Operate with discipline and rigor. Staying focused is hard. Resisting the temptation to chase distractions is hard. Holding yourself and others accountable is hard. Maintaining discipline will achieve results — and that’s fun!
As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Williams, CEO of Mitratech. He leads a talented management team in driving growth and innovation for Mitratech and its clients. He brings extensive leadership experience and a proven 20-year track record in building differentiated solutions, encouraging product innovation, and harnessing new technologies to MItratech.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My career in high tech started when I was lucky enough to land an entry-level job at Motorola right out of college. All of my internship experiences up to that point was government-related and I had always expected to follow that path. At Motorola, I was able to work with a team that designed and launched a new category of two-way radios into a competitive marketplace. I was hooked!
Rather than return to the public or government sector work, I embarked on a journey that continues to this day — to learn and experience as much as possible about leveraging technology to create, market and deliver products that help organizations be more effective and efficient.
Over the past 20+ years, I’ve been able to work in a variety of roles — from product management, marketing and sales to executive leadership. And I’ve worked within businesses that range from startups without any revenue and only a handful of people to very mature global businesses with some of the most well-known companies in the world as customers.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
One of the things I enjoy most about technology and enterprise software is that it is ever-changing. There are things possible today that we couldn’t have dreamed about 15 years ago — and that not only applies to the underlying technologies available but also in how we market and support customers.
Rather than point to a specfic hard time, I’d like to leave you with the thought that challenges or hard times don’t ever really go away — they just evolve. On the one hand, a significant challenge for any startup is winning their first few customers. On the other, a challenge leading a company with thousands of customers and hundreds of employees is keeping everyone aligned and successful. My source of persistence comes from the joy of working with great professionals, learning from each challenge that arises and getting just a little better every day.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Mitratech stands out for a few reasons. One aspect of Mitratech that makes us truly unique is our ability to support organizations across a full spectrum of legal, risk and compliance needs regardless of the company’s size. We work with companies ranging in size from the largest, most well-known global enterprises to 1-person specialized law firms — and everything in between.
A company can work with Mitratech in any number of ways. They can start by adopting technology to streamline their Legal and Spend Management Operations, add Policy Management for ensuring employee alignment and then enable advanced Risk and Compliance initiatives. Or they can do all of that, in the reverse order.
Mitratech also benefits from impressive longevity in the world of Legal, Risk and Compliance technology. We have executives at companies that have been working with Mitratech products for over 25 years This demonstrates the type of collaboration and partnership that we prioritize with our customers.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I place a lot of emphasis on alignment, prioritization and teamwork. In most cases, it is going to feel like there is more work to do than hours in the day or week. Our leadership team is constantly communicating the most important priorities for a given time period — and then ensuring that teams are staying focused and disciplined in their execution of these priorities. We still work hard, but we know we’re working on what is most important. We also take the opportunity to celebrate our wins — successful projects, with customers and individual efforts.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
A good company is one that performs well most of the time.
A great company is one that consistently meets its objectives with high predictability. A great company is one that can be relied on confidently by its customers, partners and employees. The employees at a great company are self-motivated and its customers work hard to help it be successful.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Focus on your most important priorities
Each executive could easily list ten action items they would like to accomplish in a given quarter. In our experience, that would lead to a lot of half-completed items. Instead, pick the three most important and achieve 100% on each one.
2. Align at every level and over-communicate
The executive team has to lead the way in terms of being aligned and coordinated on the company’s top priorities. This alignment has to cascade throughout the business in highly consistent ways. Communicate the priorities at all hands meetings, team meetings, by emails, by videos, etc. While it may feel like overkill at the time, you will rarely regret this level of communication.
3. Invest in teams
Employees deserve to have good managers and it takes formal training and development for managers to reach their potential. Leading people can be one of the most rewarding (and most daunting) opportunities. Don’t expect it to happen naturally.
4. Operate with discipline and rigor
Staying focused is hard. Resisting the temptation to chase distractions is hard. Holding yourself and others accountable is hard. Maintaining discipline will achieve results — and that’s fun!
5. Continue to improve
Our teams seek out ways to make things work better. Did the client implementation go off without a hitch? Great, but what is one thing we can improve for next time. We don’t beat ourselves up over items that don’t go perfectly, but rather we embrace a culture that strives to learn and apply lessons.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
At Mitratech, we center on delivering real and tangible business value. With that purpose, it drives alignment across all teams — from research and development through how we market, sell and support customers.
What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
There is no silver bullet, but I’ve generally found that existing customers will often have the best advice for strategies and approaches that a business should take in order to find its way back to a growth trajectory. A company’s existing customers are as reliant on the company being successful as anyone else — and when asked, they often provide invaluable introductions and insights.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you have used in leading Mitratech to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
In the earliest days of Covid and work-from-home, we put in place a 3-part framework to drive priorities and actions:
1. Maintain Business Continuity
— Action: We focused on health and remote productivity
— Outcome: our teams exceeded original expectations on many areas of product delivery and other categories
2. Secure Revenue
— Action: Stay very, very close to your customers. Understand their business and how it’s being impacted.
— Outcome: we minimized any negative surprises and ended up maximizing positive surprises
3. Control Expenses
— Action: Look for opportunities to reduce costs in particular, discretionary items.
— Outcome: We reduced our run rate expense by a considerable amount, enabling us to accelerate delivery of key product features
In order to ensure alignment and adoption, we hosted a Company all hands meeting once every two weeks. We also put in place a daily 15-minute call with the customer-facing teams to ensure that we were sharing real-time insights across the company.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Setting priorities. My sense is that too many teams and too many companies fall into mediocrity by trying to do too much at one time. Focus on what really matters and achieve 100% completion. Then, move on to the next priority… and the next.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Customer references are the number one way to convert sales. It’s human nature for us to seek the advice or recommendations of our peers — whether for a $100 consumer item or a $100,000 enterprise software solution investment. If your product is delivering value for a business that I would consider a peer, I’m going to be more likely to adopt it myself. Of course, in order for customers to serve consistently as positive references, the product, support and value must continue to differentiate itself successfully from competitive alternatives.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
A brand that delivers consistently on its commitments is one that can be trusted by its customers.
A brand must always be improving its products and ensuring that customers are able to generate real and measurable business value.
By providing world-class support when it’s needed, a brand shows it can be relied upon when a customer needs it most.
Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?
Companies must provide and support multiple avenues for how a customer can gain access to resources and support. Some customers will be fine with either researching a knowledge base for self-service answers while others will prefer entering a ticket into an online system and awaiting a response. If some rely on phone access, ensure that access is readliy available.
Companies must establish and maintain a consistent method of communication. Whether it’s as simple as a periodic update to share tips and tricks or a rigorous schedule of thought leadership programming, companies must communicate in an active, appropriate manner for their customer base.
The most successful customer relationships are those where they view themselves as true partners with the brand or vendor. This doesn’t happen overnight or by accident. Partnerships are formed when both parties understand how success is measured and work to generate mutual value.
What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
I think that social media can be an effective way for customers and prospects to learn about a company and brand. We leverage social media as part of an overall communications strategy and monitor any potential concerns actively.
When comparing social media to Cybersecurity as noted in the EisnerAmper survey, we tend to spend more time and investment on ensuring that we’re minimizing Cybersecurity threats.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
First, I’m very supportive of entrepreneurs that take on the challenge of solving problems in new and unique ways. We need these entrepreneurs to continue innovating and disrupting.
I think the biggest challenge for a founder is falling too quickly for an early success or win and viewing that as true validation of a broader market opportunity. I coach entrepreneurs to not only build on their early successes, but also to apply a measure of skepticism. A founder’s product might line up perfectly well against a very unique problem that an enterprise is facing — and is not replicable at scale across that market. One way to guard against this is to either:
a) gain introductions from your early customer to their peers in the industry; and/or
b) quickly look for reasons why peer companies would NOT have a similar need for the solution.
Paying customers are the best validation for any product. Strike when it’s hot to gain multiple validations — and be cautious if adoption is not replicated.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Hire and promote for potential. We find that the highest performers are those that exhibit a potential for delivering at a level beyond their current role. When given an opportunity, they stretch and develop skills well beyond anything that could be measured with timing increments. Take a chance.
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!
About the interviewer: Jerome Knyszewski (Kenchefski) is the CEO of HeavyShift. Jerome serves as an advisor to CEOs of Fortune 500 companies as well as entrepreneurs who disrupt their industries and therefore tend to be targets of malicious online attacks. His company builds, protects, and repairs the online presence & reputation of many celebrities, products and beloved brands.