Great People – The first of the Five Obsessions of Elite Organizations®

People, Team Health

Your A-Players are free, and they come with a financing option. This is something that my friend and co-author of the 2023 bestseller, The Path to the Pinnacle, Greg Cleary and I have been saying for years.

Think about it. Every time you upgrade a position in your company from being filled by an underperformer to an A-Player, the marginal value of the A-Player far outweighs the marginal cost of the upgrade. At the same time, you likely pay your team members over twenty-four to twenty-six pay periods, without interest, so while you are essentially financing the investment in the new A-Players, much of their value begins to come within the first few months of you bringing them onboard. With that as context, let’s dive into the first of the Five Obsessions of Elite Organizations®, Great People.

The Five Obsessions of Elite Organizations - Great People

Finding and Developing Your A-Players

The problem, especially in today’s labor market, is that most organizations have several “potential” A-Players already inside the company. They just aren’t getting the clarity of expectations and coaching they need to perform at their natural best. While true A-Players are highly aligned with your core values, have the skillsets and desire to perform their roles at a high level all of the time, and have an emotional attachment to your purpose, this article is going to take a deeper dive on the performance piece of the equation.

The EOS® Accountability Chart

In his 2007 book, Traction, author and founder of EOS Worldwide®, Gino Wickman, made a significant improvement to the well-known Org. Chart when he introduced the idea of an Accountability Chart. The purpose was to clarify what the roles and responsibilities were for every seat in the company by adding a few short words or phrases as bullet points in the box for each seat.

In the example of a Sales & Marketing Leadership seat from the book Traction, those bullet points are: LMA, Sales Goal, Selling, Marketing, Sales & Marketing Process. While a good step in the right direction, when I implemented EOS® in my own business over 10 years ago, I felt this was an oversimplification and needed to be stronger if it was truly going to set clear expectations to help leaders and managers really identify the right people for the right seats, and either coach people up, or coach people out when they were not performing to expectations.

All of the companies I have worked with over the years have heard me say that I believe the root of most of our frustrations are based on uncommunicated expectations. This applies in all areas of life, and especially in the relationships between a leader and their direct reports.

The Next Level Accountability Chart™

This led to the creation and evolution of what we teach at Next Level Growth as the Next Level Accountability Chart™. The critical difference, and in fact the key value of, the Next Level Accountability Chart™ is in establishing what we call MMOs™:  Mission, Most Critical Outcome™, and Obsessions™. With MMOs in place for every seat, both the leader and their direct report will have absolute clarity on what is expected of them, so that they can truly understand if they are in the right seat, and if necessary, get the coaching and development they need, and be clear about where they need it.

Let me share an example, using the same Sales & Marketing Leadership position mentioned from Traction above. First, to the Mission.

Establishing a Clear Mission

We define the “mission” for a seat as a one-sentence description of the consistent, high-level deliverable a seat on the Next Level Accountability Chart™ must achieve to be successful. For example, the Director of Marketing and Sales, or Chief Revenue Officer (insert whatever title you want) might have a mission to:  Consistently grow Target Market lead generation and conversion to meet or exceed revenue goals. It is a simple statement, and should be fairly obvious, but this is high level, and highly measurable, which creates clarity and accountability. We have a budget for the year, and if this leader drives sufficient target market growth in lead generation and successfully converts the leads at the conversion rate necessary to meet our budget, the company will likely meet or exceed its revenue goals, and we can measure, track and discuss performance around this mission on a consistent basis.

Most Critical Outcome™

Second, the Most Critical Outcome (MCO™) is defined as the single most important and measurable outcome for a function. At the Leadership Team level, the MCO is almost always a lagging indicator and typically should be tracked on a monthly team scorecard, by person. The 2-4 primary drivers of each MCO are usually measurable leading activities and should be tracked on your team’s weekly scorecard. The Most Critical Outcome should also answer the question, “If you were asked to measure one thing that most accurately proves you are getting a return on investment for the fully burdened human capital cost of a specific person in a given seat, what would you measure?”

In the case of our Director of Sales and Marketing, their MCO may be as simple as “Revenue Dollars to Goal (budget/forecast).” If the company is consistently meeting or exceeding revenue forecasts, it is very likely that the Director of Marketing and Sales is performing at a high level in leading their team and generating a sufficient return on investment.

Defining Obsessions

Lastly, we define Obsessions as anywhere from 2 to 6 things that a seat-holder must obsess about on a daily basis to be successful (usually around 4-6 at a senior leadership level and as few as 2-3 for a front-line employee). While the EOS Accountability Chart uses just a single word or short phrase for each of the roles or responsibilities, I believe there is still too much ambiguity and room for interpretation and confusion. If you look at the example from Traction above, it can be difficult to truly hold people accountable to “selling.” What exactly does that mean in terms of how you measure a person’s success?

When you have a clearly established Mission, with the right MCO, the obsessions become a strong way to align expectations around where a team member must focus in order to be successful at the level of an A-Player. For example, the Obsessions I might suggest for a Director of Marketing and Sales could be:

1 – Lead, manage, retain & hold my team accountable. I personally prefer to start with this one for anyone who has a direct report. When I work with companies who have used EOS and later upgraded to Next Level Growth, many people cannot articulate and explain what LMA really means. With our approach, we can specifically evaluate a team leader on how well they are “leading” the team. Is there dissention, harmony, etc. There are things we can observe and use to provide feedback to help the leader improve if needed. We can look at how they “manage” the team on a daily basis and provide coaching and feedback. We can look at “retention” on the team. Most people go to work for an organization but quit their boss. If a team lead has trouble retaining their high performers, then they need to be coached in that area. Finally, in the LMA concept from EOS, accountability is a byproduct of effective leadership and management. While I agree in theory, in the real world, I have found that when leaders are not willing to have the tough conversations to hold their teams accountable when needed, the teams underperform. Measuring how well a team lead holds their team accountable is actually not very difficult at all.

2 – Own the Marketing and Sales Strategies, Plans and Outcomes. If the person in this seat focuses their energy on getting the marketing and sales strategies right, developing and updating the right plans to execute on the strategy, and tracking outcomes to make adjustments where needed, we have them laser focused on a strategic approach to growing our pipeline, conversion, and revenue. If, over time, they cannot get the right strategy and plan in place to achieve the desired outcome, they are likely not the right person for the seat.

3 – Own the Marketing and Sales Process Playbooks and Execution. With the right strategies and plans in place, to be successful in this role, an A-Player will obsess about the playbooks and making sure that everyone on the sales team is following them. So many times, when I start digging into a company’s “sales playbook,” I find that they really don’t have one, and everyone on the sales team is more or less doing their own thing. With a strong leader in place, the team can develop some best practices and optimize how they run their sales plays to help improve conversion throughout the sales funnel and accelerate growth.

4 – Consistently meet or exceed goals and metrics. While this one may be implied, I like to include it anyway. If I’m going to give a person in this seat four things to obsess about on a daily basis, I want one of those to be their goals and metrics.

So, if on a daily basis the Director of Marketing and Sales truly obsesses about leading, managing, retaining and holding their team accountable; owning the marketing and sales strategies, plans, outcomes, playbooks and execution, and meeting or exceeding their goals and metrics, they are very likely to be highly successful in the role, or else it will become very obvious, very fast, that they are not right for the seat.

Next Level Accountability Chart™ – Going Deeper

Now that we understand what the Director of Marketing and Sales must own, let’s look at how a direct report, perhaps an Outside Salesperson’s seat, might be established.

You may notice that each Obsession in the Next Level Accountability Chart™ contains a verb. That is because these obsessions are about taking action, and it is important to get the verbs right if you’re going to create clarity. When we suggest the verb “own,” for a Leadership Team member, what we mean by that is if something isn’t working, and they own it, it is their job to fix it. If they get stuck, the rest of the team is there to help, but the vast majority of the time, they should have the competence to fix what they own when it isn’t getting the desired result, or they may be in the wrong seat.

For an outside sales seat, we may establish their Mission as something like, “Consistently grow and convert my pipeline to meet or exceed my new revenue goals.” This mission, when achieved, supports the mission of the person to whom they report. The corresponding MCO would likely then be, “New revenue dollars to individual goal.”

When rolling out their Obsessions, we start by looking at the seat to which they report. Since this person will have no direct reports, the Obsession around Leading and Managing does not apply. They might, however, have an Obsession that stems from the second Obsession of their leader, and that might be to, “Follow and successfully execute my sales plan.”

Notice that the verb changed to “follow.” This is important, because for this person, you don’t want them making up, or modifying their sales plan without working with their boss. You want them to buy in to the plan, and then obsess about following and successfully executing it.

Another obsession might be to, “Follow the Sales Process Playbook.” If the Director “owns” the Sales Process Playbook, you likely want the salespeople to obsess about following the Playbook.

Finally, I like to suggest including the Obsession to, “Meet or exceed my goals and metrics.”

It’s really that simple.

When you have a salesperson in the field, if they will just obsess about executing on their individual sales plan, following the sales playbooks, and meeting or exceeding their goals and metrics, and if their boss has taken ownership of creating great plans and playbooks, they have a much greater chance of being successful in their role. With this level of clarity, consistency, and focus, the employee wins, their boss wins, the customer wins, and the company wins.

Coaching Up or Coaching Out with Clarity

Remember, the root of most frustrations is based on uncommunicated expectations. Use the Next Level Accountability Chart™ approach to improve the clarity of expectations within your organization, coach people who need to be either coached up or coached out, and level up your overall performance, profitability, and growth.

Click to read the next article in this series, Inspiring Purpose.

Free Next Level Accountability Chart™ Worksheet

Download the Next Level Accountability Chart™ form to begin working on MMOs™ for your organization.
Read More →

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 facilitating 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. Having spent nearly 20 years of my career as a member of the peer groups YPO, EO and VISTAGE, one thing has become 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. 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 excel in each of the Five Obsessions, to a very high standard, all of the time. 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 have heard the “Right People, Right Seats,” analogy made popular by Collins in Good to Great. While I 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 believe there is a 3rd leg to this stool that is missing: 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 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 use two concepts to help organizations excel at Right People in the Right Seats. First, The Next Level Accountability Chart™ is an advanced version of an Org 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 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, 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.

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, their Just Cause and Daily Purpose 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, we 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, we 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. 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.

Next Steps

Read More →