An Interview with Gino Wickman by Paul Feldman, Publisher
Where’s the real propulsion for a successful business? Gino Wickman says it comes from a visionary CEO, but that leader also needs an integrator to ensure that power propels the business in the right direction.
Most, if not all, successful small businesses are started by visionaries: people who can see the big picture and lead other people forward. But after initial, rapid growth the company led by a visionary will plateau, being held down by that person’s very own capabilities and limitations. As visionaries build companies, they often feel alone and frustrated, and may even feel as if they are burning out. If you are that visionary, the good news is that you aren’t alone. There is a solution that will fuel your passion and free you from the grind.
The key is an integrator. It’s a person who loves structure and the details of making things work. Integrators thrive in process-driven environments with clear-cut goals. Integrators hold everyone accountable. This relieves visionary leaders to focus on the things that they do best, such as relationships and creating new opportunities.
Finding an integrator who is ready to do the usually thankless work of converting a mired mess into a smooth-operating machine is not as easy as running a help-wanted ad.
Visionary leaders have to do the work of self-examination to understand their real role and value. They have to be really willing to let go of responsibilities and tasks. They have to be ready to stop being the go-to person in the company.
Gino Wickman encapsulated this process into his book Rocket Fuel: The One Essential Combination That Will Get You More of What You Want From Your Business. The process described in the book was a distillation of what he learned from decades of helping small businesses become large companies with his consultancy, EOS Worldwide.
In this first of a two-part series, Wickman explains why you need an integrator and how to find yours. This is the first step of his process for rocket fuel-inspired growth. Next month, we will feature part two, covering how to create the systems that will make your business run like a machine.
FELDMAN: What is Rocket Fuel and how can it help a business owner?
WICKMAN: We typically see entrepreneurs who have the ability to start a business and grow it to a certain size, but there comes a point in their growth where they simply can’t do it all.
The sheer will, brute force, passion and stamina that make them able to hold everything together unfortunately starts to become very turbulent because they can’t hold all the pieces together.
And every visionary is a little bit different. We call that founding entrepreneur who started the business the “visionary.” During that turbulent time, they need a unique person to counterbalance that crazy visionary — as I like to call them — with all of these ideas and all of this energy and all of this creativity. And we call that unique person the “integrator.”
There’s a visionary-integrator dynamic in every successful entrepreneurial organization, and that is what we solve. After 15 years of doing this, I finally got to dive into the pure topic of the visionary- integrator dynamic. That’s what Rocket Fuel is and that’s what Rocket Fuel does.
This is how we’re able to cut through all of the ego titles that exist and really focus on the unique skill set required.
That wild and crazy visionary needs to be counterbalanced by this integrator. There’s a great quote from, I believe, a Stanford University professor that says the entrepreneur’s lust needs to be counterbalanced by the manager’s prudence. So that’s what this dynamic is. You see it over and over in business history.
The ideal is that a visionary has this awareness as early as possible, so they can take the leap and find the right integrator because they will grow faster. But it’s the reality that most visionaries don’t have that luxury, and so somewhere on that journey they need to bring that integrator in.
And some visionaries have the luxury of finding that person right out of the chute, and so we find about 50 percent of the time that relationship is a partnership. And so two partners started a business, grew it and just by happenstance they came across my teachings and they realized that hey, this partner was the visionary the whole way and this partner was the integrator the whole way. And then we cite examples.
Henry Ford and James Couzens were one of the classic visionary-integrator duos way back when Ford Motor Company was a tiny little startup. It’s a great example because of how those two are the ones who really built Ford Motor Company, and Henry gets all the credit. There are countless examples of this thing.
FELDMAN: How do you find the right integrator as you grow as a company?
WICKMAN: We outline a very specific seven-step process for how a visionary finds their ideal integrator in our book. The way we describe it is a two-piece puzzle. So if you picture a puzzle that has only two pieces, first there’s the visionary’s puzzle piece, which has its unique prongs — or whatever you call those thingies on a puzzle piece.
Those unique prongs are defined by that visionary’s personality, characteristics and style. We list about 25 characteristics of a visionary because not all visionaries have all the same characteristics. But once that visionary really crystallizes their unique puzzle piece, they then need to set out and find that perfect integrator match.
That’s still a lot of work, but creating their puzzle piece as a visionary is absolutely the first step because they will make a mistake in finding their ideal integrator if they don’t find that perfect match.
In our experience, we have visionary- integrator combos who take themselves from startup all the way to relatively mature $10-$20 million businesses. So our experience is that this relationship can last for years. But sometimes there needs to be a change because the industry might change, the company dynamics might change, and quite frankly the visionary might change. And in that lies the need for a new type of integrator.
Now, with that said, from startup to $1 billion, I’m certain that it’s rare for the same visionary-integrator combo to survive that ride. So what’s really important here is we’re working with 10- to 250-person companies. So in that range, and even with your clients and readers whose businesses are even smaller than that, the visionary-integrator relationship is typically sustainable and long-term because they’re not going from $0 to $1 billion.
In some cases they’re going from $500,000 to $2 million or they’re going from $1 million to $10 million, and that’s a 10-year journey. They don’t need multiple integrators, and the integrator doesn’t need to change every year or two.
FELDMAN: What are some tips to finding that individual? Do you have some sort of a process for matching that up and recruiting to find that?
WICKMAN: We cover that in the book with seven steps, and we don’t even get into the “how” until step 5 because 90 percent of the battle is making sure that the visionary is ready. Then they have to crystallize their puzzle piece. Then the remaining 10 percent falls into place. But the visionary must clarify their uniqueness so they can know what they’re looking for in an integrator.
FELDMAN: In the case of a financial advisory firm built around a superstar salesperson with a great team around them, how do you help them take their business to the next level?
WICKMAN: We always start with what we call the five frustrations because these are all the indicators that it’s time for you to do something different.
One of the things they’re feeling frustrated about is control. They’re feeling out of control from where they started this business, grew it nicely and then all of a sudden they can’t get their arms around it like they used to.
No. 2, they’re frustrated about people and so they’re starting to realize they need to manage a person or two or three or four. And all of a sudden, the business is becoming complex because great founders and entrepreneurs are not great managers of people. But they’re frustrated about people.
Third, they’re frustrated about profits. So they’re wanting to grow the business. They’re wanting to make more; they’re simply not making enough.
The fourth is that they’re hitting the ceiling. In other words, for some reason growth has stopped.
This financial advisor builds a firm, starts growing the business and doing everything they can — all of a sudden they start to reach the limit of their capacity. They’re hitting the ceiling and growth has stopped.
Then the fifth frustration is, they’re kind of feeling like nothing is working because even though they’re trying stuff and looking for this magic pill, there isn’t one. So the person who started the business realizes it’s time to do something different.
FELDMAN: How does someone get started in making those changes?
WICKMAN: You cannot build a great organization on multiple operating systems. You’ve got to choose one.
The first thing they need to decide is, “How am I going to run this company?” Because if they are trying to do this amalgamation of the 10 different teachings all in one, they can’t do it. What we’re in the business of doing is offering up an operating system.
With that, they can start to speak a common language and create consistency.
The next thing is for them to really see and understand their business through the lens of what we call the six key components.
There is a vision component, which means they must get crystal clear and get everybody on the same page. The next is that they have a people component, and they’ve got to make sure they’re surrounded by great people top to bottom or else growth will stop. Then there’s the data component, where they must start to manage the business through data.
The fourth is the issues component, which is building a muscle and a sense of courage about how to solve real problems quickly through a team.
The fifth is the process component, and that is to really start to see their business through the lens of understanding that their business is made up of a handful of processes. If they can see the business as a system and start to document that and dial it in and get people to follow that system, they’ll begin to create consistency.
FELDMAN: How do you get an integrator if you can’t afford one?
WICKMAN: The painful truth is that if you want an integrator and you can’t afford one, then it’s just a matter of a waiting game. That’s not exactly the right way to say it, because it’s truly about planning.
There isn’t a perfect answer, because many times the perfect integrator for a smaller firm is a $75,000-to-$125,000-a-year position, and they do not have the financial resources yet.
But we have many clients who determine they need an integrator but can’t afford one, and they are two years away from being able to put their integrator in place. They can put a stake in the ground as to when they’re going to have their integrator in place and when they can afford one.
Some take bigger risks and do it sooner, and some are less risky and will wait a while. So that’s the first part of the answer.
The second part of the answer is a couple of things that can help.
Pick somebody on your team who exhibits some integrator ability, and have them help you with some integration. And read Rocket Fuel and Traction for lots of integration things that they can do.
They can create your scorecard, run your weekly meetings and set rocks [goals]. They’re not an integrator, but you can have them carry some of the weight. It’s not ideal. It’s not a long-term fix.
You can hire a coach. An accountability coach definitely will help a visionary stay focused and execute better. There’s no question about that. And there are also even fractional integrators available.
FELDMAN: How would a fractional integrator work?
WICKMAN: That is someone who works for multiple companies doing their integration. They will come in once, twice or three times a week as an outsource integration for the organization. It is rare, but it’s becoming more and more popular.
FELDMAN: How do you find fractional integrators?
WICKMAN: There are not a lot of them out there. We have created a community on the website www.rocketfuelnow.com. There are people in the community who are fractional integrators. But it’s rare. That’s why I would hesitate to suggest it.
But there have been fractional CFOs forever. That’s a very popular concept. You could find one of those in every city in America right now.
So, once people understand themselves first and then take an interim step with a fractional integrator or take the leap with a full-time integrator, they will find themselves finally breaking through the ceiling that’s been hanging over them for so long.
NEXT MONTH: Gino Wickman will discuss how to dig in to get traction for your business.