As a Certified EOS Implementer I get the pleasure of speaking with a lot of teams that are using the Entrepreneurial Operating System® in their businesses. Sometimes I meet them at one of my speaking events or at an event with Dallas EO. Or, sometimes they come directly to me, because they are trying to self-implement EOS and just not getting the Traction™ they want. However I meet them, they usually have the same question: what are the mistakes people make with the Traction Book?
These teams are often struggling with the subtle difficulties of using EOS. These subtle pitfalls wear the team down, slowing or even stopping their progress in the EOS journey. Worse, the damage they cause can be so hard to recognize, that often teams don’t even know it’s happening.
So, whether you are working with your own Certified EOS Implementer, self-implementing, or just curious about EOS, use the list below to make sure you are getting the most out of the Traction book.
It’s An Entire System, Not Just The Traction Book
I wanted to put this one first, because I think it’s the one that most people fall into.
When a good business leader first reads Traction, they usually get a burst of energy. There is this sudden vigor for all things process, a sense of confidence about achieving goals, and a solid understanding of the strategic plan. After reading they go out into the business and start telling people about how much the organization has changed. They excitedly let everyone know that the business now has Core Values™, a 10-Year Target™, a Scorecard™, and all other sorts of fancy tools.
But, the people in the organization haven’t changed. They hear the words the CEO (or even leadership team) is using, but they don’t see it in their daily work, and they don’t feel any ownership of it. Just because you have read the Traction book doesn’t mean your entire company is now operating on EOS. Even if your entire leadership team is working with an EOS Implementer, that doesn’t mean that the using words like “Rock” or “Level 10” is going to have any real meaning to the average worker unless you get the entire business using EOS.
The most critical (and often overlooked) advice that Gino Wickman gives in the Traction book isn’t one of the tools he introduces. It’s that your business needs an operating system, one which every employee uses. The Entrepreneurial Operating System’s real magic is that it is intended to affect every single aspect of your business. But, to achieve this requires educating the people on your team and giving the ownership over the tools. EOS isn’t something you do at your business. It’s a process in which every member of your team works to change the business from the ground up.
When you or your leadership team is struggling ask yourself these questions:
- Am I “rolling out” EOS in a way that fully educates people on the processes and tools?
- Do the teams / departments have ownership over using the tools (Scorecard, L10, etc)?
- Am I regularly and emphatically conveying the importance of EOS?
- Are people in my organization using EOS tools and language every day?
A “no” to any of these questions is a good sign that you can improve your EOS “roll out” in one way or another.
Not Reviewing Your EOS Scorecard
The Entrepreneurial Operating System has many pieces that require continued attention. In the Traction book, Gino Wickman says that a good Scorecard takes anywhere between two weeks and two years to build.
Far too many teams fail to take those words to heart. They work so hard to build their first Scorecard that they don’t want to admit when it’s time to reevaluate it. But, without reevaluation the first attempt at a Scorecard is just that, an attempt. The Scorecard is an inherently iterative process. As your team gets more comfortable with EOS and the gets better at being fully open and honest, the number on your Scorecard should be changing.
Sometimes the target number needs to go up. Sometimes it needs to go down. It may even be that you have a metric on your Scorecard that doesn’t really belong there. When this happens your business is no longer getting what it needs out of the Scorecard: critical numbers. Instead, you’re getting misleading or unimportant numbers. I know that sounds alarmist, but it’s true. The Scorecard is intended to be your once-a-week snapshot of what is happening in your business. It answers the question, “did we do the right things last week.” If it isn’t bringing you that information, there may trouble brewing and you wouldn’t even know it.
What are some signs that your Scorecard needs adjustment?
- A specific number is off on a regular basis
- Numbers being off doesn’t immediately send up an alarm
- After reviewing the Scorecard there are more questions about things that could have been on the Scorecard
- Any single number simply doesn’t feel important
- You get blindsided by something you thought your Scorecard should have warned you about
These are just the really critical cases. If you are experiencing these, it’s definitely time to reevaluate the Scorecard immediately. However, even if you aren’t, you should always take the time to reevaluate the Scorecard during your Quarterly Session, as outlined in the Traction Book.
Letting The “Boss” Be The Integrator
There isn’t anything wrong with being the boss. Somebody has to sign the checks and make the hard decisions. Being the boss is hard. It’s sleepless nights and knowing that the buck stops with you. But, the good news is that being the boss doesn’t mean you also have to be the EOS Integrator.
In fact, it’s probably best that you let someone else take that responsibility.
Good bosses don’t always make good integrators for two reasons. First, being a good manager and a good integrator can involve very different skill sets, depending on your company. Or, it may be the that “boss” of the company is more of a Visionary than an Integrator. If that’s happening, it should be fairly obvious. If the person taking on the Integrator role feels frustrated with it, it may be time to find someone else to sit in that chair. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s always better to let the Visionary go out and do the big things no one else can, anyway.
The Overpowering Integrator
The second reason is a bit trickier. When smaller companies use EOS, they tend to make the person with the biggest title the Integrator. These companies usually only have one person that people look to as “the boss” and they are both Integrator and Visionary. That’s a lot of responsibility…and a lot of power.
The problem is that a person in that position may not be used to being called out for mistakes, argued with (respectfully, we hope), or made to follow rules. And properly using the Entrepreneurial Operating System requires all three of those things. Here’s the real kicker. Even if that person is open to that level of feedback, the leadership team may not feel comfortable speaking up to provide it. They may feel inclined to quietly sit by and let the person who has always made decisions continue to do so.
This is poison for a team trying to implement EOS. It undermines everything that is needed to make the system work.
If your Level 10 Meetings™ aren’t accomplishing what you want them to accomplish, one of the first questions you should ask is, “have we chosen the right Integrator?” And, if you’re the Integrator, the company is depending on you to be brutally honest with yourself and the team when answering that question.
Not Taking Your Core Values Seriously
Your EOS Core Values are a critical component in steering your business. As Gino Wickman says in the Traction Book, the Core Values are how you hire, fire, reward, and discipline people in your organization. They are also the litmus test for every decision being made in the company.
How are they supposed to do that if they are nothing more than a some words on an inspirational poster on the wall?
Companies that gain real benefit from their Core Value are the ones who take great pains to enforce, announce, and live by them. They frequently and publicly reward people for embodying those values. They use those values in 555-Meetings™ to review performance of employees. When they hire a new employee, that employee has to at least appear to live their own life by those values.
If you aren’t doing everything in your power to make sure the Core Values of your company are part of the daily lives of the employees, you’re going to have a company filled with the wrong people. And, when you’ve got the wrong people, those folks are going to suck the wind right out of your sails.
Slipping On Accountability
I’ve saved this one for last for two reasons. First, it’s the easiest one to recognize and the simplest one to fix. Second, it’s the most dangerous mistake you can make when implementing EOS. Failing to correct it will absolutely cripple your company’s ability to effectively implement EOS. The other pitfalls on this list are hindrances, hurdles that you can get over and on your way. This one is more like a nuclear powered landmine.
So what do I mean by slipping on accountability? Let’s start with the biggest, most obvious ones.
- Letting to-do’s go undone
- Missing your Rocks™
- Having Scorecard numbers off
The Entrepreneurial Operating System described in the Traction book relies on people doing what they say they will do. When they don’t, the team figures out exactly why and ensures it won’t happen again. Every team will fall short of their quarterly Rocks or have a few to-do’s go undone from time to time. That’s natural. Nobody is perfect, and EOS is all about learning to be a better company, not starting out as a perfect one. But, when failure to hold yourselves accountable becomes the rule rather than the exception, your team isn’t using EOS. What they are doing is playing at EOS, using the language without doing the work.
When a team reaches this point, you really have three options. The first is to buckle down and get serious. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. Certain people learn best by falling flat on their face. It gives them a certain kind of determination. More often, though, the team just has the same problems they had the first time. The second option is to try a different system. EOS isn’t for everyone. There are plenty of systems on which to run your business, EOS is just one.
The last option is to get outside help. If you’ve already got an EOS Implementer and you’re still having these problems, it’s time to have a very honest conversation with them. Part of your responsibility as a leader is recognizing when something isn’t working, finding out why, and fixing it. More than likely, your EOS Implementer can help you work through potential causes and solutions for this problem.
Meet the Founder
Jeff Whittle founded and launched Whittle & Partners in 2011. Before that, Jeff practiced law in Dallas for 15 years and has an additional 20 years of executive business experience. He has run businesses ranging from startups to 300-employee operations.