Growing Profits and Cash Flow – The fifth of the Five Obsessions of Elite Organizations®

Entrepreneurial Freedom, Process

“Profit, and cash flow, are like oxygen. You don’t realize how much you need them until suddenly, you don’t have them.”

Gregory Cleary & Michael Erath, The Path to The Pinnacle

This is the longest, and most detailed article in the series. I chose to keep it this way because I don’t want to just give you high-level concepts, but rather real-world examples and ways to actually begin doing specific things that will make an immediate impact on your organization’s financial health.

The Importance of Resilience – A Personal Lesson Learned

When the terrorist attacks happened on September 11, 2001, I was thirty years old and the President and CEO of Erath Veneer. We manufactured and sold hardwood veneer and about eighty percent of our business was export, primarily to Europe and Asia. Our customers would typically travel to the US every one or two months to inspect and purchase product.

Even though the closure of airspace in North America only lasted two days, it took six to nine months before our overseas customers began to return to travel. Many of them were distributors, and they had large inventories and low overheads, so they survived off of their inventories during the global economic lull that followed. We, on the other hand, were a manufacturer, with significant fixed cost structures and debt service.

Our sales dropped an average of 60% in the two quarters following the attacks, and we quickly ran dangerously low on cash. In my youth, I was aggressively growing the business, focusing on opening new markets and expanding capacity, but I wasn’t intentional about simultaneously building a war chest of cash reserves and assuring sufficient access to capital, so our balance sheet was not in the position to weather such a storm.

While we did survive and go on to begin growing again, it would not be until 2 years later, when I joined the Young Presidents Organization (YPO), that I would begin to really learn and understand the tools and concepts I needed to build a more resilient company. Many of those tools and concepts provide the framework for this article.

To read more about Michael’s own entrepreneurial journey, a journey filled with successes, failures, a business partner’s embezzlement and fraud, felony convictions, and federal prison time, followed by his rebirth from the ashes of it all, read or listen to RISE: The Reincarnation of an Entrepreneur. A journey about which well know author and founder of the COO Alliance, Cameron Herold says, “I’ve met countless entrepreneurs over the course of my two-plus decades in business, but few have stories as dramatic—and, in the end, as inspirational—as Michael Erath’s.”

Over the course of my career as both an owner of multiple businesses and now a mentor and Business Guide to many more, I have seen how many entrepreneurs, and even many business operating systems, view profit and cash flow as the result of everything else. While in theory that thought process makes sense, I believe that to truly build an elite organization, the entire premise on which Next Level Growth was created, you must be intentional and proactive about the fifth of the Five Obsessions of Elite Organizations®, Growing Profits & Cash Flow.

In this final article in our series on the Five Obsessions of Elite Organizations, I will take you through five disciplines and concepts that I hope will be both easy to understand and begin to implement, and which will also help you improve both your profitability and your net cash flow quickly. They are: Internal Financial Literacy, Profit per X, Cash Conversion Cycles, Cash Flow Forecasting, and the Power of One.

Growing Profits and Cash Flow

Internal Financial Literacy

Many business owners are reluctant to share financial statements and other measures of financial performance with their leadership teams out of a fear that the people around them will either get distracted, or greedy, if they know the profitability of the company, or scared knowing how much the company might be losing in slow times. I would argue, however, that if an entrepreneur surrounds themselves with leaders who do not have either the financial understanding of, or the appreciation for, the risks the entrepreneur is taking and often personally liable for, then they have the wrong leaders sitting around the table.

For much of my early career, I was also one of those entrepreneurs who concealed financial statements from everyone other than my Controller. It wasn’t until I hired my first true CFO, and also through continuing to read and learn about best practices from my YPO colleagues and authors like Greg Crabtree and Jack Stack, that I began to come around and eventually created a monthly financial review meeting with my leadership team. That step was transformational both in opening their eyes to understanding how day to day decisions they and their teams were making had a broader impact on the company, and also in allowing me to delegate the burden of being the only one in leadership who really carried the stress of the financial roller coaster on which entrepreneurial organizations often ride.

Monthly Financial Review: A Best Practice Recommendation

As I evolved as a leader, I worked with our Controller to create a spreadsheet to which we would export a budget to actual variance analysis report from our financial software as soon as the months were closed. This report listed, each month, what our budget, or forecast predicted, what our actual results were, and then showed the variance. Every line item on the financial report, and this was a detailed, not consolidated version, had the name of a leadership team member next to it based on who within our Next Level Accountability Chart™ was ultimately accountable for that line item.

Any line items that were outside of a pre-determined range in terms of their actual results from what was budgeted or forecast would be highlighted in yellow. This report was distributed to the leadership team as soon as it was ready, and the following week we would add thirty minutes to our Weekly Tactical Meeting and start with a Financial Review. For any line item highlighted in yellow, the leadership team member who was accountable for that line was expected to be prepared to present an update to the team.

Notice that I didn’t say we just highlighted items that missed budget. We highlighted everything that was outside of a predetermined range. If a number was off budget in a negative way, the leadership team member accountable was expected to present to the team on specifically why the number was off, what was being done to correct it going forward, and/or anywhere they were stuck and needed help. Conversely, if the number was off track to the good, they were expected to also present on specifically why they were able to beat budget, what they learned as a result, and how they were going to adjust systems, process playbooks, people, etc., going forward in order to improve future performance based on what they had learned.

That second part is very important. As dangerous as it is to not understand why you are underperforming, it is equally as dangerous to achieve successes and not clearly understand why.

In addition to the profit and loss statement review through the budget to actual variance report analysis, we also would review our Statement of Cash Flow on a monthly basis. Combining this with the financial review helped our team understand how much cash was increasing or decreasing based on operations, financing activities, and investing activities. The more they understood the connection between decisions in the field and the financial impacts on the business, both in terms of profit and net cash flow, the more equipped they were to make intelligent and informed decisions on a daily basis and the more autonomy they gained in their roles.

It didn’t take long before leadership team members, as soon as they received the monthly spreadsheet, would do things like go to our finance team and ask for a printout of the general ledger for lines that were off track and for which they were accountable. Over time, it created a powerful collaboration between the finance team and the rest of the leaders in the organization. A collaboration that would make all of us smarter and more aligned as a team, and which would benefit the organization greatly.

Profit per X

In his 2001 best-selling book, Good to Great, author and thought leader Jim Collins writes, “The Good-to-Great companies frequently produced spectacular returns in very unspectacular industries. Each of them gained profound insights into their economics and as a result built a fabulous economic engine.”

He goes on to explain the concept of “Profit per X,” where the “X” is your “economic denominator.” The one denominator that, if you consistently and methodically worked on growing the ratio of profit per that economic denominator, you would build an outstanding financial engine for the business.

The first time I really wrapped my head around the concept and was able to get very granular, was during my time as President and CEO of Erath Veneer. Many organizations will claim their Profit per X is something like Profit per Employee. Whenever I see that, or hear a coach suggest that, it tells me that they don’t truly understand the concept, nor the power, of Profit per X.

I like to think through Profit per X based on the logic of the simple illustration below. This is actually a whiteboard capture from work I did with one of our Next Level Growth clients as we worked on discovering their Profit per X.

profit per x

If you think of your organization as a sideways funnel, you have to extract target market leads from some population of possible leads, convert those leads to customers or clients, create and provide goods or services, and you have to get paid. Somewhere in that funnel, every organization has a single most critical constraint, or key choke point, that holds the key to driving their economic engine through a focus on Profit per X. Note that every organization has more than one, but to get the greatest impact and not get distracted, you must choose one and only one, that will have the greatest impact on your economic engine.

In the case of our manufacturing business, our biggest constraint was our production capacity. We were a smaller player in a big industry, and the cost of adding just one new production line would be around three-million dollars, and that is just for the equipment. That doesn’t include building expansion, installation costs, and startup costs. Growing our profit by physically expanding our production was cost prohibitive.

At the same time, most of our Operating Expenses (OpEx) were largely fixed costs, with only a few lines of OpEx on our financials being pure variable costs. We knew that until we generated enough dollars of gross profit to cover those heavily fixed OpEx costs, we would not reach profitability. That was what we referred to as our “monthly nut.” The exact amount of Gross Profit Dollars it would take us just to reach break-even for the month.

Armed with that knowledge and thinking about Profit per X in terms of constraints, we soon realized that if we could analyze and consistently make decisions to improve our dollars of gross profit per board foot produced (board feet is a standard unit of measure in the hardwood industry), then we could absolutely build a strong economic engine. We wrote our Profit per X as “$GP/BF” and it became everything to us.

So what about professional service type businesses that are not producing something as standardized as in my personal example?  In most of those cases, I find that human capital is often their greatest constraint. That causes some people to then suggest that profit per employee is the right answer. But the reason I feel that is a mistake is that different employees come at different costs and provide different levels of value. In my opinion, a much better Profit per X in the professional services space is to look at your Profit (Net or Gross) per Fully Burdened Human Capital Dollar Invested. When you look through that lens, the analysis and adjustments take on a much more impactful meaning.

Discovery Is Only the First Step – The Gold is in the Analysis and Adjustments

We analyzed and then adjusted our production mix and changed our sales strategies to focus on species (think product lines) that would help us improve our $GP/BF. We analyzed and ranked all of our buyers in the field by $GP/BF for each specie we produced. Based on that data, we adjusted their budgets and quotas by specie based on their individual performance so that our highest performers relative to their $GP/BF were focused on the species where they performed best. We implemented bonus plans for the high performers to share in their profitability.

We analyzed our suppliers by specie based on $GP/BF, shared that information with our procurement team, and made adjustments to maximize our volume purchased from the highest performing vendors. We analyzed and prioritized our customers the same way. With a finite inventory from which to sell, we looked at, by specie, which customers had the highest $GP/BF and we adjusted our sales efforts to prioritize those customers at the top.

Over the course of just a few quarters, as all of our analysis and adjustments began to pay off, we saw an average monthly gain in Gross Profit of just over $100,000. We achieved that without any capital expenditures and without spending any additional OpEx, which meant that essentially every gained dollar of Gross Profit fell to the bottom line and improved our profitability and net cash flow. It was worth more than $1,000,000 of increased profit annually.

Where are your constraints? If you think through each of them, do you gain any clarity on which one of them, if you consistently grew the ratio of profit per that constraint, would allow you to build a fabulous economic engine? This is hard work and takes intentional focus, but the results are absolutely worth the effort.

Cash Conversion Cycles

Everyone knows that starting a business requires cash, and growing a business requires even more. Growing businesses can consume massive amounts of cash for working capital, facilities, equipment, and operating expenses. But few people understand that a profitable company that tries to grow too fast can run out of cash. A key challenge for the leadership team of any growing business, is to find the proper balance between consuming cash and generating it. Fail to strike that balance, and even a thriving company can soon find itself out of business…a victim of its own success.

cash conversion cycle

The keys to improving your cash conversation cycle are based on making consistent, incremental improvements in the key components impacting the time it takes a dollar invested to return to the business as a dollar received. Referencing the image above, the key components of a Cash Conversion Cycle (CCC) are typically:

Sales Cycle:  From the time you start investing in the sales process with a prospect, until you have a confirmed order to hand off to operations, you have cash going out of the business.

For example, you may have a salesperson take a prospect out to dinner. Cash left the business to pay for the dinner that contributes to the relationship you expect will lead to a confirmed order. Maybe that dinner was a “warm meeting” to ask for a demo or discovery meeting with a broader team. The speed with which your salesperson is able to get the prospect to move from the warm meeting phase to the demo phase, can have a positive or negative impact on your CCC.

When the prospect comes for the demo, do you have a clear ask at the end, or is it open ended? Are you intentionally doing everything you can to guide the prospect to make a decision? That decision may be a hard “no,” in which case you can stop spending cash to try to convert them and go focus on the next prospect, or it may be a “yes,” in which case we can quickly move to the next phase. If you allow them to flap endlessly in the wind without getting to a decision, the cash you have invested to this point is also flapping in the wind, far from your grasp.

Be smart and intentional about decreasing the time it takes for a prospect to move through your sales cycle and you will increase the velocity of cash flowing back into the business.

Production/Inventory/Delivery Cycle:  For a business that produces any kind of goods, you can look at your Production & Inventory Cycle as the time from when you procure your inputs, to the time they go into Work in Process, then into Finished Goods Inventory, and finally out the door to a customer. Most businesses can find opportunities to improve one or more of these segments within a Production, Inventory, and Delivery Cycle.

For a professional services business, there are still elements of this that apply. While you may not have raw materials and finished goods inventory, an accounting firm still has a Production and Delivery cycle. The key to improvement is in looking for all the small, incremental improvements you can make in your processes and workflows that will reduce the time it takes to move through the cycle.

Billing & Payment Cycle: This is the amount of time it takes from the delivery of a good or service, to the time the cash lands back in your account. This is a key area where many businesses lose focus, and, as a result, waste cash.

Let’s start with the billing cycle. When I dig into Cash Conversion Cycle with clients, one of the questions I ask is, “On average, how long does it take from the delivery of your service (I find this is typically much worse with service-based businesses than with product-based businesses) until the customer receives an invoice?” I’ve literally had clients tell me that they hold all invoicing until the end of the month, or worse, that they’re really busy and it usually takes a week or two to get the invoices out. If you take a six-million dollar business with consistent sales, we could presume that they bill $500,000 monthly, or roughly $125,000 per week. If they take 2 weeks just to get an invoice to the customer, they are missing a $250,000 opportunity.

In the example above, if the reason it takes two weeks is because the accounting team is understaffed, and they then say that they cannot “justify” adding another person to overhead, that tells me they are driving with blinders on. If adding one administrative person to the finance team would allow them to get invoices out within one business day, then once those invoices cycle through AR, the company’s cash will increase by $250,000. For a position that might cost $50,000, which might be a fully burdened monthly cost to the company of around $5,500, justification of the position should not be the issue – the new employee is essentially free. And if within 3 months of their onboarding, the company has gained a $250,000 improvement in cash, and their 3-month investment in the person has been about $15,000, I would argue that is an outstanding Return on Investment.

That brings up the next part of this final cycle, the payment cycle. At Erath Veneer, our typical payment terms were Net 30 Days. In reality, customers have a tendency to pay when they pay, and most organizations (ours was no different), simply accept it as they don’t want to upset a customer. Before we started really focusing on it, our average days to pay, with terms of Net 30 days, was running in mid-50-day range, and our Accounts Receivable (AR) would vary around +/- $1,500,000.

There was a time where we would have a member of our accounting team call customers who were past due to inquire about payment. The problem with that was most of those calls would be routed to someone within the customers accounting team. The result was that the two people on the phone had misaligned objectives. Our collections team member was trying to get cash in as quickly as possible, and the person they were talking to was trying to hold on to cash as long as they could. When we made the change to task our salespeople with collecting their own AR, they would talk with their colleague, the buyer, on the other side of the open invoice, and there was always a better relationship between those two people. Also, the buyer often had more leverage within their own company, and one of their objectives was to maintain vendor relationships to ensure they had access to the resources they needed, so there was an incentive to collaborate.

A few other things we did that had measurable impact included modifying how we expressed the payment terms. In addition to stating “Net 30 Days” on the invoice, we would also list the date that marked the 30 days, so instead, our invoices would read, “Net 30 Days – Due February 3rd.” There is always an assumption from the seller that Net 30 Days means from the date of the invoice, but the buyer almost always takes the position that it is from the date the invoice was received. By including the actual due date, in many instances, that alone improved the average days it took a specific customer to pay by 3 to 5 days.

Think about that…if one of our customers typically carried $100,000 in AR and their average days to pay was 50, and just the minor modification above led to a small change in behavior on their end that got us paid just 3 days faster, that is a 6% reduction in AR days for that client, which is worth $100,000 x 6% = $6,000 of improved cash flow. Multiply that across multiple accounts, and the numbers add up very quickly.

Another thing we did, and that I find is an opportunity many companies miss, is sending a “friendly reminder” of an upcoming due date. Many companies wait until an invoice goes past due to begin communicating about that particular invoice, and I believe that is a missed opportunity. We implemented a simple process by which we would send a friendly reminder 10 days before an invoice was due, with a very positive short note about how much we valued the relationship and appreciated their collaboration and timely payment. If we knew who within their accounting team held the keys to getting us paid, we would send the email to them, and we would always copy their buyer. It was a soft, subtle reminder that they needed good vendors, and we needed good customers who would live up to their obligations to pay us on time.

Just implementing those two simple, and essentially zero-cost adjustments, our average AR days dropped from the mid-50s to the upper 40s. While that may not sound like a big move, the impact of a 7-day average reduction in AR days, was an improvement of about 13%, and with an average AR of around $1,500,000, a 13% improvement created roughly $195,000 of improved cash flow that we could re-deploy back into growing the business.

Cash and Cash Flow Forecasting

Most entrepreneurs are familiar with the statement, “Revenue is vanity, profit is sanity, and cash is king.” While this statement is not untrue, I think there is significant flaw…I would say that it is not “cash” that is king, but “cash flow.”

The reason I consider cash flow more important than cash is due to its dynamic nature and its direct reflection of a company’s operational health. Here are several reasons why:

1. Timeliness and Relevance: Cash flow reflects the inflow and outflow of cash over a specific period, providing a real-time view of a company’s financial situation. It accounts for operational expenses, investments, and financing activities, offering a more accurate and current assessment compared to a snapshot of cash at a single point in time.

2. Operational Sustainability: Positive cash flow indicates that a company is generating more cash than it is spending, signifying the ability to cover its ongoing expenses, invest in growth opportunities, and meet its financial obligations. It ensures the day-to-day operations can continue smoothly.

3. Investment and Growth: Cash flow is crucial for funding expansion, innovation, and strategic initiatives. Companies with healthy cash flows have the ability to invest in research, development, acquisitions, or new market penetration, driving growth and competitiveness.

4. Debt Servicing and Financial Health: Cash flow is instrumental in servicing debt obligations, including interest payments and debt reduction. Lenders often assess cash flow to determine a company’s ability to repay loans. A strong cash flow history can improve creditworthiness and reduce borrowing costs.

5. Risk Management: Regular monitoring of cash flow helps identify potential financial issues or liquidity problems in advance. It allows management to make informed decisions to mitigate risks, adjust strategies, or seek additional financing if necessary.

6. Investor and Stakeholder Confidence: Investors and stakeholders often scrutinize cash flow statements to assess a company’s financial stability and growth potential. A consistent positive cash flow demonstrates financial discipline and can attract investment and confidence from stakeholders.

While cash reserves are essential for short-term liquidity and emergencies, maintaining a healthy cash flow is critical for the sustained success, growth, and stability of a business. Organizations with strong cash flow management are better positioned to navigate economic downturns, seize opportunities, and thrive in the long run.

Cash on Hand

There is an important need to balance, in every organization’s particular circumstance, how you approach cash on hand, and you need to understand your cash flow forecasting to strike that balance. I’ll use a specific example from my own business, Next Level Growth to help illustrate this.

In the early days, I was a solo-preneur as I left the world of manufacturing and transitioned to coaching. My operating expenses and overheads were low, and the business generated very good cash flow. I had a great facility with a monthly lease just under $5,000, and not many other fixed expenses. I kept about $10,000 of cash on hand in case we had a downturn, but otherwise, I could shut off variable expenses quickly and the delta between monthly cash flow and fixed costs was high, so there was not much to be concerned about.

As I began to build out a firm of business guides, relocated to a new, much larger and more expensive office, and built out significantly more resources and collateral, things changed.

Thinking about how much cash on hand I needed to maintain as a buffer for slow times, I needed to get a clear picture of what my total monthly cost structure was, what was a fully fixed cost, what costs were entirely variable, and what costs were in between the two extremes. In my case, as of the writing of this article, I have just over $70,000 in total monthly expenses required to run our firm.

Some organizations look at cash on hand through the lens of, “If our revenue dropped to zero, how much do I want to have in reserves to survive.” Different leaders have different levels of risk tolerance, and that reality needs to play into the way this is approached. If you have a very low tolerance for risk, this is likely the right approach to give you peace of mind. If, on the other hand, you are highly risk tolerant, this will probably cause you to tie up too much cash, cash that you would rather be redeploying in growth opportunities.

The balance I try to strike is to look at scenarios where we have a drop in revenue of 25% and 50%. When the pandemic hit in 2020, we had a short-term drop in revenue of about 30% and it lasted for about 5 months. When I consider my business model, I could immediately shut off about $20,000 (29%) of the $70,000 monthly spend without having an impact on the quality of how the business operates. These are variable expenses that are nice to afford and do allow us to enhance the way we do things, but they are not necessary for survival or to maintain an on-brand delivery of our services. So I have about $20,000 that is discretionary, which brings my “downturn” monthly nut to about $50,000.

To be able to operate in an environment where revenues and cash in from operations drop 25%, if I carry $50,000 cash on hand, I can go several months without it causing undue harm. In my particular circumstance, if I carry less than that, I’m putting my business at risk in a sudden downturn, and if I carry more, I’m tying up cash that could be reinvested in growing the business.

Cash Flow Forecasting and Staying Ahead of the Curve

Depending on the business model, there are varying degrees of accuracy in 90-day cash forecasting. When I ask the Finance Team leader of a client company about maintaining a cash flow forecast, I sometimes get pushback that, “Our cash flow is too unpredictable to forecast,” or, “There are too many variables for it to be accurate and valuable.” This is usually code for either, “I’m not sure how to do it,” or, “I don’t have time to do the work required.” Either way, if the leader of your finance team is not providing a cash flow forecast (ideally 90 days out) and reviewing it frequently, I would argue they are underperforming in an area that is a significant part of their job. That is a strong statement and one I make for a reason. Regardless of the variabilities that exist in any given industry, based on historical trends, seasonality, and sufficient data, I believe every business can and should maintain a detailed 90-day cash flow forecast, with as much accuracy as their specific business model allows.

If you disagree, go back to the article I wrote on Most Critical Outcome™ and read the section titled “MCO In Practice.” I believe the leader of the Finance Team has a fiduciary responsibility to protect the financial health and cash flow of the business. If they are not forecasting cash and reporting to the team on a regular basis, they cannot fulfill their responsibility to protect cash flow.

At Next Level Growth, our cash flows into and out of five different accounts (we use a methodology learned from reading the book Profit First, by Mike Michalowicz). Two are for receiving payments, one is for paying operating expenses, and two are for savings – one for safety-net cash on hand and one for building cash for quarterly taxes.

Our Controller maintains a spreadsheet that pulls from various resources and includes some manual adjustments that shows me the 90-day forecast of cash flow in and out of each account, together with an aggregate column that shows me total forecasted cash looking 90-days out. We have lots of variables too. If I spend more or less than expected on marketing in a given month, the forecast has to be adjusted. If we add a client or lose a client, the forecast has to be adjusted. But knowing what to expect as we predict the next 90 days of cash allows me to see trends and concerns coming long before they arrive…and that helps me make better, more timely decisions and adjustments.

Leading a business without clear and updated cash flow forecasts would be like a pilot leaving on a cross-country trip without checking the weather forecasts along the route or at the destination. I wouldn’t want to be a passenger on that plane.

The Power of One

The last discipline if Growing Profits & Cash Flow that I want to address is what we call the “Power of One.” When it comes to a focus on financial improvements, many teams either don’t know where to start, or they let themselves be too busy to do the work. As a result, their profit and cash flow is a byproduct that just happens to them, not something they intentionally go after and get.

The idea behind the Power of One is to think about all of the things within your control or influence that affect things like your Profit per X and your Cash Conversion Cycle. Take each of them one at a time, and instead of focusing on coming up with some big initiative, think about what it would look like to improve it by 1% or 1 day. Here’s an example.

Let’s say you are an auto dealership with multiple locations selling used cars. Your Profit per X is probably Profit per Unit Sold, so that is the key to your economic engine. If we start by focusing on profit only, I would ask you to make a list of all the things you can control or influence that impact Profit per Unit Sold. That list might look like:

   Reconditioning Cost

   Advertising Expense

   Acquisition Cost

   Transportation Cost

Taking them one by one, perhaps you do some reconditioning in-house and some you outsource. If you brought all of your reconditioning in house, you might be able to save $100 per unit when you consider the additional cost it would take you to expand your recon department combined with the savings of not having to pay an outside vendor.

Perhaps you could make improvements to your referral strategy and your “self-generated traffic” strategy with your sales team, to create more “free” leads and reduce your advertising cost per unit by $50.

If you adjusted your buying strategy to increase the percentage of street buys relative to auction buys, you might find that the savings in auction fees by adjusting the ratios saves you $25 per unit.

Maybe as a byproduct of the buying strategy adjustments and intentionally renegotiating your transportation contracts, you could reduce your transportation per unit by another $25.

All in, the above changes could result in a savings of $200 per unit. If you have 3 locations and each location sells, on average, 1,000 units annually, then your profit will increase by $600,000, and if you keep those gained efficiencies, as your unit sales grow over time as you grow the business, that savings and the resulting gain in profit will grow with you year over year. The long-term impact of just that one exercise, can yield millions of dollars of added profit and cash flow over a period of just a few years.

Pricing Strategy – A Final Thought on The Power of One

Very few organizations I meet really focus on their pricing strategy and, in fact, most of them are quick to discount prices and rarely consider the power of raising prices. I believe organizations should be just as intentional about their pricing strategy as they are on expense management.

I’ll share two brief, and powerful points on this. Think about your favorite restaurant. Let’s just say that the average ticket value for the restaurant is $50 per person. Most companies are afraid to raise prices because they are concerned they will lose too many customers, and restaurants are no different. But consider if, as a guest of the restaurant, they adjusted their prices across the menu by just one to three percent, so that the average ticket value vent from $50 to $51 per person. Most people would agree that there would not be any measurable drop-off in traffic or frequency as a result of such a small change. However, if the restaurant has 20 locations, and they average 100 guests per evening per location, that’s $2,000 per evening. If they are open six nights per week that’s $12,000 per week, times fifty-two weeks. That turns into $624,000 of additional gained profit over the course of a year.

If a business operates on a 50% gross margin, they could raise prices 2% and afford to lose 3.85% of their volume, or in the case of the restaurant, their traffic, and still generate the same dollars of gross profit. If their gross margin was 30%, they could afford to lose up to 6.25% of their volume and still generate the same dollars of gross profit (see the download below for your own copy of the referenced tables). If their volumed drops by less than those amounts, their real dollars of Gross and Net Profit go up.

The second point I want you to consider is the negative real impact on gross profit dollars of discounting your prices. Typically, discounts happen in the range of 10% or more. For this example, take the same company operating at a gross margin of 50%. If they decided to discount their prices by 10% to attract more sales, they would need to see an increase in volume, or traffic, of 25% just to generate the same dollars of gross profit. If their gross margin was only 30%, they would need to see volume increase by 50% just to keep the same actual dollars of gross profit flowing into the business with a 10% discount on price. Discounts are dangerous and almost never generate enough increase in volume to offset the loss of real dollars of gross profit they cause.

Download a free copy of the Price Increases, Discounts, and Impact on Gross Profit Dollars Tables.

You Must Do the Work to Get the Results

These are the key disciplines that, if you will begin to focus on them and prioritize them, will yield outstanding results over time, and they will yield results that will remain with you for the life of your business.

We have a quote from author Larry Winget on the wall in one of our hallways at Next Level Growth that says, “The only thing standing between you and what you want, is you and what you are not willing to do.” Intentionally growing profits and cash flow is hard work because it requires you to spend time working on your business, not in it.

Would it be a ridiculous idea to have a conversation with a Next Level Growth Business Guide to learn more about our approach and how we can help you build an elite organization? Are you against filling out the form below have a free conversation? You may be one simple step away from a whole new level…the Next Level. What have you got to lose?

Next Steps

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A Culture of Performance – The fourth of the Five Obsessions of Elite Organizations®

Entrepreneurial Freedom, People

Legendary college basketball coach, John Wooden, famously said we should, “Never mistake activity for achievement.” While it takes the right activities, done the right way, and the right number of times to achieve success, in my years as an entrepreneur and now Business Guide, I have seen firsthand that far too many organizations give teams and leaders a pass for too long because they are doing the activities, even when they are not achieving the desired results.

Building a high-performing culture into an organization is hard work and takes time. It requires a special discipline, focus, and drive to do things at a high level, and to a high standard, all of the time. It is also highly dependent on getting the first three of the Five Obsessions right. You must have Great People, united around and driven by an Inspiring Purpose, well trained on, and consistently executing, Optimized Playbooks, to even have a chance at building a successful Culture of Performance, the fourth of the Five Obsessions of Elite Organizations®.

Culture of Performance

Keys to a Culture of Performance

There are six key components to building a Culture of Performance. The first is to define what we call The Summit. What is at the top of the mountain you are climbing? In Good to Great, Jim Collins calls this the BHAG – the Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal. Once you know the long-term goal, the objective, then you can begin to focus on the remaining keys of building a Culture of Performance: The right strategy to become a dominant force in your strategic niche; an A-Player Recruiting and Onboarding System; Clear Expectations; Scorecards and Scoreboards; and a Coaching System to either coach people up or coach them out.

In my earlier post on an Inspiring Purpose, I discussed the importance of defining and driving the right strategy to differentiate yourself and provide consistent value in the marketplace. With the addition of a Just Cause and Daily Purpose, people can get clear on why you are in the game that you are in, and they can decide if they want to be a part of it. Adding in a clearly defined Summit helps them understand where this journey will take the organization, and then they can decide if successfully reaching that Summit will be worth the effort it will take. Some will be up for the challenge and others will not. You want to build on the former, and let the latter go on to other organizations. They will not help you drive your organization to its Summit because they don’t have the emotional connection, the passion and drive, to remain disciplined and focused on the journey.

An A-Player Recruiting and Onboarding System


The best organizations, whether in business or in sports, have a well-designed and executed system to attract and filter talent. It starts with having a very clear understanding of who your avatar employees are for each role in the organization, and the Next Level Accountability Chart™ is a great place to start. Once you understand the avatar, it is easier to figure out where they are and how to go find and attract them.

Many organizations offer referral bonus programs to compensate existing employees to recommend people they know. The problem is that few of the systems we have seen are really well designed to get ideal outcomes. As Brad Smart wrote about in Topgrading, A-Players will hire A-Players, but B-Players will only hire other B-Players and C-Players. They will not hire A-Players. So why do we incentivize our underachievers to recommend their peers? There is a high likelihood that their peers are also underachievers…so we end up paying our underachievers a bonus for helping us find other underachievers, and the cycle repeats.

At Next Level Growth, we regularly recommend designing a program that offers more lucrative bonuses for existing employees to recommend and recruit from their networks, but we always suggest that any such program should be tied to performance in a way that existing employees must be verified A-Players (both in terms of culture and performance) to even participate, and their bonus compensation on recruited employees should both be paid out over time, and only be paid if they maintain their A-Player status AND the new employee also remains a consistently verified A-Player (both culturally and in terms of performance). This way, you get two A-Players for the bonus you pay. As I wrote about in the article on Optimized Playbooks, every system is perfectly designed to get what it gets. If you want a better outcome, you need a better system.

Clear Expectations

As I wrote in my earlier post on Great People, I believe that most of our frustrations with people are rooted in uncommunicated expectations. The Next Level Accountability Chart™, with MMOs™ is a great tool to help clarify performance expectations of people in their roles. Once those expectations are clear, and you use them in the recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and continuous development phases of your employee journey, you will have the foundation of a system that is designed to help you drive performance from a team of great people.

As Nick Saban states in the video below, mediocre people don’t like high achievers, and high achievers don’t like mediocre people. If you don’t have a Culture of Performance, you cannot have any team chemistry within the organization, and you must have clear expectations if you are going to have a culture of performance.

Scorecards and Scoreboards

Imagine watching two teams playing basketball, but nobody is keeping score, there is no clock measuring the time remaining, and there are no other data points or statistics. It would be like watching practice, and probably would not be very interesting. I would also expect that the level of effort being put forth by the players would be less than their absolute best.

Compare that, however, to the way teams perform when there is a scoreboard, we know the score, the time remaining, what the team foul situation is, and how many time-outs are left. Suddenly, when we’re keeping score, the effort and focus improves.

Scoreboards and Performance: A Personal Example

It is a psychological fact that people perform differently when they know how their performing against certain goals, or against other individuals or teams. A few months ago, I took up cycling as a form of exercise. Since I’m purely doing this for the exercise, I passed on getting an expensive road bike and settled for a hybrid city bike. I’ve got a 10-mile route I ride several days per week and there’s about 500 feet of elevation change, so for a novice looking for exercise, it’s a good route. When I started riding, it was taking me about 45 minutes to complete the circuit.

I use an app to track my time, distance, average speed, and a few other points of data. One particular day, as I was climbing a 1.5-mile hill on the route, another cyclist passed me. Granted, he had a nice road bike and all the fancy gear and cycling clothes, while I was in gym shorts, a t-shirt, and sneakers…but I got frustrated at the thought of being passed. So in response, I put forth more effort, changed gears to pick up a little more speed, and was actually able to stay on pace with him for the rest of the climb.

What I realized was no different than what I observe with the teams I coach. When challenged, the competitive spirit that lives within most of us, will drive us to level up our performance. I also realized that when I was only competing against myself and my own stats, I was allowing myself to settle into something less than my best effort. Being passed woke me up. Now I know that I can push harder and go faster. Now I ride against the last version of me. When I finish a ride, I put the stats on a whiteboard in my office and I track them week by week. Every time I ride, I try to beat the guy I was the last time I rode. As a result, just last weekend I broke the 40-minute mark, twice. The prior version of me, the one that took 45 minutes to complete the circuit, would have been 1.1 miles behind me when I finished. That’s an 11% improvement in my performance, and I’m just a hack cyclist doing this for exercise.

Scoreboards and Performance: An Example From the Field

When I was President and CEO of Erath Veneer, we had four production lines, each running on two shifts, slicing hardwood veneer for the furniture, door, and panel industries. So in all, we had eight different production teams.

As we gained clarity around our Profit per X, which in our case was Dollars of Gross Profit per Board Foot Produced, we realized that of the many areas we could make adjustments and implement strategies to improve the ratio that drove our economic engine, focusing on and consistently improving our throughput in terms of board feet would be one area of focus that would make us more efficient and more profitable.

Note: This story, and many like it, are detailed in my second book, The Path to the Pinnacle.

We started by analyzing historical data on throughput, and supplemented that by running tests and time studies. This analysis allowed us to determine, by specie produced (think, “product line”), how much throughput per hour each production team should average for an eight-hour shift depending on the mix of species they were producing during a particular shift.

To make sure we didn’t sacrifice quality for the sake of efficiency, we added limit switches to each veneer slicer that would turn on a light at the same part of every log being sliced, and that would cue the team to pull a sample, which they would then label with the machine number, shift, time, and log number. The following morning, our production manager and sales manager (requiring the two positions to collaborate in the review prevented just operations from policing itself) would review the samples together and reject anything that did not meet our standards. For any mis-manufactured samples, the team that produced the damaged log would have the board footage of that log deducted from their prior day’s totals. So there was no incentive to sacrifice quality for volume.

After the samples were reviewed, our office staff would tally each of the eight production teams results from the prior day, and we would print a color bar graph that showed a thick black line where each team’s goal was for the prior day, along with a vertical bar indicating their actual results. If they fell short of their goal, the bar was red. If they met or exceeded their goal, the bar was green. We kept a rolling week of graphs up on the wall by the door to the break room, so every employee in the company saw the results. Nobody wanted to be on the teams that were consistently in the red.

Without any financial incentives, and just by displaying the data and letting everyone see how their team was doing relative to the other teams, we saw an 8% increase in average throughput per shift. That improvement in productivity, with a balanced focus on quality, lowered our unit cost, which increase our Profit per X – our Dollars of Gross Profit per Board Foot Produced.

Once we had consistent data to prove that we were doing the right things on our production lines and tracking the data properly, we reinvested some of the financial gains into a bonus program for the production teams that created a true meritocracy on the plant floor, increasing total compensating for the best performing teams. As a result of the clarity, visibility, and focus on results, team members would go out of their way to help each other as needed to keep their productivity up, and team leads would be quick to communicate with their supervisors when an underperformer was holding them back and needed to be exited from the team.

As an organization, it is critical to make sure that you are tracking, and providing sufficient visibility to, the right data to drive the performance you want, and using that data to create a healthy spirit of competition…something for which A-Players hunger.

A Coaching System

Every great performer has a coach. Many of them have multiple coaches. In his prime, Tiger Woods had four coaches – one for his long game, one for his short game, a strength coach, and a sports psychologist “performance” coach. What is your organization doing to develop your leaders into great coaches?

At Next Level Growth, we recommend that everyone who has direct reports be developed by the organization to coach their teams. As part of that coaching system, we recommend Quarterly Coaching, or what some of our clients call, Quarterly Calibrations. These are one-to-one meetings, once per quarter, between a leader and each direct report, where they discuss core values one at a time, and then performance relative to the defined Mission, Most Critical Outcome™, and Obsessions™ from the Next Level Accountability Chart™, again, each one at a time.

We encourage our clients to clarify and utilize a numeric rating system, with definitions for each of the numbers relative to expectations for both behavior in alignment with each core value, and then performance relative to each part of the MMOs. Is the team member exceeding expectations, meeting expectations, or not meeting expectations. We have some clients who choose to use a one to three scoring system, some that use a one to five system, and others that use a one to ten system. All that really matters is that the system is clear, it is consistently deployed throughout the organization, and the meaning of the numbers is defined.

When this is consistently done every quarter throughout the organization, you are validating with your high achievers how well they are doing, and you are identifying your under-performers so that you can work with them to understand their needs and help develop and coach them up. If, however, over time, you find that somebody is not responding to, or accepting, the coaching, then you can either coach them into another seat, or coach them out of the organization. This makes room for a new recruit to come through your onboarding processes and refill the seat with an expectation that the new, well onboarded recruit, will be able to perform at a higher level.

Never Settle

In the end, a Culture of Performance is a commitment across the organization, starting with leadership, to the same high standards and to the same high level of achieving results. You must commit to providing your team with the right strategy to become a dominant force in your space, an A-Player Recruiting and Onboarding System, Clear Expectations, Scorecards and Scoreboards, and a Coaching System to either coach people up or coach them out.

You cannot be great if you’re content with good.

Click to reac the next article in this series, Growing Profits & Cash Flow.

Learn how to approach Scorecards and Scoreboards with this free download

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Unlocking Greatness: The Five Obsessions of Elite Organizations®

Entrepreneurial Freedom, People, Process, Team Health, Vision

Jim Collins opens his 2001 best-selling book, Good to Great, by stating that, “Good is the enemy of great.” Having spent more than 20 years growing my own businesses, followed by more than 10,000 hours across well over 1,000 days guiding strategic meetings with the leadership teams of more than 100 entrepreneurial organizations, I could not agree more.

The Trap of Contentment

So many entrepreneurial leaders become content with good as being good enough and end up trapped in their own businesses. I was fortunate to spend  fifteen of the first twenty years of my career as a member of the peer groups YPO and EO, with a short time also spent in VISTAGE. From my time with each of those organizations,  one thing became very clear to me. Most entrepreneurs, to some degree, achieve success at the expense of their relationships, their time with family, their physical health, or their emotional health.

I created Next Level Growth because I believe it doesn’t have to be that way.

Build an Elite Organization

At Next Level Growth, we focus on Helping Entrepreneurial Leaders Build Elite Organizations®. What Collins refers to as “great.” In his book, Collins shares from the findings of his research, that the organizations who made the leap from good to great had something in common. They were all lead by a team of disciplined people, engaged in disciplined thought, taking disciplined action. It’s important to break this concept down if you are going to be able to apply and operationalize it in your own organization, and it is from this concept that the Next Level Growth Approach was formed.

The Five Obsessions of Elite Organizations®

This is the first post in a series of six, which will walk you through each of the Five Obsessions of Elite Organizations and how to use them to create a custom-tailored system from which you can build your own elite organization. We call this the Next Level Growth Approach, and it is not a prescriptive system, but rather a principled approach. When you follow a prescriptive system, you are bound by the system and forced to make tradeoffs to fit within its constraints. When you embrace a principled approach, primacy is placed on outcomes relative to your goals and vision, within the flexible framework of a set of principles. This unlocks tremendous freedom and creativity, and allows the user to design a custom-tailored system in which to operate relative to the principled approach – the essence of greatness. But first, let me clarify why building an elite organization is worth the effort.

When entrepreneurs follow the Next Level Growth Approach and begin building elite organizations, they are more able to begin delegating to a capable team, aligned around a common set of values and a common purpose, in a systemized and scalable business, where expectations are clear, performance is measured and reported on, and leadership constantly invests in coaching and developing people, while providing them an environment where they can perform at their natural best.

When this happens, entrepreneurial leaders begin to experience a sense of freedom. Their organizations become more efficient, more self-managing, and less dependent on the founder and the leadership team to be deep in the minutiae of the day-to-day.

Hear from long-time Next Level Growth client about his experiencing Return on Life.

We find that these elite organizations bring a special discipline, commitment, drive, and passion to consistently excel to a very high standard in each of the Five Obsessions. Simply put, the Five Obsessions are: Great People, aligned and driven by an Inspiring Purpose, consistently training on, executing, and improving Optimized Playbooks, in a Culture of Performance, while proactively Growing Profit and Cash Flow.

The Five Obsessions of Elite Organizations

Most people are familiar with the “Right People, Right Seats,” analogy made popular by Collins in Good to Great. While I absolutely agree that you need Right People, those who share your values and whose behaviors consistently align with those values, in the Right Seats, meaning they have the skills and desire to perform their roles to a high level, I have discovered a 3rd leg to this stool that is missing if you truly want to build an elite organization: an Inspiring Purpose. When you have the right people, in the right seats, and they are inspired by and emotionally connected to your purpose, they will bring an even greater level of creativity, passion, ingenuity, and effort to the work that they do and will ultimately be even greater ambassadors for your organization.

1. Great People

In the first of the Five Obsessions, Great People, we teach what we refer to as an “A-Player System.” It consists of five foundational concepts to help organizations excel at Right People in the Right Seats: Behavioral Core Values, The Next Level Accountability Chart™, an Onboarding System, Quarterly Calibrations, and a Performance Solutions System designed to either coach up, or coach out, the under performers. I will expand on three of these five here.


The Next Level Accountability Chart™ is an evolved and advanced version of both an Organizational Chart as well as the EOS® Accountability Chart™, that we have created over several years of refinement with hundreds of clients ranging in size from just a few million in revenue to organizations nearing $1 billion, and from every industry segment imaginable. What specifically makes it unique and valuable is the inclusion of what we call MMOs™, an acronym for the 3 critical components of a seat on the Next Level Accountability Chart:  Mission, Most Critical Outcome®, and Obsessions™. With this foundation in place, team members from the CEO to the front lines will have absolute clarity of expectations for success in their roles. What’s more is that you can also use this concept to clarify expectations of Board seats, which can be helpful especially in the early days of forming a Board of Directors.

When the Next Level Accountability Chart is in place, it is used to feed quarterly coaching conversations, or what we call Quarterly Calibrations, which utilize the second concept for Great People, the A-Player Talent Assessment. Our next blog post will dive deeper into this obsession. The tools around these two concepts help create exceptional alignment around expectations and consistent communication to drive alignment throughout the organization and provide coaching on a continuous basis.

W. Edwards Deming once said, “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” If you want a better result, you need a better system. The Performance Solutions System was specifically designed to help leaders and managers overcome the two most significant barriers to a Culture of Performance:  The emotional cost, and the story-telling trap. Most leaders and managers tolerate mediocrity far too long because they are either resisting difficult conversations with team members because such conversations come with an emotional cost to the leader of manager, so they naturally avoid what they know will be difficult, or, they fall into the story-telling trap, believing the excuses and reasons they are given as to why a team member consistently misses their goals and fails the meet expectations. Having a well designed system that helps overcome these barriers is crucial if you want a Culture of Performance, and at Next Level Growth, we believe that our A-Player System is the most comprehensive approach to building a high-performing and values aligned culture.

2. Inspiring Purpose

The second of the Five Obsessions, Inspiring Purpose, is about storytelling. As humans, we are all storytellers. Most organizations make significant investments in PR and marketing, but it is almost always externally focused. Elite organizations also make investments in understanding, articulating, and in fact, marketing things like their Just Cause, Daily Purpose, their vision, their strategic initiatives, and their Flywheel internally. This provides team members something that they can emotionally connect with, and when you bring an emotional connection to what you do and why you do it, you get better, more consistent performance, and you can accomplish even more and at a higher level.

3. Optimized Playbooks

Optimized Playbooks is the third of the Five Obsessions. Outside of the business world, every professional has playbooks and a practice schedule. Whether it is an athlete with a playbook to study, or an actor with a script, they have playbooks and they are consistently practicing so that when it is gametime, or time for the performance, they are ready to execute flawlessly. Only in the business world do most professionals operate without playbooks and without any meaningful practice. Our fourth blog post in this series will dive into playbooks and practice schedules.

4. Culture of Performance

The fourth of the Five Obsessions is a Culture of Performance. When you have a team of A-Players, and they are inspired by the purpose behind what they are doing, they want to know how they are doing – if they are winning or if they are falling behind. It is important that they know the score and the key details, in real time, to know how to adjust the way they are playing the game. Imagine watching a basketball game with no scoreboard and no stats. It would be like watching practice. But when you add a scoreboard, and everyone knows the score, the time remaining, the team fouls, and the teams are tracking statistics and checking in at every time out so they can review the data and make real-time adjustments, that is not only more interesting, but it drives our competitive human nature and leads to higher level of performance. To build an elite organization, you must obsess about a Culture of Performance.

5. Growing Profits and Cash Flow

The last of the Five Obsessions is something that, unfortunately, most Business Operating Systems and many entrepreneurs view as a byproduct of everything else…Growing Profits and Cash Flow. While in theory one could argue that this mindset is correct, you live in the world of reality, and in reality, to be a truly elite organization, you must consistently obsess about Growing Profits and Cash Flow. The best organizations are constantly fine tuning and evolving their pricing strategy, their cash conversion cycle, and improving the financial literacy of their teams and leaders. They understand what drives their economic engine, have identified what Jim Collins calls their “Profit per X,” and are analyzing their decisions and strategies through that lens. You have to think of both profit and, even more importantly, net cash flow, as the fuel that feeds the engine you are building in your business, and that engine is what drives your Inspiring Purpose. No profit, no purpose.

Over the next 3 months, we will be releasing blog posts diving deep into each of these Five Obsessions, unpacking the specific tools and concepts we share with the organizations who are members of the Next Level Growth ecosystem and working with an elite Next Level Growth Business Guide on their journey to the summits of their business mountains.

Click to read the next article in this series, Great People.i

Next Steps

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Clear the Fog for Better Decision Making

Entrepreneurial Freedom, Process, Vision

How often do you pay “Dumb Taxes” in your business?

I just finished the Audio Book The Road Less Stupid by Keith J. Cunningham and, spoiler alert, the book is about why smart people do dumb things. The author asks the reader, “how much money would you have right now if I gave you the ability to unwind any three financial decisions you have ever made?” Cunningham calls this “paying a dumb tax”. He says, “we don’t need to do more smart things, we just need to make fewer dumb mistakes. Every one of those three decisions you would love to unwind was an avoidable mistake.” The vast majority of our dumb tax is a direct result of emotional, overly optimistic, and poorly thought-out decisions. The solution to paying these types of taxes is allowing yourself thinking time.  

When we run ourselves to the ground by constantly “doing”, we are not thinking at our highest level. We are much smarter than we allow ourselves to be at times. True wisdom is tapped into during dedicated moments of deep reflection, what we at Next Level Growth call a “Clear the Fog” Break.

What is a Clear the Fog Break?

Keeping your head clear and your focus strong is what this tool is all about. Great leaders have the habit of taking quiet time to think. That means escaping the office on a regular basis for 30 minutes or more. By working on yourself and the business, you will rise above feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, to a clear-headed and confident state. As a result, when you come back into the business, you will be laser-focused and in the right leadership frame of mind. 

During your next break, use any one of the Clear the Fog Questions to get started:

  1. What is one thing my business, my team or I should start doing that we’re not?  
  2. What is one thing my business, my team or I should stop doing?  
  3. What is one thing my business, my team or I are doing that is going well?
  4. What is a major hassle (for our team members, for our customers/clients, or for our vendors) that needs to be resolved?
  5. What can we do to be more proactive versus reactive?

So, instead of paying avoidable “dumb tax”, choose the road less stupid by scheduling regular Clear the Fog breaks for better solutions than what your emotional, untamed brain will come up with in a reactive moment.

Free Clear the Fog Worksheet

Use these questions to help to see clearly in your business and gain the confidence to simplify procedures and efficiencies.

Next Steps

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Take Your Business, and Your Life, to the Next Level

Entrepreneurial Freedom

“It is dangerous not to evolve.” Jeff Bezos

After six fantastic years as The Traction Hub, the time to evolve has come. The Traction Hub is now Next Level Growth. Keep reading to learn what makes us different and more valuable in the world of business operating systems and coaching.

After six years as one of the most sought-after EOS® coaching firms in the Southwest, we have added more offerings and services as our team of expert coaches have gained certifications in Scaling Up Coaching and Pinnacle Business Guides in addition to our long-standing status as EOS Implementers®. This allows us to offer more tools and services to our clients on the relentless climb to reach the summit of their business mountains.

Next Level Growth is about YOU. We take time to understand you. To understand your strategy. To understand your needs as well as your dream. Only then do we begin to help you build a custom-tailored solution – a 100% solution – not to just get you started on the journey, but to equip you and guide you all the way to the summit.

With an experienced business guide on your team who is trained in the best tools from the best systems and performance platforms, your chances of success increase exponentially.

A Brief History

In 2015, after more than 20 years in the hardwood manufacturing industry where he utilized tools from Rockefeller Habits/Scaling Up, Topgrading and Traction® as well as work from thought leaders like Jim Collins, Patrick Lencioni and others, our founder Michael Erath exited his business to begin a career working as a Certified EOS Implementer®, helping other entrepreneurs on their own journeys to the summit.

Due to his unique background, he quickly reached a capacity ceiling as he became one of the most sought-after EOS Implementers® in the country and set multiple records for growth within the EOS® community. Finding it difficult and frustrating to turn away entrepreneurs because he had no room in his calendar, Michael decided to start a firm of business guides. But there was something special that he knew he had to protect as he began to grow his organization.

After speaking with several of his clients to fully understand “why” they chose to work with him, Michael realized that it was his experience as owner of a large business – $45 million and 200 employees – and a former YPO member who had actually used everything he was teaching in his own business, that was the single most important factor to his clients.

According to EOS® creator Gino Wickman, “Michael is one of our best EOS Implementers® because he has used everything he teaches. His story is a great one and he is a true class act.”

Breaking Through the Capacity Ceiling

To build a successful firm, Michael knew he had to be very exclusive with who he recruited and brought in to be part of the team. To protect that special value, he decided he would only bring in other guides who met three criteria: 

  1. They must have been an owner in a business with at least $13 million in revenue (YPO Qualifying)
  2. They must have employed at least 50 people (YPO Qualifying)
  3. They must have actually used the tools and systems they would be teaching in their business.

In 2019, Scott Elser and Chris Prenovost joined Michael and the firm was launched.

Climbing a mountain may be the ultimate metaphor for growing a business.

While most people would agree that climbing Mt. Everest without a guide would be foolish, many entrepreneurs do just that when trying to climb their business mountain. As a result, the majority of them end up stuck on the side of the mountain, or worse, they don’t survive the climb.

Others hire a coach, but most coaches are focused on a one-size-fits-all system and are only able to help them start the journey, not finish it.

A Different Path

Next Level Growth provides a different path. A path more suited for entrepreneurs who are always pushing the limits in pursuit of their dreams.

With Next Level Growth you select an expert guide who is focused on you and your specific circumstances. A guide who becomes “roped in” with you and your leadership team. A guide who has actually been in your shoes and been up the mountain many times before…who knows the challenges ahead and has studied the mountain for decades…a guide who over those years has mastered the use of the best tools from the best systems in the world and will help you create a custom-fitted solution focused on helping your team reach your summit faster and with less difficulty than any other path you could take.

Are you ready to become a category of one in the markets you serve?

If you’re ready for the journey…

If you’re willing to do what it takes…

If you’re ready to stop settling and to start making your way to the summit…

Rope in and let’s climb!

Next Steps


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Getting Rocks Right

Entrepreneurial Freedom, Issues, Process, Vision

Setting great Rocks is one of the most difficult and misunderstood elements of the Entrepreneurial Operating System® (EOS®), but getting them right is the difference maker to ensure you achieve your business goals. 

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Less But Better

Entrepreneurial Freedom, Process, Team Health, Traction

Are you spread too thin? Do you feel like you’re spinning your wheels? You may be a victim of the Paradox of Success.

It was Socrates who said, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” I remember as a child observing my parents, and as I reflect back on those days, a piece of me longs for the simplicity.

My father was a very successful entrepreneur. Born in 1927 and growing up dirt poor in Chicago following the Great Depression, my father went on to build multiple successful businesses, chair multiple boards and foundations, and was honored both with the High Point University baseball field carrying his name and being voted High Point, North Carolina’s 1987 Citizen of the Year. He was a great philanthropist and accomplished a great deal.

But every evening he would come home from work around 6:00 pm and watch the news. At 7:00, we would have dinner at the dining room table as a family…and talk. We traveled often. In the summertime after dinner, he and I would throw the baseball or football until dark, and in the winter months, we would watch TV as a family or just talk. He never stayed up late working after I went to bed. He never missed a game because he was too busy. Success did not require busyness in the 1970s and 80s—nor does it need to today.

I recently turned 49. He was 44 when I was born. In the passing of a generation, so much has changed. Our work follows us home because we are constantly connected. If we don’t make an effort, our family time is overrun by screens. Even on our weekends, we get lured into checking email. And with our family, we rarely, as Mr. Miyagi said in Karate Kid, “Look eye!”

Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day…” Touché.

The Paradox of Success

In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, author Greg McKeown describes a “paradox of success.”

With success come opportunities and more options. But these options and opportunities often distract us and lure us away from what is truly vital in our life. Oh the temptations…I have heard their siren songs many times, and wrote about it in my Amazon Best Selling book, RISE: The Reincarnation of an Entrepreneur. Our clarity begins to fade. We take on too much and find ourselves juggling too many things. No longer able to go a mile in one direction, we find ourselves fighting to go barely an inch in a million directions.

Ultimately, our success becomes the foundation of our failure.

Less but Better

Finding your way to a life based on the idea of less but better will yield three significant outcomes: more clarity, more control, and more joy.

More Clarity

One way to begin the process of shedding the things that have become distractions is to think about the handful of things in your life that are truly vital. For me, it is time with my wife, connection with my adult sons, travel, time for health and fitness, time for living my faith, and time for helping others. What are yours?

Once you know the answer, you can begin to make a list of all the things you pack into a day, a week, a month, and a year. Of the things on that list, which of them actually increase your capacity to spend time on what is vital and which things on the list detract from the same? Start small, but start. Begin the process of saying “no” and shedding the things that are taking away from your time to focus on what is vital.

When you do this, as Greg McKeown says, “Every day it becomes more clear than the day before how the essential things are so much more important than the next most important thing in line.”

More Control

As you continue to shed the distractions, you will find that fewer people have control over your time and your life, and instead, you become increasingly in control. If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else surely will.

More Joy

When you are able to focus with clarity on the handful of things that are vital in your life, you will find yourself more focused in the moment. Free from distraction, you will be able to live life more fully. It was the Dali Lama who wrote, “If one’s life is simple, contentment has to come. Simplicity is extremely important for happiness.”

I think he is right.

Next Steps

Learn more about how Next Level Growth can help you and your organization clarify, simplify, and achieve your vision. Schedule a discovery call to see if Next Level Growth is a good match for your organization.

Written by Michael Erath, Certified Scaling Up Coach, Pinnacle Business Guide &
Former Record Holding Certified EOS implementer®

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Hard Work Doesn’t Always Work

Entrepreneurial Freedom, Issues, People, Team Health

Hard work is an inherent part of what makes every entrepreneur tick. It’s that mindset telling us if we just keep working harder and harder we can accomplish anything. It’s true — but only to a point.

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Scale Up Faster By Slowing Down

Entrepreneurial Freedom, Process, Traction

When you drive your car, do you keep the engine redlined, ignore the warning lights on the dash, and turn up the radio so you don’t hear the noises coming from somewhere underneath? My hope is that you don’t. So why do so many entrepreneurs do exactly those things when driving their business and trying to scale up?

I may be dating myself, but for those of us who learned to drive a manual transmission, you know that in order to shift gears smoothly you have to ease off the throttle. If you have ever driven on icy, slick roads, you know that if you lose traction, you have to slow down to regain your grip.

Running a business is no different. I was recently facilitating an EOS® quarterly off-site with a leadership team of a growing business. They had just opened their second location and their big goal, or Core Target™ as we call it in the EOS® world, was to systemize the model and scale up to 20 locations by 2025. Their Visionary owner had been passionately driving toward that goal since we met.

But there was a problem. They were running into customer-service issues, having trouble hitting numbers, not communicating well, and struggling to define and document their Core Processes.

As we began to dig deeper into what the underlying issues truly were, to a person, the Leadership Team members all admitted to being stretched well beyond their capacity. To use the analogy above, they were all redlined and the Visionary owner still had her foot on the gas and the pedal to the floor. They needed to speak up and just say no to grow.

I was eventually able to push the team to the point of being 100% open and honest with the Visionary about the aggressive drive to the Core Target™ and how they were struggling to scale up while the engine for their growth sputtered and skipped as it needed a tune-up. After some very open discussions, the Visionary began to have a revelation.

We transitioned into a conversation about what it would look like to take a breath for the next 6-12 months, focus on fine-tuning the engine and letting growth happen organically, and then, only after the engine was rebuilt and ready, hitting the gas and going hard for the finish line.

With a fresh perspective from the Visionary and a much relieved and refocused Leadership Team, we refined their 3-Year Picture™ and 1-Year Plan, then set Rocks to focus on an alignment around solving their internal issues and tuning the business to scale up in years 2, 3, and beyond.

6 Important Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Blow Your Engine

  1. Do we have the growth engine for our business well tuned and ready for the journey ahead?
  2. Do we have a clear structure in place, defining the flow of accountability to get us to the next level?
  3. Are all of the right people in the right seats?
  4. Does everyone in the organization share our Vision? Are we all 100% aligned?
  5. Is our Business Playbook (our Core Processes) defined, optimized, documented and Followed by All?
  6. Do we have good data and does everyone in the organization have a number?

As we closed our session at the end of the day, the feedback was unanimous. Everyone, including the Visionary, felt more confident and aligned. Even though the pace of external growth may slow for a few quarters, the pace of internal growth will explode. And when the internal growth is strong, this team will be well poised to scale up to their 2025 goal and may even blow it out of the water a few years early.

Next Steps

Written by Michael Erath, Certified Scaling Up Coach, Pinnacle Business Guide &
Former Record Holding Certified EOS implementer®


Entrepreneurial Operating System® and EOS® are registered trademarks of EOS Worldwide, LLC. Next Level Growth is not affiliated with EOS Worldwide, LLC.

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Just Say “No” to Achieve Growth

Entrepreneurial Freedom, Traction

Have you ever said yes to something and then regretted the commitment you made? If so, you’re normal. Saying no is difficult for two primary reasons, which I will share below. But being able to say no is essential in creating the capacity to say yes to, and to be successful at, what is truly important.

Many of the organizations I work with struggle with this, especially when it comes to turning down orders that are simply not a good fit for them. One particular example is from a printing and large-format graphics organization I have been working with for more than 5 years now. The company’s owners started in their garage in 2004, and today have built the company into a successful $10+ million busines. But it wasn’t without some bumps along the way.

In the early days, they were taking every order that came their way. It was always about finding a way to get to yes—and in those early days, doing so was critical to their survival. By the time we started working together, they had invested in very expensive large-format printing equipment and were capable of taking on very large projects. But their ability to achieve growth had flatlined and they were stuck.

One of the early issues we recognized that was holding them back and causing frustrations was that they were still saying yes to every job that came their way. It was a habit based on what allowed them to survive when they were a startup. When we began to look at the kind of work that was a good fit for the current business, they began to recognize that much of the work they were saying yes to included jobs that were too small to efficiently utilize their newer, higher capacity production model. What was a fit for them in startup mode was no longer a fit.

The end result was that by saying yes to the small projects they had survived on in the early days, but which now created inefficiencies, bottlenecks, and frustrations, they were essentially saying no to doing more of the kind of work that was a right fit for them in their current stage. When they began to say no to the smaller orders that didn’t fit, they created more capacity to go after the big jobs that did. They became more efficient, more profitable, and their growth rate accelerated.

Why Is “No” So Difficult?

There are two primary reasons that we find it difficult to say no. It requires deliberate courage and it creates awkwardness. In his book Essentialism, author Greg McKeown explains these two reasons why we struggle to just say no.

Deliberate Courage

We often say yes to things in an effort to avoid conflict, avoid disappointing others, or to give in to pressure. It takes a clear understanding of what is important and why in order to develop the clarity to know when to say no. With clarity and focus on the important things you will have to say no to by saying yes in the moment to something minor, the courage to say no to the trivial, or less than important, becomes easier to find.

Social Awkwardness

We have a natural tendency as humans to conform to what people expect of us. Psychologists refer to this as normative conformity, or “the conformity that occurs because of the desire to be liked or accepted” Deutsche and Gerrard (1955).

We all have the same 24 hours in a day, and it is up to us to determine how we choose to allocate them. Have you ever been invited to something by a group of peers and said yes, even though it forced you to give up something of more value that you needed to do? Have you been asked to do something by a boss or colleague even though you did not have the capacity to do it without dropping something else?

Saying no actually brings us physical and emotional discomfort in these situations. What we have to pause and remember before answering these requests is whether to politely say no, and regret it for a moment, or begrudgingly say yes and regret it for days, weeks, months, or years.

Next Steps to Achieve Growth

I want to challenge you, before the end of the day today, to set aside 15 quiet minutes alone to think about all the important things you are not able to focus on because of the things to which you should have said no. Make a list of the three to seven things that are most important to you. The next time somebody asks you to do something, pause and ask yourself, “Will this harm my capacity to focus on the important few things?” If yes, then smile, and give them a polite, “No.”

Learn more about how Next Level Growth can help you and your organization clarify, simplify, and achieve your vision. Schedule a discovery call to see if Next Level Growth is a good match for your organization.

Written by Michael Erath, Certified Scaling Up Coach, Pinnacle Business Guide &
Former Record Holding Certified EOS implementer®


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