Mary Cook, Founder and President of Mary Cook Associates.
It’s no surprise to business owners that changing market conditions can significantly impact your business. As the president of a national commercial interior design firm that provides services to home builders and the real estate development market for the past 35 years, I’ve weathered many cycles of change including economic downturns, the savings and loan crisis, urbanization, fluctuating interest rates and now the pandemic. In predictable fashion, I’ve added personnel to accommodate the upswings and downsized when needed. But when the needs of long-standing clients began to shift even before the pandemic’s onset, I knew a simple fix in headcount wasn’t the solution.
How To Really Look Before Leaping
As our clients pivoted to meet the rapidly shifting housing preferences of the various market segments they served, we became an integral part of their ability to deliver on corporate objectives. This required taking a hard look at our existing organizational structure, operational processes, staffing and growth strategies. With the help of experienced consultants, I recognized that the business was ripe for the entrepreneurial operating system (EOS) — a comprehensive approach to setting a course that would allow us to transition a staff of design professionals to a more complex project type, meet client demand and propel the business forward while maintaining the quality levels we’re known for.
The Three-Point Lead
While EOS can seem intimidating, the journey begins with three practical steps:
1. Confirm Consensus
Confirm the leadership team is on board. Fortunately, my team was in sync with the state of our current business and the need for infusing it with a more sophisticated model. This included supporting the financial investment and understanding their role in making it a success. Consensus can be easily gained by acknowledging the opportunity for growth that, without EOS, would otherwise be missed.
2. Select A Facilitator
EOS requires a facilitator to drive implementation, and there are often many to choose from. I, along with our CFO, interviewed two viable candidates who were referred to us by the HR consultant who initially recommended EOS to us. Choosing the best fit is essential for EOS to work.
Ask yourself, do they understand our business — its clients, services and place in the market? Do they understand our culture? Do they understand our goals and growth potential? Do they have the commitment, experience and resources to bring to the table? And just as important, what about their personality and communication style? In our case, we wanted someone with a strong personality who would hold our feet to the fire.
3. Optimize The Team
A respected, talented and ready-to-work EOS team is critical from the start. In addition to bringing their best game, keep in mind these internal leaders will need to model new behavior and inspire their own team members to buy into and support the new approach.
Accountability Drives Traction
EOS works for any kind of business and provides a “canned” infrastructure for organizations that have reached a plateau, are experiencing transition or just want to see more results. It all starts with the creation of an accountability chart. Egos and titles go out the window and roles become the new norm. This exercise is a very powerful experience for laying a solid foundation.
After rolling out the accountability chart and roles, define your short and long-term goals and action steps. This roadmap keeps teams energized and on track to address their priorities, which for us included accounting processes, profitability and productivity analysis, project management, forecasting and a refreshed sales and marketing strategy.
Making Adjustments: Right Seat, Right Person
A key benefit of the EOS framework is its ability to inherently measure individual performance as the ball gets rolling. An individual who looks good on paper, and may even be a good fit culturally, may in fact not have the capacity to deliver on the pre-defined goals and action steps. Difficult as this realization may be for the individual and the team, the earlier it surfaces the sooner it can be corrected by putting someone in place who can fully execute on accountable tasks.
As new technology was implemented, processes were fine-tuned and other infrastructure changes were made, we quickly gained traction and saw impressive results. We’re now tracking productivity and profitability more accurately and are already seeing improvement. We’re also making strides in more efficient accounting including budgeting and billing. A complete revamp of our marketing efforts included a refreshed branding platform, new website, social media and PR campaign, internal and external newsletters and a new white paper series. These efforts resulted in an 80% increase in passive leads and we’re seeing an uptick in projects coming to us by word of mouth.
The momentum is contagious. As our second tier of leadership executes on their accountability and experiences results, they’re inspiring accountability within their teams. With EOS as a driver, organizations are able to grow with poise and grace and not only meet new market demands, but also be prepared for whatever may lie ahead.
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