President Jean-Marc Couvillion shares an insider view of how the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) helped Smashing Boxes navigate the awkward adolescent years and come out on top.
I have always been a fan of comparing companies and professional experiences to people and personal experiences and relationships.
In addition to being a fun parlor game, it helps contextualize what is going on in an imminently relatable way.
Case in point: many people have a book they read as an anchoring point through adolescence that they come back to from time to time to help them get through to adulthood (mine was, like many others, the Alchemist.) At Smashing Boxes, we found our anchoring point for adolescence a couple of years ago: Traction, which sets out the principles for EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System).
While adolescent JM (that’s me) needed the inspiration to keep dreaming and exploring, adolescent Smashing Boxes needed the inspiration to embrace processes.
I’ve never been one for books about process. In fact, I’m almost allergic to prescribed processes without knowledge of the company and its workforce. When I accepted this opportunity at Smashing Boxes, founder/CEO Nick Jordan tasked me with leading the implementation and adoption of EOS.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t roll my eyes.
The pie chart graphic is what did it—any time I see a company divided up into a pie chart without context, I’m going to go ceiling to floor with the eyes.
But, here’s the thing. WE NEEDED IT. And, as much as 2-years-ago-me wouldn’t believe you, I needed it. (Yes, I do realize how much I sound like a late night infomercial right now, thank you.)
The most remarkable thing about our company’s journey with the Entrepreneurial Operating System is that Nick sought this out and pushed for its implementation even though it went against the very nature of how he operates.
That’s not an understatement. My favorite spectator sport at work is watching Nick start down a path and then mentally work through how to handle it using the Entrepreneurial Operating System as a map. It’s like watching a tourist follow their phone’s walking directions, step-by-step.
Nick pursued this and I eventually bought in. What finally convinced me? Nick’s sense that what brought us here wasn’t going to get us there. A lot of the skill and energy that drives a company at infancy needs to be harnessed differently at adolescence. And, we were very much in adolescence: 6+ years in business, 50ish people, bootstrapped, without any external oversight, and leaking institutional knowledge through turnover. Having a framework on which to operate rather than just leaning on past experiences gave us the infrastructure to scale and to reach the next phase of growth.
Two maxims in operating a company, which I’ve repeated Ad nauseam since starting here, are:
- Have a process for anything that you’ll be doing more than once (and document it)
- Make sure that what you are doing maps to your goals (map your tasks to the asks)
The Entrepreneurial Operating System connects these maxims to day-to-day operations.
Here are some key takeaways from my in-the-trenches experience implementing the EOS connector.
8 Key Takeaways from Implementing the Entrepreneurial Operating System
- It’s going to hurt
This is why I like the adolescence parallel for Smashing Boxes and EOS. Change is hard. Looking at things critically is even harder. Admitting you could have done things better is the absolute hardest. That’s growing up. Looking in a mirror during adolescence can make you feel like a hormonal disaster full of acne, gangly limbs, and weird facial hair (I was quite the catch as a teenager!). It’s no different as a company, and EOS is that mirror.
- This is going to hurt (Part 2)
A phrase within EOS is “right people, right seats.” Some misconstrue this as a negative commentary on the people who turnover. For some, where a company is going doesn’t fit in their comfort zone. The reality is that the journey of implementing and improving process can take too much out of some people and they find that they need to move on. Most importantly, you need to be okay with it (which I’ve said into the mirror on more than one occasion).
- Find a coach (or medic in light of the above) to start
For any organization without an experienced change-management person, this isn’t even up for discussion. For us, even given my experience, it was invaluable to have someone helping me push things forward, tell me what’s normal and laugh with (and sometimes at) me for what wasn’t. Huge shout out to Maria Kingery, who filled that role for us and will always hold a place in my heart for it.
- Someone internally needs to own it
We made some strides initially within EOS, but it wasn’t until we had Rachael Pickering, our Director of People Ops and Culture, really geek out on the Entrepreneurial Operating System that things began to accelerate. Having one person who knows all the available tools and recommendations helped us optimize our implementation to fully leverage the system.
- Ready-made tools = headspace
In my old days of excel-modeling, the goal was to minimize thought and manipulation that would have to happen by using drivers and untouched data feeds. (Exciting, right? My excel proficiency is what attracted my wife to me back in the day. We’d spend late nights just me telling her about the model I built that week.) Similarly, the EOS framework provides tools (including things as simple as meeting agendas) that allowed us to just focus on what we do rather than administrative setup. Just imagine what you could do with free headspace…
- Goal-setting needs prompting
The process forces you to set quarterly goals while constantly looking at your 3-year plan and company fundamentals to make sure they’re connected. It’s so simple when it’s laid out for you already.
- The value of repetition
Having a framework that we always follow allowed us to more quickly leverage experience and get better and better at our jobs, while also keeping everyone on the same page and up-to-speed on knowing when and how to expect information.
- Accountability is misunderstood
This last one isn’t EOS specific, but EOS helped reframe this concept for team members. We tend to think of accountability in negative terms: “The VP of Sales is accountable for revenue, not me.” While that may be true from a metrics perspective, we all have roles that help hit that metric. EOS has an accountability chart construct that illustrates these interdependencies. It also ensures that team members understand expectations and are executing accordingly. After all, you wouldn’t say the knee is accountable for walking, but if it doesn’t do its part, walking will be a challenge, to say the least.
Two years later, in large part thanks to EOS, we’re wiser, better communicators, and more aligned on how we’re getting to where we’re going. I’d like to tell you that that’s how adolescence worked out for me, too, but there are many people who saw me come through adolescence that have stories proving otherwise.
This article was written by Jean-Marc Couvillion, President at Smashing Boxes.