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Get Traction or Stay Stuck

Traction is a life-or-death issue at this time of year for those of us living in states prone to snow and ice. But traction is just as vital for your business.

In Gino Wickman’s book Traction, entrepreneurs learn how to get their businesses out of the mud and propelled into a more profitable ride as well as a far more pleasant one. Every business owner and practice principal knows the frustration of putting in more effort but getting nowhere.

This month’s feature builds on last month’s interview, in which we focused on Gino’s Rocket Fuel concepts. That interview discussed the visionary CEO and the importance of adding an integrator who will make the visionary’s dreams a reality.

With Traction, business leaders learn what it takes to get the rest of the staff on board, producing efficiently and accelerating growth. Some readers might be surprised by some of Gino’s suggestions, such as guiding the organization using a very short view and a really long one but nothing in between.

In this interview with Publisher Paul Feldman, Gino tells how business leaders can take action today to get on the road to exponential success.


FELDMAN: What do you mean by “traction,” and how do businesses get it?

WICKMAN: Traction means bringing discipline and accountability into the business. We simplify that in what we call the five foundational tools.

They are a vision/traction organizer, an accountability chart, rock-setting, a meeting pulse and a scorecard.

The vision/traction organizer is the tool to help people get their vision out of their head, on paper, with their team — whether they’re a one-person or a 20-person organization. Getting it out of their head and on the same page with their team so everybody agrees, is bought in and on the same page with where we’re going and how we get there.

The second foundational tool, the accountability chart, is getting that business owner to take a big step back and look at their business through another lens that looks for the right structure to take the organization to the next level. This helps the entrepreneur understand the major functions of their business.

Once those two foundational tools are in place, we now have a clear vision and we have a clear structure to start putting all the right people in all the right seats. At that point, leaders need to divide and conquer and bring in some talent to free themselves up from these functions.

It might be time for that visionary entrepreneur to bring in an integrator to run the day-to-day matters for them. This would free up the entrepreneur to continue to sell, be creative and build the organization.

FELDMAN: Is the third foundational tool the one that really gets the machinery going?

WICKMAN: Yes. The third tool is setting rocks, and that’s getting the entrepreneur to create a 90-day world for their organization and set rocks.

That means coming together with their team every 90 days and setting 90-day priorities. But it is only 90 days.

The list is made up of the three to seven most important things the company has to get done, and then everybody puts their heads down for these 90 days and executes these priorities. Everyone comes up for air after 90 days, and then they set another 90 days’ worth of priorities. They repeat that every 90 days, for the rest of that company’s life.

From there, we go to what we call meeting pulse. And that’s getting the visionary to meet with their team every week for 90 minutes of what we call a level-10 meeting. And that agenda is right in Traction. It’s a very powerful agenda that maximizes the valuable 90 minutes that the team spends together to execute.

So they meet once a week for 90 minutes for the level 10 meeting, and then they meet every 90 days for their quarterly and annual planning. We find that is the perfect meeting pulse for a leadership team to execute their vision and plan.

The fifth foundational tool is the scorecard, which is a way of getting them to measure. We help them come up with the five to 15 most important activity-based numbers that the visionary can look at during every weekly meeting so that they always have a finger on the pulse of their business.

We typically like to see the visionary have 13 weeks at a glance so that they can literally be sitting on an island and receive their scorecard every week and always have a finger on the pulse of their business.

Ultimately, all of this gives them well-being, which is vision, traction and health.

It's all going to help the visionary crystallize their vision and get everybody on the same page. It’s going to help them gain more traction, which is bringing more discipline and accountability into the organization. So they’re executing better. And the third element is health from the standpoint of helping them have a much more healthy, functional, cohesive company where everyone is rolling in the same direction.

FELDMAN: Let’s circle back to the vision/traction organizer. How does a visionary get the vision out of their head and on paper?

WICKMAN: With everything I’ve read about planning, I’ve been able to get it down to eight questions. I find that to the degree a visionary can answer eight questions about their business, they then have a clear vision and plan.

But what’s important is that they not only need to answer those eight questions, but they need to make sure that their leadership team members hear the answers to those eight questions and are all in 100 percent agreement.

I’ve been doing this personally now for 16 years, with 130 companies. And we’ve done it with another 2,000-plus companies with my team of implementers around the world.

I can’t get those eight questions down to seven, and we don’t need to have nine. Those eight seem to be the magic questions that, through dialogue and pulling those answers out of the visionary’s brain, are the best way to do it. But the visionary needs to answer them honestly.

FELDMAN: Is answering them honestly the hardest part?

WICKMAN: Yes. They don’t answer them honestly. But when we’re working with the team, they’re forced to be honest. And the people on the team also are forced to be honest

. The other reality is that 80 percent of the time, there’s a change on the leadership team we started with because you have someone on the team who does not agree with the answers and really shouldn’t be on that leadership team or in that company.

FELDMAN: I had to do a double take when I read the question in your book “What is your 10-year target?” I don’t know that most businesses think that far ahead, do they?

WICKMAN: No, they don’t, and they need to. But when I say 10-year target, the true range is five to 30 years. We have many clients who choose a shorter time frame than 10, but most do choose 10.

But you bet, people struggle with this one. If I had not come along with most of the visionaries and forced them to put a 10-year target on paper, they would not have and they’re not used to thinking that way.

It is so powerful when they finally put their star on the horizon and get the team aligned to work toward it. Everything’s better. They get there faster. The team’s better. People are more focused. They make better decisions today.

So they must do this. But for most human beings, their brains do not go there intuitively.

For somebody who’s really struggling with 10 years, we’ll have them do a five-year plan. Of my 130 clients, I still have about five who are incapable of putting something five years away or more on paper.

FELDMAN: That’s a powerful strategy, to be looking out that far. But it’s the quarterly rocks, the 90 days, that are really key?

WICKMAN: All that matters are your BHAG (big hairy audacious goal), which is the Jim Collins term for your 10-year target, and worrying about what you’re doing for the next 90 days.

FELDMAN: Have you worked with any financial advisory firms or insurance companies and what are some lessons that you’ve learned from them?

WICKMAN: Of my 130 clients, at least 15 were in the insurance or financial services business. Among the 2,000 companies that our implementers work with, we have at least 200 financial firms.

But what’s challenging about sharing this aha about the financial industry is that there isn’t one. What often happens in the financial industry is, you have a visionary who doesn’t have an integrator.

They tend to be the visionary entrepreneur who started the business. A lot of times they broke away from a large company to take their entrepreneurial leap. They built the business up to about five people, and then they’re facing all those five frustrations. So a lot of times, it’s this visionary who desperately needs an integrator to counterbalance them, and they are not aware that this salvation exists for them.

Another example is where there’s a partnership. There can be only one visionary in a company.

In one case, there were three partners who started a financial planning firm. They built it up to about $2 million or $3 million in revenue, with about 14 or 15 people.

It was kind of a three-headed monster at the top. It was almost like three visionaries in one seat. Once they really got clear on the right structure and their unique skill sets, one of them became the visionary, one became the integrator and the other became the pure technician. The technician removed himself from the leadership team because once he got really clear on what his true skill set was, he realized that it was not sitting at the helm of the organization. He just wanted to do the work he loved, and he found his passion in working with the clients, not running the company.

I’ve seen several instances in which there were multiple partners and one of those partners was a pure technician. Michael Gerber did such a great job in The E-Myth. The E-myth stands for the “entrepreneurial myth.”

That’s where an entrepreneur takes a leap and they think they’re an entrepreneur, and sometimes some of these people just aren’t. They need to be aware that they’re just great technicians. They should let the other partner run the business, if their ego can handle that.

FELDMAN: How important is marketing in all of this?

WICKMAN: Well, it’s huge. Once you put the right structure in place, one of the aspects of the structure is that you need a marketing function for your business, and you need to have somebody sitting in that marketing seat.

Of the eight questions I shared with you, question No. 4 is, what is your marketing strategy? In that, we get the client to answer, who is your ideal target market? We get them to answer the three uniques that they’re selling to that market and their proven process for doing business. And they answer what is the commitment, pledge, promise or guarantee?

When they have clarity around who’s accountable and clarity around those four aspects of the marketing strategy, then that marketing person needs to execute a consistent marketing strategy targeted at that particular market.

Every firm is different. Some are marketing strictly to very high-end people with $50 million networks, and they’re working with the upper echelon. Some are working with people who are just starting out.

Once they get clear on whom they’re going after, they have to be clear on how they want to market. Some firms are great at networking, and some are great at cold calling, so it’s all different in terms of whom they’re going after and how they want to build. Some firms do these amazing events, three huge events every year, and that’s where they generate a lot of their referrals.

FELDMAN: A problem a visionary may have, even with an implementer, is getting the team to execute. What are some strategies on that?

WICKMAN: By nature, visionaries are terrible executors because they are all over the place. They’re very creative idea people, and they’re very inconsistent. They have ADD. It’s what makes them great.

The best way for the visionary to execute is to get an integrator. But beyond that, if I had to grab the three best ways to get this visionary to execute, I would say:

  1. Set quarterly priorities/rocks. Establish quarterly priorities.
  2. Do a weekly meeting with your team.
  3. Use the scorecard.

Founder, President, Publisher [email protected].

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