About Peaks & Valleys

The Peaks & Valleys podcast is a series that looks at the unique challenges of running a seasonal business. Although interview guests run agribusinesses, the discussions are applicable to any seasonal business. Each episode ends with tips and best practices related to the given topic.

About the Episode

In this episode, Market Maker President Greg Skotnicki talks about Traction and its entrepreneurial operating system (EOS). Greg discusses how a set of simple concepts and practical tools help teams to stay aligned, focus on high impact activities and advance the business towards a shared vision.

For more information on the podcast or to suggest a speaker or topic, contact seasonal@marketmakerag.com

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When you look at your work schedule, do you groan at the number of meetings you have, and brace yourself for those that are going to run over because of off-topic conversations? I’m Lisa Courtney Lloyd, and you’re listening to the Peaks & Valleys podcast, where we talk about the challenges of running a seasonal business.

Although our interview guests run agri-businesses, these discussions will be applicable to any small and mid-size business. Today’s guest is Greg Skotnicki, president of Market Maker, and someone who hasn’t looked back since using EOS, a set of simple concepts and practical tools that help business owners focus on what is really important for a company to be successful.

Lisa: Hello, Greg, and welcome to the podcast.

Greg: Thanks Lisa.

Lisa: Full transparency, Greg and I work together. Greg is the president of Market Maker and to add context to this conversation, I’m going to do a small plug for Market Maker. We are an investor, a majority investor, in agri-businesses. We’re building a portfolio of agri-businesses and currently we have four in our group of companies.

Greg and I have worked together a long time. And for as long as I can remember, albeit some day that’s not so long, when we talk about priorities, Greg has referred to an analogy with pebbles and sand. Can you share with us that analogy, Greg?

Greg: Yeah, for sure. I’m not sure where I first heard this, but it’s a story of a university professor with his first-year students in class. He had in front of him a bucket and some big rocks, pebbles and sand and he had a beer. He said to the class, how can we get all these things in here? Let’s start with the big stuff. So he put the big rocks in and he said, is this full? And the class said, no, you could get more stuff in there.  So he takes the pebbles and he puts them in and he shakes the bucket and they move around into some of the gaps. And he’s like, is it full? And they said, no, you could probably get sand in. He takes the sand and puts it in, shakes it around and it moves into all the crevices. And, and he asks, is it full? No, there’s a beer. He pours the beer in.

The question is, what’s the analogy here. He says to them, this is your time. You have only so much time.  That’s the bucket. And the question is, can you fit all these things in, and it’s really about the order that you put them in.

The big rocks are the really important things like family and your health. If I think about this at work the big things are the big priorities with big impact. The pebbles are the day-to-day things. If you’ve gotten the big things in and you take care of the pebbles, you can always find time for the sand. The sand represents the people who come and bother you all the time, or the things that drive you nuts or problems. Those will always get worked out as well. And then of course the question is, well, what’s the beer. No matter what, no matter how you fill this thing up, there’s always time for a beer with a friend.

The idea here is to make sure the priorities get done. If you do it in the reverse order, you put the sand in and then the pebbles, the rocks aren’t going to fit.  It’s all about prioritizing.

Lisa: I love that analogy and I always have remembered it. A couple of years ago, you introduced a book to us called Traction, which we all embraced right away because I think it’s fair to say it does help us make sure that we are working on those big priorities. Can you tell us a bit about Traction and the entrepreneurial operating system or EOS as we call it.  Two questions:  What is it from your perspective as a president and why is it important?

Greg:  EOS: entrepreneurial operating system:  I came across it a couple of years ago. It’s effectively a way of providing or putting rigor and discipline into the management of the company. It’s something that I had always been missing or had tried to put my own systems in place, but it never fully covered off everything. The EOS is really this system. It looks at six really important areas that you have to worry about, connects them and creates a common language for people in the business, eliminating confusion. It gets everyone aligned. Once you eliminate confusion you get everyone pointed in the same direction.

That’s where the magic really happens. Those six things, you can survive without these things because many businesses do, but the businesses that thrive and do really well are the ones that have them.

  • Vision: do you know where you’re going or what you’re trying to get done? Pretty basic.
  • People: Do you have the right people? Do they want the job? Do they get it, do they understand what they’re supposed to do? Do they have the capacity and capability to do it?
  • Data: This is where I think a lot of companies fall down. They don’t have data, or at least ones that I used to run. We didn’t really monitor the data that we needed to.
  • Process: Do you have the most common and most important process down pat, like a proven process or a way of doing things?
  • Issues and issues management: how do you tackle issues and, and do you get them solved?
  • Traction: This is really the idea that you’re able to prioritize what the company needs to do and advance it. You move the company forward. A lot of companies, and ones that I’ve been involved in, create a strategic plan and four years later we’re still in the same spot.

Lisa: I should mention like we’re a small company, under 10 people and have a number of companies who work within our portfolio. Can you give us a bit of insight into how EOS helps us to understand what the companies are doing? For companies that aren’t the same structure as us, it would be similar to having departments underneath you.

Greg: Exactly. If you’re just one person dealing with one company or one other person, you don’t need a system. You’re talking back and forth to each other. But when you add two, the number of conversations has gone now from one between two people to three conversations. And if you add another person, everything goes up exponentially: you’ve got eight conversations going on now. EOS allows us to scale. What we’ve done is said, listen, the only way that we can actually build this portfolio and add more and more companies is to have a system that we all use that will allow us to understand the same language. So, we’ve implemented EOS in each of these companies.

Each of the companies recently presented their budgets and annual plans and we saw consistency: from each company and how they’re talking about things. It allows us to scale and to do more things because all the information is coming to us in a consistent way. You don’t have to decipher what’s going on or think about what they are saying or what they need? You’re getting all the information. That’s the other part of EOS: you aren’t missing parts because everyone’s following a consistent approach. It’s really like putting in a backbone system. It’s a bit of paint by numbers but it allows for creativity in other ways. If you believe that you need a structure to be successful, and I think every business needs structure, this is one way of doing it.

Lisa: Yes. I can second that. And as somebody whose been in the business for almost 30 years, you think you know how to do it. When you introduced this system, part of me wondered whether there was anything wrong with what I was doing?

I think the beauty is in its simplicity and the amount of time that it has saved, not just on, like you said, meetings, but the prioritization has freed up space in your brain, because you’re not thinking about things that you don’t need to think about for another 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 months down the road. We use Ninety.io, a digital template, and we park longer term issues and priorities, knowing we’ll get to those, focusing on the current priority.

I want to add one more complexity, to illustrate how this system helps us. And that’s a complexity that we see again in our portfolio because we’re dealing with seasonal businesses—there are points throughout the year when the teams are really busy and then it slows down. In your experience, how has this system helped seasonal businesses?

Greg:  When you’re without a system and the workload grows there’s a tendency to push off “this” meeting. We won’t do this; we won’t do that. EOS provides guardrails. You can reduce the amount of time in the meetings, but you’re still making sure that all of the key things that are needed to advance the business happen. You can flex the system appropriately for how busy people are, but it ensures that those priorities never disappear. They may get delayed, but they’re always there because of the methodology; the standard, we call it an L 10 meeting, a level 10 meeting, which is a management meeting. You can condense it to an hour, you can condense it to 30 minutes, but you’re taking a consistent approach to how you’re managing the business.

Lisa:  Great, thanks. I know we can go on and on, because we love this system and use it, and have seen such great results but to respect everyone’s time, I will flash up the book and the name of the consultant who we have worked with, who’s an expert in this, Scott Morin, so that anyone listening to this can check it out themselves. Thank you very much, Greg.

Traction by Gino Wickman: Traction by Gino Wickman – Get a Grip on Your Business (eosworldwide.com)

Scott Morin: Scott Morin – EOS Worldwide

You’ve been listening to Peaks & Valleys, the podcast on seasonal business. Peaks & Valleys is presented by Market Maker Agriculture, a long term hold private equity company that invests in agri-businesses across North America that have seasonal cash flows. For more information about Market Maker or suggestions for a topic or guest contact seasonal at market maker ag.com.