Optimized Playbooks – The third of the Five Obsessions of Elite Organizations®


“Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” W. Edwards Deming

Where are you frustrated within your organization?

Are you frustrated by people? Then your systems, or processes, for recruiting, hiring, onboarding, developing, and removing people are designed, or at least being executed, in a way that frustrates you.

Are you frustrated by a lack of growth? Then your systems and processes to attract target market leads, convert them into customers or clients, keep them happy, and retain them is designed, or at least being executed, in a way that frustrates you.

Are you frustrated by a lack of profit and/or cash flow? Then your systems and processes to optimize profit and net cash flow are designed, or at least being executed, in a way that underperforms expectations and frustrates you.

The Root Cause of Almost All Your Business Issues

Since leaving my career as an owner and CEO of manufacturing businesses in the hardwood industry and transitioning into my work as Founder of Next Level Growth and Business Guide, it has become very clear to me that the root cause of almost all issues in business is either one of people or process, and if you don’t have optimized Process Playbooks for people to train on and follow, you cannot always be certain that people are your problem.

Imagine a scenario where you took the best professional NFL football players by position, assembled them as a team, and put them up against a team randomly assembled of NFL players who were all backups for their positions. All things being equal, the All-Star team would likely win almost every time. If, however, the All-Star team did not have playbooks, was not allowed to practice running plays, and did not receive any coaching, while the team of backups was given well thought out playbooks, studied them regularly, practiced running the plays on a regular basis, and received consistent coaching, I would put my money on the backups to beat the All-Stars every time.

There is incredible power in using Optimized Playbooks, which is the third of the Five Obsessions of elite Organizations®.

Optimized Playbooks

Onboarding or Waterboarding?

Why is it that outside of the business world, every professional has some version of a Playbook? Sports teams draw up and practice set plays. Actors have scripts. Musicians have compositions and set lists. Each of them spends countless hours studying and practicing their plays, scripts, or compositions so that they can perform at their absolute best.

Only in the business world, do we, as professionals, avoid creating defined, documented, and optimized Process Playbooks. We expect people to come into our organizations and perform, but we don’t onboard them through a great process and train them on optimized playbooks for their role. Instead of being well onboarded into an organization and a job, most employees get waterboarded. We may expect excellence in our outcomes, but our systems are often designed for mediocrity, at best. As a result, employees suffer, their teams suffer, their leaders suffer, the company suffers, and in the end, the customer suffers.

Process Playbooks versus Procedures

The third obsession of elite organizations is Optimized Playbooks. When we talk about Playbooks, we are not talking about hundreds, or thousands, of pages of highly detailed documentation. Those are what we call Work Instructions, or SOP manuals. Documents like those can be helpful in onboarding and training new employees who are deductive learners, or to satisfy some regulatory requirement, but documents like those are rarely, if ever, referenced once they are produced.

Process Playbooks are essentially checklists, or a sequential outline of the high-level steps, in order, to go from a triggering event, like receiving a purchase agreement, to delivering a product or service and collecting a payment, a desired outcome. At the very front end of most businesses, there are Process Playbooks for the Marketing or Business Development Team…they define how the organization attracts target market prospects. Then comes a Sales Playbook to map out and define how to convert those prospects into customers or clients. Following the Sales Playbook comes the Operations Playbooks, everything about how to make the products or deliver the services once there is an order to fill or a new client to onboard. The outcomes of the Operations Playbooks typically serve as the inputs to the Finance or Accounting and Admin Playbooks, everything about how money moves and reporting flows through the organization.

Overarching all of that, it is important to have an Employee Journey Playbook that covers everything from the time a need to fill a seat is recognized, through recruiting, hiring, onboarding, development, and eventually offboarding.

Do It Yourself

When thinking about Playbooks as high-level checklists, think about the Pareto Principle, also known as the 20/80 Rule, that 20 percent of your inputs get you 80 percent of your results, so document the 20 percent that gets you the 80 percent. Where more detail would be helpful, we suggest creating a video library to supplement the Process Playbook. So many people are used to learning from content like YouTube videos, consider creating screen share videos for detailed instructions on how to do things within your CRM, ERP, or HRIS systems as part of the training for employees.

You can even use simple cell phone videos to show employees how to complete steps of your Process Playbooks that will provide them the greater detail. Some of our manufacturing clients use cell phone videos to show the details of how to set up a machine, and other technical aspects of production. We have hospitality clients who use simple videos to provide the training details on how to greet a guest and how to address and work with an unhappy guest. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth many, many more.

A simple approach to begin documenting your processes and building out your playbooks is to think about what action triggers certain things to happen in your organization. Then, before you start documenting what you currently do, get clear on what the optimal outcome of the process should be. As a side note, this exercise is best done with a small group of high performers from each team rather than by one individual. The group approach both brings a diversity of ideas and also creates greater buy-in through participation.

Start with the trigger and work with the team to determine what the very first step should be and document that. From there, talk through what the next step should be, and look for areas where things break down, issues arise, or there are frustrations. Try to come up with a better, or more consistent way to handle that step to eliminate the problems, then go to the next step and repeat. At the end of this, you should have a clear process that, when followed, gives you a very high likelihood of consistently achieving the optimal outcome you desire.

Once your processes are documented and organized, you need to distribute them to everyone and work through them with every employee so that, for their role, regardless of tenure, all employees are clear on the processes they are expected to follow. This also allows you to clarify what you need them to do when they encounter nuances, or situations, that are non-standard and require deviation from the process. How much room do they have to figure out a solution on their own? How much input do they need to get from management?

That last part is summarized beautifully in a quote from Isadore Sharp, Founder of the Four Seasons, who said, “You systemize the predictable so you can humanize the exceptional.” The more we can systemize the predictable things that happen within our organizations, the more we free people to use their creative minds to humanize everything else and create exceptional experiences both inside and outside the organization.

Faster and Better Path to Done

In my experience, it takes most organizations who go down the do-it-yourself path of documenting their Process Playbooks anywhere from nine months to nine years to get the work done. The problem is that they often overcomplicate it, or ironically, they get too busy in the day-to-day firefighting that would be significantly reduced if they had their Process Playbooks in place. As my friend and co-author of The Path to the Pinnacle, Greg Cleary likes to say, “Process takes pressure off of people.”

At Next Level Growth, we often introduce and refer our clients to our friends at Process Optimizer, a team of certified Lean experts with specific training in working with organizations to build Process Playbooks. When our clients bring in the experts from Process Optimizer, they get their Process Documents done and delivered in just nine days, start to finish, and they also get a full year of follow up coaching to help ensure they get their Playbooks fully optimized and embedded in all of their training systems. Follow this link for more information on working with Process Optimizer.

Remember, almost all of your issues can be traced back to either a people issue, or a process issue, and without Optimized Playbooks, you may have people with the potential to be great actually being penalized, or exited, because you failed to give them a key resource to be successful. Once you have your systems designed and aligned to create excellent outcomes, with effective training (practice) and coaching in place, only then can you truly create an accountable Culture of Performance, the fourth obsession of elite organizations, which I will explore in the next article in this series on the Five Obsessions of Elite Organizations®.

Click to read the next article in this series, a Culture of Performance.

Download a full sample of a great Employee Journey Process Playbook

And receive a $500 coupon towards a workshop with our friends at Process Optimizer, courtesy of Next Level Growth.
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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 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

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