Using EOS ® to Draw Lessons from 2020

EOS 2021

What a strange, unpredictable year 2020 has been. A year ago we all were anticipating a year of solid economic growth, perhaps tempered by lingering trade disputes and a sprinkling of natural disasters.

We got something pretty different. The pandemic has affected organizations in surprising ways. Anyone in the supply chain of restaurants or businesses in the tourism industry has probably seen a lot of pain this year. But others have had the best years they’ve ever seen, thanks to being in the right place at the right time.

This year has thrown a lot of organizations out of balance. Whether revenue has been cut in half or the team is so busy it can’t see straight, everyone has had to adapt to the reality brought by the pandemic. Some have proven more resilient than others in the face of so much rapid change. 

If you’re still standing, you should take a minute to appreciate what you’ve accomplished to get to this point. And if you’ve had a challenging year, it’s time to clear your head and refocus.

I work with organizations running EOS® that offer a cross-section of the 2020 economy. At one extreme is a marketing firm that’s found its niche in the midst of the pandemic. This year they grew at a pace they’ve never seen before. At the other extreme is a nonprofit. They have endured a dramatic downturn in donation revenue along with serious operational challenges related to COVID. Forced to make layoffs, they’re in a difficult spot heading into 2021.

In both of these “extremes” and for every business in between, the core of my advice is the same: rely on the tools EOS gives you to analyze the lessons of 2020 so your organization can be stronger and better prepared for what comes next.

When the going gets tough, EOS gets rolling

The EOS Toolbox™ is full of straightforward strategies organizations can use to find answers to the toughest questions they face. For my nonprofit client, those questions raise some big issues: Can they retain key personnel through this rough patch? How can they rebuild a donor base? How can they continue delivering service to the community they help even while they deal with their internal struggles?

These are two of the tools we’ve been using to get them on the right track:

  • Refocus on vision and values. The values-building exercise I conduct with clients serves several purposes. It eventually leads to a clear, simple statement about the organization’s identity, but it does much more than that. It lets the team express their deepest understanding of what they do. For all the overlapping ideas there are plenty of outliers that spark new ways of thinking in the group.

For my client, the opportunity to refresh their values was a time to step back from the bad news of 2020 to reflect on what motivates them to come to work. They used it as a chance to reset their focus ahead of planning their goals for 2021.

  • Lean on the Issues Solving Track™. “Let’s IDS it,” is a mantra for EOS organizations. In a crisis, identifying the top three issues facing a team can be a project in itself. Identifying them, discussing them, and finding solutions for them in a systematic way avoids distractions and unwanted crosstalk between unrelated topics. In the nonprofit’s case, the Issues Solving Track has been a huge help. Deciding as a team which challenges were the top priority helped them to compartmentalize and focus without anyone feeling their concerns were being ignored.

Boom times have challenges of their own

You’d think growing a business by leaps and bounds would be nothing but fun, but anyone who has gone through it will tell you that rapid growth is stressful in its own way. Hiring new staff requires a huge investment of time. As a team spreads itself thin to stay on top of existing projects, it also dreams of expanding its scope. The result can be a loss of focus, exhausted employees, and a squandered opportunity.

The marketing agency I work with offers a great case study of the mixed bag that comes with sudden growth. For the most part, their client base has thrived in 2020. Demand for their services has never been higher. After years of a static headcount they’ve had to grow their team to meet client needs. Two EOS ideas have been especially helpful for them:

  • The People Analyzer™ prevents rash decisions. The agency had interviewed a few candidates for a client services manager position when they asked for my input. One of the candidates had all the measurables they were looking for: lots of service experience, a good understanding of the work, and eagerness to be part of a growing team. They were ready to make an offer, but they asked for my advice.

In situations like this it’s not my place to tell my client what they should do. Instead, I walk them through the process recommended by EOS. The People Analyzer gave them a shortcut for analyzing their choice. Although the candidate had positives in almost every area, the more the team talked about her the more they found that she wasn’t a direct hit for a couple of the company’s cultural values. In follow-up interviews they dug into those questions and confirmed that in fact she wouldn’t be the right fit – saving them a ton of time and money.

  • Fit growth into the Accountability Chart. This company has spent a lot of time revising its Accountability Chart as their small team has exchanged hats to make everything run smoothly. As their staff began to feel strained to keep all their projects straight, they time and again went back to the Accountability Chart to quickly identify the right person to take charge of a particular job. 

In a small business, keeping everyone in their own lane is important, especially when growth is pulling each employee in a dozen directions at once. For their CEO, it’s been especially helpful in preventing her from stepping into someone else’s territory. “I don’t take over everything anymore,” she told me. “Now the first question I ask myself is, ‘What does the Accountability Chart say?’ And then I follow it.”

Good times or bad times, it’s time for EOS!

How has your organization weathered the storm of 2020? What are you looking forward to most about turning the page to 2021? I’d love to hear from you and help you get the most from the Entrepreneurial Operating System®, whether this has been the worst year imaginable or a time of crazy expansion. Call me at (818) 649-1103 or send me an email to schedule a time to chat.