10 Ways to Build a Great Company
By Marisa Smith
As a coach to leadership teams in growing companies, I talk to business owners every day; every one of them striving to build a great company--and often frustrated, much like I used to be.
When I started my first company in 2002, I thought my life would be all rainbows and unicorns. I had a lot of fantasies about how much better my lifestyle would be when I didn’t work for “the man”. Instead, I wound up on a financial roller coaster, struggling with the feast-or-famine nature of project work, and the loneliness of being a solo-preneur. I added a few team members to help level out the roller coaster and keep me company, and we floated along for several years with modest success.
Until… 2008 when the economy tanked, and I was close to losing everything. Thankfully, that's when I happened to read Bo Burlingham's book Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big. The companies Bo wrote about reflected what I wanted to create but had been unable to articulate a vision for. I got involved with the Small Giants Community and visited other companies to learn from their methods.
I quickly learned that successful companies are extremely focused on process and structure--two things I had eschewed as relics of the “corporate world” I so desperately wanted leave behind. After observing Small Giant companies, I realized that not only did I have a responsibility to get our act together, but I had to be intentional about it. That whole rainbows and unicorns thing doesn’t “just happen”.
Here's How You Get There…
Install a Business Operating System
There are a few systems out there designed to help companies stay focused and aligned as they grow. We chose the Entrepreneurial Operating System® (EOS) because it came highly recommended by a number of Small Giants companies, and we liked the simplicity of the tools and documented best practices. It was amazing to see the changes at Whole Brain Group as we began the EOS Journey—even using simple tools like the Level 10 Meeting™ and Vision / Traction Organizer™ (a simplified 2-page business planning tool) created a huge efficiency boost and got everyone in the company using the same language, running similar meetings, and operating according to the same rules of engagement.
Establish a Shared Vision of Success
Get crystal clear on who you are, what you want out of business, and why. Then use a tool to document and centralize your vision and manage all of your company's priorities, goals, and issues. In EOS, that tool is called a Vision/Traction Organizer or V/TO™ for short. Just as the name implies, it documents a shared vision of success, which is then updated quarterly to keep everyone on the team “on the same page”, both literally and figuratively. This simplified strategic document then also helps your team say "no" to things outside of your Core Focus that would otherwise detract from your long term goals.
Articulate and Activate Your Core Values
Stop evaluating, hiring, and firing people on gut feelings. Instead, get clear on the core values that your team members must share to achieve your vision and operate as non-dysfunctionally as possible. Activate these values in your culture by integrating them into how you attract new talent, evaluate and reward your employees, interact with your clients and business partners, and make decisions.
Define Your Shared Passion
What gets you and your team out of bed in the morning? Why do you do what you do? Are you excited about your clients? Define your ideal client profile, and articulate what gets you fired up so you can avoid straying from the path. If you’re not having much fun, determine what would make your team happier and more fulfilled. Make creating this kind of company part of your plan.
Clarify Accountability, Roles, and Responsibilities
You’ll never be successful if every staff meeting sounds like an Abbott & Costello “Who’s on First” routine. First, think about the organization you need to build to achieve your vision. Next, create an accountability chart that clearly identifies roles and key responsibilities each person must own so you can operate more efficiently and eliminate “split personality syndrome” in your team. Depending on how big your company is, you should also consider forming a leadership team to spread the responsibility of running the day-to-day operations -- a chore that many visionary entrepreneurs find painful and frankly, are terrible at.
Get the Right People in the Right Seats
If you’re good at employee retention, you may have people on your team who aren’t necessarily the right people to help you get to the next level. Take a hard look at each employee, and make sure they fit with your core values and the positions they hold. If not, start developing a phased approach to escorting people off the bus or moving them to a different seat within the organization. This is one of the hardest things to do, but it is also one of the most powerful catalysts for change in your organization.
Meet Regularly to Solve Issues
Do you spend most of your time putting out fires, discussing issues endlessly without coming up with a solution, or meeting about things that are not critical to achieving your priorities? Following a regular Meeting Pulse can actually help you get more done if you manage the agenda properly, have the right people in the room, hold them accountable, and use a process for actually solving issues. The EOS Level 10 Meeting™ agenda helped us eliminate distractions, make decisions more quickly, and get things done!
Compartmentalize Your Issues
If you’re a visionary leader like many entrepreneurs, you probably get distracted easily and see opportunity everywhere you look. This skill set is critical for innovation and growth, but it can also be extremely annoying and dangerous if you don’t control yourself or if your team doesn’t have a way to say “no” to you. You don’t have to be running on EOS to meet every quarter like we did to establish three to seven priorities. Outside of quarterly meetings, practicing extreme compartmentalization helps you avoid distractions. Everything has a time and place. (Tip: for companies running on EOS, it’s often “not now”.)
Practice Financial Transparency and Manage to a Scorecard
One of the biggest obstacles to an effective leadership team is a lack of good data or financial knowledge. If they don’t have the same information the company owner has, it’s tough for them to make smart decisions, and the owner ends up in the middle of everything. Consider sharing a weekly Scorecard to help your team gain financial and business expertise, and allow staff to have a stake in the game.
Find a Community and Nurture Your Spirit
This stuff is hard work. Don’t go it alone! Reach out to other agency owners and join a peer group such as Vistage or Entrepreneur’s Organization to connect with other people who “get it.” I’ve forced myself to get away during some extremely stressful times in my business, and I have never regretted taking the time to gain valuable perspective and insight from colleagues who have been there and done that.
Fast forward to today: Whole Brain Group celebrated its 17th anniversary recently, and while the company looks nothing like it did when we started, it’s a lot closer to what I pictured back then (minus the unicorns--they’ve got dogs instead ;-)). This was the result of being intentional about the company’s growth, future, and plan to get there.
In fact, things started to run so well that I was able to transition the day-to-day operations of the firm over to the leadership team a few years ago. Now, as a Certified EOS Implementer, I have the privilege of sharing my experience with leadership teams of companies who want to be more intentional about the organizations and cultures they are building - teaching them the tools that will help them go from good to GREAT.
Learn more about EOS by reading Traction: Get a Grip on Your Businessby Gino Wickman
About the Author:
Marisa is an experienced entrepreneur with a passion for helping people get what they want from their businesses. As a Certified EOS Implementer at 87plus, Marisa uses the Entrepreneurial Operating System® process and tools to help entrepreneurial leaders learn how to run their businesses more effectively, build healthy teams, drive growth, and live a balanced life. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Business:
Since 2005, 87plus has been helping entrepreneurs and their leadership teams to get everything they want from their businesses. With over seventy years of combined experience as entrepreneurial business owners, we are passionate and ready to help your team implement EOS to get the most from your business.