals that will improve care delivery. After earning his bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Iowa, he began his career in technology, founding Geonetric and never looking back. Through his leadership, Geonetric continuously receives honors and recognitions, including being named a Best Place to Work by Modern Healthcare, Software Company of the Year by the Technology Association of Iowa, and an Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Company for five years running. When he’s not sharing his vision for the future of healthcare or accepting awards on behalf of his company, he can be found having lunch with his daughter at a local elementary school or donning lederhosen and entertaining his team at the Annual Engelmann Oktoberfest.

3 thoughts on “How to Tell If Your CEO Is Clueless

  1. Eric, you’re absolutely one of my favorite CEOs; keep that unique m.o. going and never let up on the passions that got you guys where you are.

    Hope you are well (and properly caffeinated)!


  2. @jm4xs: Amen to that.

    @Nick: Thanks 🙂 we’ll never stop with the passion around here. Always caffeinated, too. Time for mocha #3 today?

    I found it sort of ironic that this post went out Nov 5, the day after an election based heavily on trying to fight the cynicism Americans have in their government. Regardless of your political position, I think it’d be hard to say that having more people vested in the outcome and performance of their elected officials is important. It’s similarly good to have a team that’s vested in the outcome and performance of their companies (and their CEOs). Gotta fight the cynicism, wherever it rears its head. It’s too easy to get complacent. And some CEOs very much invite that complacency.

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