EOS: System of Simple Steps Creating a Contagion for Tree-Industry Leadership

What’s been discovered is that, if you get strong in six areas, the myriad problems holding your business back all go away. EOS Worldwide images courtesy of Lisa Manning.

EOS is infectious, in a good way. And it’s spreading throughout the tree care industry.

Alan Jones, former TCIA Board chair, caught the bug when the Association began its foray into the Entrepreneurial Operating System with training three years ago. He brought it from TCIA headquarters in New Hampshire to Virginia and surrounding states.

Jones is vice president and Division 4 manager for Bartlett Tree Experts, which services Virginia, Tennessee, Western Maryland and parts of Pennsylvania. He introduced it to Bartlett, and after two years is pleased with the result.

“I like that we keep focusing on the things that keep pushing us forward and concentrate on the things that are most important,” Jones says. “The (Level 10) Meeting is something that had been transformational for us. We’ve adapted our business-plan strategies more toward the EOS models from what we’d done in the past.”

Jones is not alone in his enthusiasm, or his approach. While some companies have gone the TCIA route and hired a consultant to help implement the system, others have introduced it themselves after learning about it in trainings or reading about it.

The EOS Worldwide website touts EOS as “a complete set of simple concepts and practical tools.” If you’re one of those business leaders whose pleasure reading is Jim Collins (Good to Great) or Simon Sinek (Leaders Eat Last), you’ll be familiar with many of the concepts, from establishing core values to looking at and dealing with the realities within your organization.

The decision for TCIA to adopt EOS originated with discussions between David White, TCIA president and CEO, and Jones, at the time TCIA’s incoming Board chair, about drafting a new strategic plan.

“What we both agreed on is that we didn’t want to have a Board retreat where we put Post-It Notes on a wall, you end up with three to five smart goals and everybody pats themselves on the back and then you publish this strategic plan and nothing happens,” White recalls. “If we were going to go through this, we wanted to dig deep and have some change as a result.”

Connections led them to EOS and consultant Lisa Manning.

“If you’ve been involved in business or business management or in getting a degree in those things, you’ve heard all of this somewhere before,” White says. “What’s brilliant about EOS is that it maps it out for you. What EOS affords you is that roadmap. It basically says, ‘You know you want to do all this stuff. Start here, then go here and then go there.’ It’s very logical; it’s an operating system.

“Implementation of the entire system takes roughly two years, and adding different processes was sometimes tough at first, but it became easier each successive time,” White says. “When it’s done, you’ve determined your core values and strategic vision, evaluated personnel and overhauled your hiring and other practices using those values and vision. (The vast majority of problems are rooted in having the wrong employees, White adds.) You’ve set goals and put yourself on a path to achieve them, solving problems as you go. If you do it well, you’ll reap the rewards,” he concludes.

Mundy Wilson Piper, TCIA Board chair through the end of her term this past February, became familiar with the system after reading Gino Wickman’s 2012 strategy book, Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business, which started the EOS movement. She had implemented some practices within her company, Vermont-based Chippers, Inc., but then implemented the EOS system more completely after TCIA adopted it. What she likes best about it is that the system gets results.

For instance, leadership team members may have a more favorable view of meetings than their rank-and-file brethren, but the EOS system calls for 90-minute Level 10 (L-10) Meetings that are structured, run on a schedule, identify problem situations and create plans to resolve those problems. (They’re called Level 10 Meetings because people are asked to rate them at the end of each meeting on a scale of 1 to 10.)

EOS uses 1-year, 3-year and 10-year goals. The idea is that to get where you want your business to be in 10 years, you must break it into incremental stages.

“There’s accountability afterward,” Piper says. “The (companion) software keeps sending you reminders of the tasks that are due. You own those. Accountability is big.”

Determining core values, developing an employee base that reflects those values and accountability and action are important, too.

“Let me put it this way,” Jones says. “When you’re dealing with an issue, the only reason you discuss it is to take it to solve. So instead of having and discussing the same issue over and over again, which we seem to be professionals at, we try and solve it once it’s brought up.”

Introducing EOS

“It all stems from the discovery that all businesses struggle with 100-plus problems at once, but those are symptoms,” says Lisa Manning, a business consultant and certified EOS implementer who introduced TCIA to the system. “What’s been discovered is that, if you get strong in six areas, they all go away.

“We have two tools, or disciplines, to help you get strong in each of those six components. That’s what we do over the course of the journey.”

Those six components are:

Vision: How to get “aligned around where you’re going and how you’re going to get there,” Manning says.

People: Getting the right people into the right seat. “What most companies do is hire for the job description, and what we know is that that’s not good enough. The “right people” means they possess the company’s core values,” she says.

Data: Reporting on measurable data weekly – looking forward toward what needs to be done to reach quarterly goals – serves as a scorecard that helps you follow your business progress in an objective, evidence-based way.

Issues: “You’ve got to be strong on solving problems, once and once and for all,” Manning says, “and solving them at the root (cause) and not the symptoms.”

Process: Documented and followed by all, in brief and simple reports, “They’re one to three pages, at most five, each,” Manning says, “because nobody’s going to read 30.”

Traction: Accountability, followed in regular reporting with an eye on the goals set for short, medium and long term. “We have a saying, ‘Vision without Traction is hallucination,’” Manning says. “You can have an idea of where you want to go, but if you don’t have discipline and accountability, you’re not going to get there.”

As a certified EOS implementer, Manning introduces companies to the system over 10 sessions in two years, which is introduced to the rest of the organization in a top-down manner.

Right people, right seats, is a way to check that you are making the most of an employee’s skill and that the employee has the right skills to do the job.

“We use the train-the-trainer approach,” she says. “I train the leadership team, and they train everyone else.”

The goal, Manning says, is to keep it simple and streamlined.

“Two things I say all the time are keep it simple and do less better,” Manning says, noting that in the workplace, a short report is better than a longer one. “Even when we set goals – three to seven, hopefully closer to three – all our data tells us that. No more than seven.”

The simple approach also makes it easy to scale to other areas in a company, as a franchise does.

One example of strong ideas presented simply is the L10 Meeting, which starts with a series of five-minute, rapid-fire sections for the first 25 minutes (all timed and tracked by a timekeeper) to check on progress, followed by an hour spent on issues.

“The bulk of the meeting is issue solving,” Manning says. In a five-minute conclusion, participants recap their “to-do” list and rate the meeting, with suggestions for improvement if the rating is below an 80 (or 8 on the scale of 1 to 10).

“This is a compilation of the best business minds that have developed these tools,” Manning says.

How have the results been?

There are more than 400 implementers around the world, Manning says, “I don’t think anybody who’s been on the journey has ever – ever – said, ‘We shouldn’t have done that.’”

A blueprint

There are several keys to the system, and one of the most important is determining a company’s values, purpose and focus. Those are terms that many companies use, but EOS uses a process of employee-inclusive exercises to develop and clarify those backbone features of company zeitgeist.

After identifying core values and how they fit into workplace culture, and then determining a company’s core purpose and core focus, company leaders can use those to guide the future and deal with issues in the present.

“We always lean back on that,” Jones says. “When we’re hiring someone, we hire them based on core values. When someone’s not working out on the team, relate it back to the core values. And they’re not my core values, they’re not my team’s values. It’s my entire organization’s core values.”

Piper, who sold her 70-employee company to The Davey Tree Expert Company earlier this year, says she implemented several changes, including personnel changes. She wishes she’d started earlier, when the company had 30 to 35 employees.

“I think it gives you a blueprint that to me, it was like the lightbulb went on, seeing it,” Piper says. “Those are all great big thoughts, big giant strategies. How do you filter them down to an actual process you can implement? That is EOS. It really is. It takes the best ideas of our modern business thinkers and distills them into a blueprint for your business.”

Jonathan Corbin, CTSP, runs his solo endeavor, My Tree Climber, a TCIA member company based in Goshen, Indiana, and works as a business coach. He became intrigued with EOS and served as an implementer for the system with a couple of companies. As he changed his focus to working with smaller businesses, he took some EOS concepts with him, but not the entire system.

“I really like it, particularly for the smaller-than-Fortune-500 companies, but like all things it has its niche, and when you’re smaller than the ideal for EOS, it causes more encumbrance than it creates efficiency,” Corbin says.

“When you’re in the $10-million-plus range and you have a leadership team, EOS gives you tracks to run on, and it’s great,” adds Corbin, who figures that the system best suits companies in the $5 million to $50 million annual-revenue range. “But if you’re an owner-operator like myself, or even if you have three to five employees, tree work’s a lot of getting-it-done type work, (and) probably you’re not quite up to that leadership-team level. To try to then squeeze yourself into multiple things, it gets a bit cumbersome.”

“We say the sweet spot is 10 to 250 employees,” Manning says. “Have I worked with companies with four or six? Yes.”

Corbin developed his own system for smaller companies relying on EOS, just as EOS amalgamated other business concepts into its own system.

“EOS is built on universal business principles,” Corbin says, noting that the system he uses is smaller and simpler, but “you can apply those (principles) anywhere.”

As examples, Corbin cites the “accountability chart” and “people analyzer,” parts of the EOS system.

“Those are things anybody can use anywhere, anytime,” Corbin says. “They’re great. Those are tools that are great for the person with two employees. You just have to know where and how to apply them and how to arrive at them. The thing that I help people walk through and develop is their vision-identify sheet, as a company; it is a modified version of all those core components you need as a business in order to be on track and know where you’re headed. Part of that are your core values, and your core values are what create your people analyzer, so you know if someone’s a good fit for your company.”

Brian Favreau, CTSP, operations coordinator for Favreau Forestry, an accredited TCIA member company based in Sterling, Massachusetts, has taken a similar approach with his three-pronged business, which includes a tree care company, a working farm and a septic-system business, with an employee pool that runs between 10 and 20.

His company doesn’t use the term EOS and hasn’t made formal changes, but an observer would recognize similar principles and practices, including the twice-a-month meetings of its four-person leadership team.

“We’ve adopted some of it, but not all,” says Favreau, who says the plan is to adopt it all eventually. “It’s a simple blueprint for operations. Whatever you’re doing, it’s a business blueprint of accountability.”

He agrees that with a smaller company, implementing the entire system is likely to take longer, because a smaller company’s focus is often less on long-term planning and more on the tasks of the day, which bring in revenue.

While the tools are effective, he’s found they aren’t a panacea for everything that ails a business. Like many in the tree care business, Favreau finds that recruiting and hiring good workers is difficult, even when following the EOS method of matching up personnel.

Following EOS practices, the ideal employees are hired based on a three-category determination: whether they “get it” (understand the job), want it and whether they can, or can learn how to, do the job. In tree care, that last requirement can eliminate otherwise-desirable candidates.

“EOS will tell you if the person’s a fit or not a fit for the position. If you decide with your team that the person is not a fit, and you’re running lean, who’s going to replace that person?” Favreau says, noting that the pandemic of 2020-21 has made an already-tight employee market even tighter. “There’s not a stream of people knocking the door down.”

As an example, he uses one of his associates, a 300-pound union plumber in Boston who loves tree work.

“He wants to be a tree climber,” Favreau says. “Every time he comes around, he’s talking trees. He’s got the intelligence and gets what it takes to get to the top of the tree. He has the desire to do it. But the “C” is where he fails, the capacity. He is not going to lug his 300-pound frame to the top of the tree.”

Sometimes, however, when you need a person on a tree care crew, they won’t all be spindly, fast climbers.

“In all businesses, that’s what happens,” he says. “They can’t all be A players.”

Conclusion

Three years after the first implementation session, EOS is working for TCIA, says David White.

“It has totally reinvigorated and energized our staff. We’re focused not only on what’s most important in terms of our goals but also in terms of how we want to work collaboratively as a team. (The problem-solving processes) are all things that, as you get better at them and as you work them, they just make everything more productive,” says White, adding that, with EOS, “Everybody’s working off the same blueprint. Everybody knows what the expectations are, and we all know where we’re going.

“This is my second CEO position and my third trade association, and EOS has created so much good momentum in the direction we want to go that sometimes I worry I sound a little too much like I drank the Kool-Aid. But I will swear by it.

“I’m not going to say it’s for everybody. It’s not. And I’m not going to say it’s the end-all, be-all. It’s not. But if you’re serious about the old concept of ‘Work on the business, not in the business,’ and if you’re serious about trying to get your hands around, ‘Who are we? Where are we going? What’s important to us? What are we trying to accomplish and how do we get there?’ you’re going to find a good set of tools and a good roadmap in EOS. That’s certainly what we found at TCIA.”

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