Business Book Review
Wickman and Paton wrote a business book that reads like a novel. In this business novel, they introduce what they call the entrepreneurial operating system via a fable about a struggling services company that is on the daily brink of implosion. This company is talked into hiring a consultant that comes in and turns the ship around using this EOS system. The story is just a medium for passing on a wealth of business knowledge, which you can also get from the companion book, Traction: Get a grip on your Business which, from what I understand comes sans story. There is a lot of excellent advice within these pages but what I found most useful about the book is that it provides a complete system to running a business well. This is a stark contrast from most books in the genre which typically focus on only one aspect of the business or in many cases one person’s opinion on one aspect of the business. This book lays the framework that not only gives you the whole enchilada but teaches you how to cook it.
Our consultant arrives for the first meeting amid a fair amount of skepticism that he begins to dispel through a series of pointed question that gets to the heart of why this company is floundering. The topics that he brings up are universal to most businesses which is what makes the fable approach relevant in the first place. The first question he asks is: how effective are your internal meetings? The second, how aligned is the entire organization around your plan? The third: how would you rate the level of accountability that exists in your organization? As you can imagine, the team in the fable does just as poorly as most businesses do on these three questions. This set of questions opened the door to looking at the six key components of any business, VISION, PEOPLE, DATA, ISSUES, PROCESS AND TRACTION. The authors then go into describing each of these in a bit more detail, but the one they spent the most time on was the people aspect. They used a Jim Collins quote who emphasized, “that to succeed in business, you need to have the right people in the right seats.” They then got into defining what this actually means, “Right people share your Core Values – they fit your culture. Right seats mean everyone has the skills and experience to excel in a job that’s truly important to your organization.” This led them into the accountability chart which is a really a “supercharged org chart because it absolutely crystallizes everyone’s roles and responsibilities. It establishes clear ownership of and accountability for everything that’s important to your business and plainly illustrates who reports to whom.”
Another one of the underlying themes throughout this book is similar to what we saw in Creativity Inc., one of the keys to success is candor or as these authors describe it, open and honest. In their words, “Open means both open with one another and open-minded. When somebody else on the team has something to say, you don’t have to agree, but you do need to hear it, so we can consider everyone’s perspective,. Honest means just say it. We can’t deal with an issue unless we get it out of your heads and on the table.” Along this same vein, this brought our fictional team into analyzing their own roles and accountabilities using what our authors call the GWC approach. “GWC stands for ‘gets it, wants it, and capacity to do it’. When someone gets it their brain is innately hardwired in a way that matches the demands of the five roles in their seat. When someone wants it, they genuinely spring out of bed every day – wanting to excel in their roles. And when someone has the capacity to do it, they have acquired the intellectual and emotional maturity, education, training and on-the-job experience to consistently perform well in the seat.” This team then went through a very painful exercise of asking the entire team if they all GWCd their own seats. They also make a great point about accountability, “You can’t have two people accountable for a single major function…because when two people are accountable, nobody is accountable.”
Our fictional team then started to get into the heart of getting stuff done. They listed out all of their big ‘rocks’ or those things that were important to deal with in the team and their consultant led them through a stimulating session of ‘keep, kill and combine’ to prioritize the ones that had to be dealt with first. He also throws a warning out there that all rocks that folks were signing up for had to be, “SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.” This turned into a quarterly rock sheet that would be reported on in their level 10 meeting every week. The concept of the level 10 meeting was another good one, these are very directed meetings focused on solving real problems following the EOS methodologies. The level 10 comes from making sure each meeting is rated a 10 in the last 5 minutes at the end of each meeting. He put forth a strong agenda for these meetings: Segue (good news – personal and biz), scorecard review, rock review, customer and employee headlines, to do list, IDS (Issues list), conclude (recap to dos, cascading messages, rating 1-10). The key to most of these was that everything but the IDS is a 5 minute task, if something is off track you drop it down to the issues list and deal with it there. IDS stand for identify, discuss and solve and this is the core of productive meetings, solving these issues for good rather than circling around them again and again and never coming to a conclusion. To make these level 10 meetings as effective as possible, he also called out timeliness. These things have to become a high priority and the leadership team needs to treat them that way. Our authors even used a Lombardi quote stating that if your on time, you’re late. Everyone needs to come to these meetings prepared, early and ready to work.
They got deeper into personnel issues next. The challenge they gave themselves was discovering their own Core Values. He asked them to start this process by first calling out the superstars in the organization, those people that really fit the culture and if you had more of them you could conquer the world. He calls out the most important core values as the, “Permission to play Core Values are traits essential to this organization. You will never hire someone without these traits, and you’ll ask people to leave the organization when you learn they don’t possess them.” Our consultant segues from Core Values to Core Focus, “Core Values define who you are, Core Focus defines what you are…your 10-year Target is where you’re going. It’s a long range, energizing goal that everyone will rally around.” The tool that I liked the best that came out of this was the people analyzer. The people analyzer asked the leadership team or just the manager to directly compare employees to their core values. In our fictional team’s example this was five values and if the person is below the bar on any of those five values, they get their strike one meeting. The employee gets a very candid review of where they are below the bar and what they need to do to change. If they get to three strikes, they are let go.
They go on into more strategic elements next of the three year plan, the one year plan and the quarterly check ups. What I enjoyed most about all of these tools is that they are well defined and not just abstract concepts. The authors give you a set of blueprints that you need to fill in on your own taking you to a much stronger business.
Well worth the read. I heard about the book from an advisory board that I sit on and several of the CEOs there swear by it. These are big players and if it can help their business, it can probably help yours too. My plan is to move on to the companion novel, Traction, next.