Tom Barrett, CEO, Professional EOS Implementer™ ,  Navigate the Journey

Tom Barrett, CEO, Professional EOS Implementer™ , Navigate the Journey

As digital shops, we're often operating in chaos. We triage the must-haves and the nice-to-haves, cobbling together different business ideas and approaches, and leaving vision, systems and accountability to define another day. As new projects and people come in, small cracks start to show. Then larger and larger ones, until there's no denying the need for a better way of doing things. So what's a business owner or team leader to do?

Tom Barrett has a solution: The Entrepreneurial Operating System® (EOS) is a set of simple, practical real-world tools designed to help owners and leaders succeed. As a Professional EOS Implementer™, Tom helps teams to take a big step back to see the bigger picture and move forward in alignment. Tom joins us to talk about what EOS is, how you can customize it to fit your business and how to get started installing it.

Carl Smith: Swinging by the Bureau studios today, we have got Mr. Tom Barrett from Navigate the Journey. How's it going, Tom?

Tom Barrett: It's going great, Carl, and you?

Carl Smith: Really good. Now, I saw you in Belize.

Tom Barrett: That was awesome.

Carl Smith: I like to say that.

Tom Barrett: [Tell them 00:00:14].

Carl Smith: I like to say that to people. "Hey, I think I saw you in Belize." Navigate the Journey has been coming to a lot of Bureau events. We love having you there. Super smart on team dynamics. Super smart on leadership strategies, things to that nature. Tell everybody a little bit about Navigate and what you all are doing.

Tom Barrett: Yeah, so Navigate the Journey. We exist to help owners of entrepreneurial companies get what they want from their business and their life, and we do that with a number of different services, and they fall into the buckets of for their company, for their team, and at the individual leader level. Then, actually, just recently, we brought on a third person, Zach Montroy, onto our team, so we're very happy with that, but we mainly then focus on digital agencies actually.

Carl Smith: I can tell everybody listening a lot of the types of stuff that you do. I know as the owner of a company, for a long time, I was like, "Ugh," and then we actually went through the Life Plan process together. I got to say I'm a believer. It's like the stuff works. Like if you sit down, and you're on purpose about things, and you look at why you're doing different things and how it's impacting your life, stuff gets better.

Tom Barrett: Yeah, and I think we all need that because Navigate the Journey, when we're out there needing help in certain areas, we bring in other people because I think outsiders always bring objectivity. They usually bring a powerful and proven process, and also, just by using somebody else, whatever the process is, they're going to help you take a big step back and see the bigger picture. I think in many ways, that's what Navigate the Journey ... what we do best.

Carl Smith: I have to say. One of the conversations that we were having that came up in Belize, it's been coming up in the Slack channels, all over the place is about EOS or the Entrepreneurial Operating System or Entrepreneurs Operating System. For me, it's another one of those things that I was just looking at, and then I had a conversation with Mark O'Brien. He was on The Briefing not too long ago, and we touched on it a little bit. We talked about traction and Gino Wickman's book. I know this is something that you're really into right now and you're helping your clients with, so talk just a little bit. For somebody who has no clue what EOS is, give them a little bit of a primer.

Tom Barrett: Yeah, yeah. Great question. Be happy to do that. Yeah, so EOS stands for the Entrepreneurial Operating System, so entrepreneurial and that it was designed for companies that are ideally between about 10 people and 250 people. Entrepreneurial companies really are distinct from what probably most of your audience would call enterprise-level companies. Especially with the Bureau of Digital, obviously, we're all going to be influenced by Google and Amazon and what they're doing, and then a lot of other big technology companies out there, but often times, what works for large enterprise-level companies won't translate as well down onto entrepreneurial companies, so there are some things there I'd like to unpack.

Tom Barrett: Then, the other aspect of EOS, right, the operating system is that it's a set of simple practical, real-world tools that help entrepreneurs, and their leadership teams, and ultimately, their whole team get what they want from their business. You already mentioned Gino Wickman. Again, Gino created EOS, which is the book Traction lays it all out, but one of the things that Gino says is that you can't run your business on multiple operating systems. You must choose one.

Tom Barrett: Whether or not by intention or design, I think a lot of entrepreneurial companies would cobble together a way of doing business that I often find to be really misaligned and not all the arrows are pointed in the same direction, and so EOS is almost like ... We all use either OS if we're a Mac person or Windows if we're a PC person, right? We just use an off-the-shelf operating system to run our computer, and that's really what EOS is like for entrepreneurial businesses.

Carl Smith: I think one of the things is when you're running a shop, any creative shop, you feel like what you do is different than anybody else, and so you worry that if you bring in an operating system that feels ... Although it's not generic, it's built towards you, but it feels generic when you first hear about it. You're worried you're going to lose some of your special sauce, so how do you talk to prospects about that when they're considering it but they're a little standoffish?

Tom Barrett: Yeah. That's a very common one, especially in this space, right? Especially with agencies that have a higher element of creativity or they're hired because they're just uber smart developers. Something like Drupal. I think then they bring that great creativity or development mindset that their clients hire them to do, which is good and great.

Tom Barrett: Again, nobody else in the world can do it at that level, the creativity, the development that they can do, but I think it's a mistake to try to expand the same amount of time and energy building a business operating system because frankly, if you're a digital marketing agency, your clients are going to hire you to run, right, their digital marketing campaigns. They're not really all that interested in what your business operating system is, so I would say focus on what you do best. Spend all your creative energy and juice on that, and not on the OS.

Tom Barrett: Then, another way to answer where you're going with this because, again, it is one of those objections I'll often hear is that ultimately, there's an EOS model, which I could get into, but at the heart of the EOS model is your business, your agency, so there is a set of like standards, tools, and principles, but ultimately, it's all installed in such a way that it's going to allow the owner and the leaders to get what they want from their business, so the answers are always unique to each agency's particular situation.

Carl Smith: Another side of that is a lot of times, the founders, the owners, the leaders, imposture syndrome or not, they're convinced that if somebody sees how they're doing it, they're going to laugh at them, right, because they did cobble it together. They didn't go to business school. They're just doing the best they can, so do you have people that sometimes say, "Look, we just have to figure a couple of things out, then we can move forward?"

Tom Barrett: Completely. I hear that a lot, and again, it's a very common thing. I think that's where ... Actually, let me talk about the EOS model because this was one of the big breakthroughs that Gino Wickman had when ... So, Gino's story just really quickly, and I think like a lot of things, it's actually super helpful to know, "Okay. Where did this system come from?" Right? Again, Gino, his lifelong entrepreneur and in his 20's found himself leading his family business in a turnaround situation, which was pretty challenging, and so he had to figure out and cobble together effectively a business operating system for his family business, and he did that very well.

Tom Barrett: Those of you who are familiar with traction or EOS, you'll see a lot of influences that you already know about, so Jim Collins, Good to Great. Patrick Lencioni. The E-Myth is in there. There's a whole bunch of other great sources, but what Gino did is he realized that there's these six key components that if you get stronger in these six key components, you can get what you want from your business.

Tom Barrett: Here's basically the EOS model quickly. The first component is vision, right? It's crystallizing where we're going, getting everybody 100% on the same page about where the business is going and how it's going to get there. In an agency world, there's no lack of vision. It's usually there's too much of vision, so the vision component. Yeah. Yeah. Again, with creatives, right? The vision component will clarify all that. Then, the people component, right? You can't achieve your great vision without great people, and EOS simply defines great people as sharing your care values. They're the right people, and then there's something called the accountability chart that clarifies what are the right seats for people.

Tom Barrett: Third component is data. Too many businesses around on subjectives, personalities, opinions, and egos. Instead, you really got to have the discipline of managing the business based on the right set of predictive and overall objective measures. Fifth component is process. This is another one that agencies can get a little squirmy on, but that's about helping you systemize the agency so it becomes more efficient, effective, more fun, more manageable. Ultimately, more scalable and profitable, and not recreating the wheel every time you crank out another website. Those kinds of things.

Tom Barrett: The final component in the EOS model is what's called traction. Gino says it best, "Vision without traction is hallucination." bAsically, traction. That component with some tools and disciplines. It's all about getting the most important things done every 90 days. Yeah, that's the EOS model, and again, it works in all kinds of businesses, and I continue to see it work in agencies.

Carl Smith: When somebody is considering this, do they have to be prepared that some of the people on their team may have to go, that they might have to change the way that the overall makeup of the team is?

Tom Barrett: Well, yes. I mean, that's the quick answer. There's a saying out there, "What got us here is not going to get us there," and within that whole ... What the "what" is often is people, right? As organizations grow and change, and they get bigger and more complex, often times, either ... Well, typically, what almost always happens is that for everybody, our role in some way needs to change. Again, EOS with clarifying the ... what's called the accountability chart is all about what's the structure that we need to get at the next level, very much taking a ... wiping the slate clean, creating the right seats from the ground up, and only then adding in people.

Tom Barrett: Every time I go through EOS, yeah. I mean, are there ... Some people changes, but they're not always for the worst. I mean, often, what happens is that people are not in their best seat that because we haven't define the overall accountability and structure for all the seats in the agency, actually, many people are actually ... They're not performing as well as they otherwise could. They're not enjoying their work as well as they otherwise could, and simply by going through and clarifying all the seats with very ... three to seven specific roles or responsibilities of that seat, it actually makes things better all around.

Carl Smith: It's not necessarily about having to get rid of people. Sometimes, it's just repositioning what they're doing?

Tom Barrett: Correct. Yeah. Here's basically how the accountability chart works in EOS, and again, this is all in the book if your listeners want to go get it and also, if a leadership team or an owner out there wants to do it. It's like you literally start with a blank sheet of paper or a blank whiteboard and go, "Okay. What are the major functions of my agency?" 

Tom Barrett: Usually, it's like sales and marketing, and then the core or the business core is your delivery, your design development kind of client work, and then you have operations, you have finance, HR, so you start there, and then above that, some agencies are big enough to have what we call an integrator that harmoniously integrates all the major functions together, and then we also talk about the visionary. That's the classic CEO position. From there, we start to customize. What are the major functions? The sales and marketing seat, is that one seat or two seats? Is there somebody ...

Carl Smith: Okay.

Tom Barrett: We go from there, so we end up creating these seats, and then these roles and responsibilities for each seat, and only then should we evaluate current people for those seats. Ultimately, it's all about getting people in these seats that the agency needs to go to the next level, and it's all about ... Given people's ... their strengths, their weaknesses, their passions, get them in the seat that they can excel at. That's what the purpose of the accountability chart is.

Carl Smith: God, you're so ... So, you go through vision, people, data, issues, process, traction. Is that right?

Tom Barrett: That's right. Those are the components, and then how it gets rolled out is a little different, but that's the model, the hangers of the concepts.

Carl Smith: How does it get rolled out? Like what is that process and timeframe?

Tom Barrett: Yeah, yeah. It can vary. If your listeners are going to use an outside implementer like myself, so outside implementer will come along and run the following process. Over a series of one-day sessions ... Well, three of the first three sessions, you could view it as an installation phase of EOS, so the first day, so picture a day with the leadership team of the agency, and that of course is another conversation. Who's on the leadership team, right? But it's a good one.

Tom Barrett: What happens in the focus day is that ... What we get to is we teach a concept called hitting the ceiling in these five leadership abilities that every organization needs to master, all leaders need to master because inevitably, every business hits the ceiling, so EOS is a whole ... helps with these five leaders of abilities. The ability to protect, systemize, structure, simplify, and delegate. We teach that first and just put it in people's minds that all of this is going to help us do those, those great activities.

Tom Barrett: Then, we go to the accountability chart. That takes about half the day because there's just a lot of great conversation that needs to happen to objectively create that right structure, so that takes about four hours. Then, we take first crack at what we call a scorecard, your weekly scorecard. We create rocks. Those are 90-day priorities. First, at the agency level. Then, at the individual leadership team level, and then we basically just conclude the meeting, and then 30 days later, we come back for what's called Vision-Building Day 1.

Tom Barrett: In between the first session and the second session, typically, owners and their teams, they're iterating some of the various tools like the accountability chart especially, so they're bringing ... So, in the 30 days later back at the Vision-Building Day 1, we start out by reviewing all of the focus day tools, seeing the next iteration, discussing them, getting them as complete as we can. Then, we start answering the eight vision questions in EOS.

Tom Barrett: Quickly, those are core values, core focus, tenure target, marketing strategy, three-year picture, one-year plan, your quarterly rocks, and your long-term issues, and then there's one document called the VTO where you end up documenting all that, but that actually takes two sessions. Typically, it's a Vision-Building Day 1, and then 30 days later, Vision-Building Day 2.

Tom Barrett: I know that probably your listeners are like, "Oh my gosh, that's a lot," and ... Yeah. Right? It is. It is, and that's ... So, there's a spaced-learning approach with EOS. It's not all rolled out at once, and that's part of the, I think, the psychology of spacing out the first three sessions 30 days apart, and also, the first three sessions are actually the hardest.

Tom Barrett: For listeners that are going to self-implement, I would encourage you to stick with it because it's like you're climbing the mountain with a heavy load the first three sessions. A lot of people want to give up because this is hard, but after the ... getting through those first three sessions, then EOS moves into one ... Every 90 days, you have a one-day quarterly session where you're reviewing the prior quarter, "Did we hit our rocks?" We set rocks for the quarter ahead. We review our vision, and then we have ... We basically discuss our big issues. We identify, discuss, and solve the most pressing issues, and that creates what's called then a 90-day world.

Tom Barrett: That's also one of the genius things that Gino when he created EOS is that he ultimately has created this system, which again is just pure genius because in goal-setting, I think one of the big mistakes is often made for all kinds of organizations is that we set annual goals or six-month goals, or sometimes, we do a planning session with some vague sense of when we're going to have it completed, but the beauty of when you get into that quarterly cycle with EOS is that there's a day of accountability. Just good, healthy accountability coming, and if Tom has two rocks that he has got to get done for the sake of the agency that are due on September 30th, well, I'm going to work at differently and actually get those done because I know on September 30, I'm going to sit around a room with my colleagues, and they're going to ask me, "Is that done or not done?"

Carl Smith: With all of that, when you decide like if there's a day one where you decide to start implementing and you said that there's 30 days possibly between the first and second session, and it goes, at what point would a company say, "We're using EOS," even knowing that they're going to have the quarterly check-ins or whatever, like from the beginning to what point do you feel that you've got the new system in place?

Tom Barrett: Yeah, that's a great question. There's what's called the EOS Organizational Health Check-Up, and you can find that on or people reach out to me certainly to send them a copy, but it's a 20-question or a 20-multiple-choice-question survey. It's really quick, and if you ... If you're an owner or if you're a leader out there, you want your leadership team to take this, you actually would get an objective reading on a scale of 1 to 100. How strong is your agency today actually on each of the six key components?

Tom Barrett: What we do when we're starting EOS? So, a great thing to do right before you start is like take that assessment. See how strong you are, see how strong or weak you are in the various components, and then along the journey, take that quick assessment again, and you'll get a sense. You can also do that verbally, of course, with the EOS model. How strong are we on the vision components or the people component, et cetera?

Tom Barrett: That's a way to gauge it. I would say the other big way to gauge it is that ultimately, EOS is about helping companies get three things. We call it vision, traction, and healthy. Ultimately, right? Again, clarifying where we're going, how we're getting there. Traction. Getting the most important things done, so we should see our business results or if we have a strong purpose, right? We're actually having more impact in the world, and then healthy. Are we becoming more relationally healthy?

Tom Barrett: All those things should be progressing, so whenever you get to a ... So, you should be able to monitor that progress, but the last thing I'll say on this is that EOS is not this one-and-done kind of thing. If you're going to embark on the EOS journey, you've really got to be committed to it long-term because again, it's your long-term operating system to get what you want from your business. If you let your foot off the pedal, all the old bad habits will start to emerge again.

Carl Smith: One final question. When we're looking at this, especially shops that are in the bureau ... A lot of bureau shops are in that 5 to 50 full-time employee range, and something that's ... I think it's just as prominent today as it was 10 years ago, but this whole concept of the flat organization, right? Now, I were in a flat organization until the day I realized that only one person is ever really in trouble if things go bad, so you can call it flat, but there's still an owner, and that person is the one who's holding the bag at the end of the day, but what do you say to companies who feel that part of their culture is this "everybody has a say" mentality?

Tom Barrett: Well, yeah. Well, I think it's a nice idea. I don't think it works in reality or at least ... There's also a difference between having a voice and a vote, so I definitely believe that everybody should be able to express their opinion and their view, but if there's six or eight people in a room, which is very common right in a creative agency, at some point, somebody has got to make the decision. In the US, so again, we call it the accountability chart. We don't call it the hierarchical bureaucracy chart. It's all about ... Yeah, right? Who's accountable? 

Tom Barrett: The other thing too I will say with all of this, the Gallop and their infinite wisdom because of their research. One of the 12 employee engagement questions they ask that really all employees need to be able to score highly on is, "I know what's expected of me." I think there's a lot of good with the whole, again, the flat structure. Again, I get all the good at that, but ultimately, can each person in your agency say, "I know what I'm responsible for, what I'm accountable for, and I know what everybody else is accountable for," as opposed to it being some free for all where I'm not really sure who's accountable for what?

Carl Smith: Yeah. I think you just nailed it. The biggest issue with most flat organizations isn't so much that everyone has a voice. It's that nobody is sure of what's going on.

Tom Barrett: That's to say a lack of clarity, and also, it enters that ... The great thing is that we don't need to have certainty. We just need clarity.

Carl Smith: Right. Well, Tom, thanks so much for swinging by the Bureau Briefing today. I really appreciate it, and I appreciate you giving us some insights on the US.

Tom Barrett: I appreciate, Carl. Anytime.