Does Your Business Need an Operating System? – Megan Piper

Does your business need an operating system? Maybe that seems like an odd question, because when we think of an operating system, or OS, we think of the software that powers our computers, tablets, or smart phones. But the same approach can turn your struggling business into a growth machine! We’ll learn more about whether or not you need one, and how to implement one in this week’s episode of Fast Forward Maine.

Rich: My guest today has an established record of success in building and leading companies across several industries, from it to e-commerce, healthcare to non-profits. She guides small business leadership teams to define their long-term goals, while driving execution and team health.

She thrives in her role as a collaborative partner to growth-minded leaders, balancing inquiry, and advisory, and inspiring trust as she guides clients to measurable results.

During her tenure as COO/CFO at Planson International, the company’s revenue grew by 1,800%. Taking them from a small, U.S. firm, to a successful multinational company.

Today, we’re going to be learning all about an operating system for your business with Megan Piper. Megan, welcome to the podcast.

Megan: Thanks, Rich. Thanks for having me.

Rich: I’m excited to talk about this today. But I have to ask, what was your first ever job?

Megan: My first ever job, I grew up working in horse barns, cleaning stalls and teaching riding lessons. And I loved it. I learned a great work ethic from the community and horse barns.

Rich: And where was that?

Megan: New Gloucester, Gray, all over the place. New Hampshire.

Rich: Excellent.

Megan: France, actually as well.

Rich: Ooh, fancy. All right. So today we’re here to talk about EOS and operating. Let’s start with the definition. What is EOS?

Megan: So EOS stands for ‘entrepreneurial operating system’. And we call it a people operating system. So think about how your computer runs on an operating system. It’s a structure or a framework for all those moving pieces that you work on in your computer to hang on and to operate within. We’ve created the same idea for a company. So there’s all these common moving pieces across small entrepreneurial businesses, and EOS is a way of arranging in a logical way, all those core issues you need to deal with in a small company. So that frees you up to have creativity and ingenuity out in your marketplace with your product or service offering.

Rich: Awesome. So basically the operating system is very similar to a computer’s operating system, like you said. That it just helps us run the business, gives us a better system in place to succeed, and to grow if that’s what our goal is. And I know that you do EOS, which is one that I’m familiar with. My understanding is there are other operating systems out there, just like there’s Mac and PCs and Googles and all that sort of stuff. But today we’ll be focusing on EOS, as that’s the one that you do and you’re most familiar with. Is that correct?

Megan: That is correct. In EOS, we don’t knock nor talk about our competition. I will say, what is powerful about having an operating system, is the clarity that it brings to your business. So it brings common language and a common way of doing things. And just like if you think about the analogy with your computer, you can do all kinds of different things on a computer, and they all work within that operating system. So EOS and other operating systems help you to be uniquely your business within a framework that helps you to stay more organized internally.

Rich: So as a business owner, how do I know if I need an OS, what are the pain points?

Megan: Some common ones are that you feel, and I can speak to my experience as an entrepreneurial leader for many years at Planson. You start to realize that although things are successful from the outside, because most people start to use an operating system that are already doing well, they’re already profitable and they’re successful as a business by all our standard parameters. But they’ll feel like internally things are a bit crazy. That maybe it’s tentatively held together, that it feels more like the businesses running them, then that they are running the business. And what you start to realize is this is a common experience across entrepreneurial business owners.

This is not an area that you need to reinvent the wheel. There are already proven frameworks out there, which I was introduced to by talking with peers. I realized, wow, there’s a simple way to run these common things rather than reinventing the wheel. And that frees me up to create an area where that brings an ROI in the business.

Rich: Do you think it’s because a lot of business owners just somehow many of them fall into business, especially small to medium-sized. Maybe they inherited, or maybe they just said this is something I’m going to do. But maybe they didn’t go to school for it, or even in school if they teach these things, and all of a sudden, they realize I’ve just put a hodgepodge together and now I’m struggling, and I don’t know why I’m struggling.

Megan: Yes, absolutely. I think that certainly describes my entrepreneurial journey. I didn’t have any business background when I started in the business world. And at some point, you realize I’m putting all this energy into something that people before me have already gone and done. And that you got into entrepreneurial leadership because of that freedom and nimbleness that you thought it was going to bring you. And it does bring some, but it also brings chaos.

And so you don’t realize until you get to a certain stage of growth, that every time you add a person to a company, you add complexity. So once you get to 5, 6, 7 people, you start to realize, there’s a lot of lines of communication going here, and I don’t have a standard way to organize that, to organize how I’m measuring people in their success. And you start to realize, this isn’t sustainable to keep growing this way. This is bringing me the opposite of freedom. I’m actually bringing complexity by growing this business, yet everyone says I’m supposed to grow the business. So how do I do this in a sustainable way?

Rich: It’s interesting. I’m a lot like you. I had no background in business. When I started my company, the closest I came to entrepreneurship is I typed up papers for the business students in college for beer money. So that was basically as close as I ever got to a business class. And then I just fell into this never thinking I was actually going to make a company out of building websites. It was just something to pass the time. Here I am 24 years later, and I’ve discovered painfully over time that you need some systems in place. But it was never anything I studied in schools.

Megan: Yeah. I appreciate that.

Rich: When you’re talking to business owners who may be struggling, and you explain the benefits of an operating system, I’m sure some reactions are, “That sounds very formulaic”, and very, “My creativity is going to be reined in” and “I won’t be able to do what I want to do.” How do you respond to concerns like that?

Megan: That every client I work with is, as we say, amongst EOS peers. Everyone is a snowflake. So actually EOS frees you up to be incredibly creative in your business because you won’t be bogged down by all this day to day stuff. There’s a way to organize that and actually by the organization and the discipline and the accountability that the operating system brings, it brings everybody else into that journey.

So often when I start with a business there might be very few people on the leadership team. It might be just the founder or the co-founders, and they’ve realized they’ve gotten to the size they want to bring everyone else into this journey with them, but they don’t know how to do it. And so as EOS helps them to build out what we call their ‘accountability chart’, like what’s the right invest structure for them in the next 6 to 12 months. And that’s a short timeframe because things change quickly in an entrepreneurial company. At EOS we believe strongly, you should have something nimble and simple to grow against. And so that’s the accountability chart. And they realized that as they build this out, that actually it’s bringing more innovation into their business. Because suddenly they have clarity for where they want to go big picture, and a role for everyone to come into leadership and give them ideas on how to grow that company. So no longer are they alone and having to figure this all out. It actually is a very team oriented way of running your company. And that basic structure, I think of it like out on the plains where you have huge fields for cattle, you have some fencing, but there’s miles and miles between the fencing. And so EOS does that. It gives you this very basic framework. And within that, you can run wild. You can do your thing. We just have these basic boundaries that everybody is going to live within to make decisions and grow the business in an aligned way.

Rich: Megan, I love that. Because I just think about all the fires that the typical owner has to put out on a daily basis that are basically very often the same ones that they had to put out the week before, the month before, the year before. And all of those mental energies that are put towards those problems. And if you could just create a system that would simplify how those problems get solved and be able to delegate them, how much more free time you’d actually have during the day to actually do some creative thinking. So it feels like you’re getting rid of the stuff that’s going to bog you down, and that becomes the system so that you can focus on all the stuff that’s going to make you different.

Megan: Yeah. Great example around that. I started with a team a couple of months ago that said they just spent their day putting out fires, an e-commerce company. And as soon as they put EOS in place and had this structured weekly leadership team meeting, they said their internal communications actually reduced by 50%. Because suddenly they realized these things we thought we constantly had to be sending emails about and were clogging our inbox and our precious, valuable time during the day, actually they could wait until that once a week meeting where all those topics get consolidated, prioritized, and then tackled at that the right moment in a way that solves them Long-term rather than sporadically throughout the day by emails. And that was keeping them actually from serving their customers better and creating some new products. So they said it’s revolutionized the efficient use of their time. So actually they are more innovative.

Rich: So talk to me a little bit about what EOS looks like. Like I know that there are different aspects of a business that it takes on. What are some of those top priorities that you deal with when you start to implement EOS?

Megan: Yeah, absolutely. So, it was invented by Gino Wickman. He wrote the book Traction, that is the Bible of EOS. And what he discovered as he worked in and grew entrepreneurial companies, was that we all are dealing with these common issues that I’ve already mentioned. And that you could categorize them into six key areas that we call the six key points.

So I’ll just run through those with you, because really that is the essence of what EOS is. So the first one is vision, and that’s that we get all aligned 100% as a leadership team and eventually as a company, on where we want to go. So some people get caught up in the word ‘vision’, what does it even mean. It actually just means, where do we want to go, and how are we going to get there? And everybody in the company needs to know the answer to that. So that’s the vision.

The second of the six key components is the people component. And that’s where 82% of the problems happen in a company. That’s why we call EOS a ‘people operating system’ because it really systemized that area. So in order to achieve that vision you’ve all agreed you want to reach, you’ve got to have great people. And every company defines ‘great’ differently. So I spend a lot of time with clients walking through a discovery process to figure out what are those great people going to look like at your company? How do we attract them, and how do we repel the ones that aren’t going to be great for us? Because we don’t even want them on our team to start with. It doesn’t mean they’re bad people, it just means they belong at another company.

Rich: They’re not the right fit.

Megan: Exactly. So we call it, ‘right people in the right seats’. The third of the six key components in EOS is the data components. So in entrepreneurial businesses, we have to be very nimble and sometimes make gut instinct decisions. You’ve got to balance that out with the data component, which is facts and figures, black and white. Just an area that no subjectivity, we know how we’re doing and we’re measuring the right things.

Then we have the issues component, which in EOS means we grow a culture where everybody’s comfortable raising their hand and saying, “You know what, we’ve got issues we need to tackle and solve. And we’ve also got opportunities that we need to leverage. Let’s just keep a list of them, prioritize them, and work on them little by little, for the greater good of the company”

And then we have the process component. That’s often the most neglected of this because it’s not always as sexy or as fun to work on. But you’ve got to have some core processes in your company that you do the right and best way every time ,so that people understand what’s expected of them, how they’re going to be measured against that. And it creates a consistent client experience that leads to profitability and scalability. It’s really the key to growing your business.

And then the last piece that is very specific to EOS, and I think is what makes all the other five come together and happen, is the traction component. Which is a synonym for execution. So that’s all about helping people understand, what are we going to do every single day, one foot in front of the other, to achieve that vision. So we know what our top priorities are in the next 90 days, how are we going to have a meeting cadence that keeps us connected in the right way as a team so we can keep achieve towards that vision. It’s discipline and accountability.

So those six key components, vision people, data, issues, process, and traction. That’s what it is all about. You have free rein to do however you want in your business, it’s just those core areas that we all need to systemize. It gives you a framework to do that.

Rich: That seems very clear to me. But the one question I guess I have on that is, how does process and traction differ, in your opinion?

Megan: Yeah. Great question. So in process, what we’re focusing on are the 20% of things that you do as a company that drive 80% of outcomes. In an entrepreneurial business, and when I’d say ‘entrepreneurial’, I mean 300 or fewer employees. Just those things need to be done in a consistent way. It’s actually okay to give people freedom on the rest of that, as long as that 20% that drives 80% is consistent.

Whereas traction is more about people understanding when there’s going to be a check-in. Like how are we prioritizing and focusing as a team, and how are we going to check in on a regular basis. So process fits within the traction component, or I should say everything in EOS fits together. Like you strengthen all six areas on an ongoing basis. It’s not like we focus on just data, or just process, or just people.

The way that the system is built is that in your weekly meetings, in your quarterly meetings, this meeting cadence that you end up with across the company, it naturally helps you to strengthen all of these areas at once.

Rich: Now, you listed those in a specific order, and I’ve read parts of Traction. I have to admit I have not finished it, and I’m just wondering about that order. Does every company go through, if they adopt EOS, do they take the same pathway through, or is it a little bit of choose your own adventure where you’re going to start first?

Megan: Yeah, so we have a proven process. And we have worked with more than 11,000 companies at this point, 100,000 companies across the world use EOS tools. So we’ve tried and tested this and realized the best way to implement it in a company. So everybody follows the same process. It works more effectively as a system if you follow the proven process. Because if you use it as a buffet, any one thing in EOS will strengthen your company, it strengthens it better when you put it all together into one system.

Rich: All right. Makes sense. Now it sounds like this approach could solve a lot of our business problems. If somebody is listening and they’re like, wow, that really addresses a lot of things going on in my company. What are some of the first steps they can take to get going?

Megan: Well first off, as you mentioned ,where you haven’t quite finished Traction, I do them, I do the movie version for free anytime somebody wants it. So, they’re always welcome to call me and I’m happy to run people through what is EOS and give them some copies of Traction to read.

That’s really the best place to start is with Traction. The beauty of EOS is its simplicity. It is just so easy to understand. And anybody in your company can understand it. It’s not going to feel like you’re sending everyone in your company to MBA school, it’s that anyone can understand those concepts.

So if you just pick them up a copy of Traction, the first chapter runs through it at a high level, as I did earlier. And if it resonates, read the whole thing, and see if it works for your company. If it doesn’t, that’s okay, it’s not the right system for everybody.

For example, a big part of an operating system working well in your company is you need to have your business model established. So I work with some startups, and then some startups I say, hey, you’ve got some work on your business model that you need to do before you execute. I don’t want you to execute on the wrong thing. You need to be sure who your customer is and what your product or your service offering is. And whether there’s actually that product market fit there. Because otherwise you might go execute on something that’s not going to lead to results.

So EOS is very results and focus oriented. You’ll get a taste of that, even from the first chapter of Traction, and figure out quickly is this the right time where the right fit for your company.

Rich: So it sounds like you’ve got to have a little bit of a track record, good or bad. Like if you’re starting on day one with a company, you’re not starting with this operating system. It’s more like you’ve got some things in place, and then you go to see how an operating system, EOS in this case, could really fine tune what you’re already doing.

Megan: Yes. An operating system works best once you’re at like 8 or 10 employees or higher. That said, there are pieces of it that are still productive from day one.

I chatted with a startup here in Maine that does the level 10 meeting agenda every week. That’s really useful. It keeps you focused on the right things as a leadership team, even if you never do any other part of EOS. That got them started out on the right communication cadence as a team.

Rich: So like I said, I have started, haven’t finished Traction. I did read another book by him called, Rocket Fuel. It was funny. I had picked up Traction, and then I was told by somebody that said Traction is a tougher read, and they recommended I start with Rocket Fuel. He might not have recommended that for everybody. And Rocket Fuel, I think, is just a version of Traction where it’s less intensive and you only really need to get the buy in from two people on the team. Specifically the owner, who’s the “ visionary”, and then the integrator who makes everything happen.

And interestingly, I read the book, I handed it off to the woman who’s my director of operations. And when we both got on board with that book, which is, I’m not going to call it EOS light, but maybe it is. Our business had dramatic improvements. So that was really fantastic. And it really released my ability to do the creative work that I wanted to do and not worry about like when we are onboarding somebody, did I get them all the right paperwork? Like all that could be off shored or delegated to somebody who skillset covered all that sort of stuff. So for me, that was a great first step. And that’s why I now am reading Traction because I want to get more people involved.

You keep on mentioning something. You talk about this leadership group within the company. So I guess the question is, what does that look like? I know that some different companies have different architectures. If I’m the only “leader” in the company and everybody else is fairly flat, how do I get people involved? Do I get them all involved at once? Or do I start to really develop more of that leadership team before I implement some of these things?

Megan: Yeah, it’s a great question. So one of the main things that EOS helps a company to grow is as a healthy leadership team, and eventually a healthy company. So one of my favorite things is, the first thing we do together is build the accountability chart. And we do it based on function because that’s a very simple way to do that in any entrepreneurial company. So we figure out what are the core functions in your company, and maybe you are the only leader/founder at that moment. But we’ll quickly realize, something you referred to a moment ago, what is your highest and best use in the company? And so as the visionary or the integrator, rarely is that going to be say, leading marketing function or maybe the finance function. And you’ll realize, you know what, I have a great person already at the company that actually would lead that area. So we figure out together what’s the best structure for you, who are the best leaders for them, and maybe hire some in if necessary.

But rarely do I go from the first session to the second session with a client, without them changing something in the leadership team. Frequently, there are more members in the room the next time around. And sometimes it’s the first opportunity those people have had to be leaders in that company, and they’re so excited to help to build it and figure out where they’re going and bring everybody on that journey. It brings a lot of energy to the room, and it brings all the different perspectives to the table.

It’s very difficult to sit there as the only leader in the company and know what’s the marketing perspective on this? What’s the finance perspective on this? What’s the operations perspective? Yet you need all those perspectives at the table to grow the best company. And so it’s important to have someone whose role is to sit there and think specifically how does this get filtered through the marketing lens. But also that each member on that team has permission to put on the proverbial CEO hat and feel like they can speak with the same authority and ideas in that leadership team setting. Bring that marketing perspective, bring their ideas, what would they do if they were CEO of the company, and then together we can all make the best decision and walk out unified to share it with the entire company.

Rich: All right. Megan, you mentioned earlier that certain people can pick up the book Traction, there’s a lot of things you can implement yourself. But if we’re looking for a tour guide, obviously there are these experts like yourself. So what does it look like if a company hires you? What does that early process look like?

Megan: Sure. If you don’t mind, I’ll just take a quick second to run through the books, too, so that we give people clarity around those. Traction is the Bible. It is a little bit longer than some of the others. What The Heck is EOS? is a really light, one hour read gives you a high level overview. We recommend that for employees in the business.

And then one of my favorites is the one you mentioned, that’s Rocket Fuel. That was my entry point to EOS, and really transformed my relationship as COO with our founder and CEO in my former company. Because it gave us clarity on when we were collaborating and when we were stepping on each other’s toes, and just how to strengthen the company by operating in our unique ability. So I love that it’s specifically for the visionary and the integrator, the one who runs the day to day.

So in terms of different ways to implement EOS, there are two different ways to do that. One we call self-implementing, and one is professionally implemented with myself or one of my 400 peers around the globe.

So as I said earlier, EOS will help your company no matter what piece you use or the whole system. Like it is going to help to strengthen your company. So from a self-implementation perspective, you can read the books. The U.S. website has tons of free downloadable resources. You can sign up for something called Base Camp, if you want to run it in your own company. And that gives you some videos to understand how to teach the different aspects to your leadership team and eventually your whole company. So you can do it yourself. Absolutely. And it’ll grow your company.

The value that I bring in, or one of my peers brings in, is an accountability partner and an expert. I spend my days teaching people EOS, and because I see such a broad array of companies and industries – and EOS, by the way, is industry agnostic – I’m an expert and I can help to guide you to walk through that proven process in a way that is going to get you the best ROI. When an implementer professionally guides you through EOS, we typically more than pay for ourselves, because we help you to accelerate the ROI that you’re getting within the business. Companies that run on EOS are typically four to five times more profitable and growing faster than the average small company. So, it works. That’s why I keep referring to the proven process, which we also help people to develop with their clients. Because it’s important that not only you’re running EOS on a proven process, but that your clients understand what does that journey look like with you.

So there’s lots of different ways to do EOS. All of them work. It depends how fast and effectively you want to roll it out in your company.

Rich: Megan, this has been great. And there’s probably 200 more questions I could ask you about EOS, but I will say that you mentioned a few great places for us to get started on this to learn more. And in a minute, I’m going to ask you how people can get in contact with you.

But we always love to ask this question of all the experts that we bring on the podcast. So what is one thing you would change if you could to improve the business ecosystem here in Maine?

Megan: It’s a great question, Rich. So I work half with companies in Maine, and I love Maine. I was born and raised, grew up here. And half my clients are outside of Maine, or global actually. And so what I see here with the Maine-based companies is, we are the oldest state in the country. We have a workforce shortage here. And particularly right now, hiring is extremely hard across the entire country. I think as Mainers, we need to think a little bit bigger about where our workforce can come from. And that includes, there’s some great companies out there doing work to expand broadband across Maine, so that more than half of our state doesn’t have great access to the internet and therefore they can’t do remote jobs. It’s huge in this world. There’s so much untapped potential in Northern Maine, outside of Maine, that could grow Maine businesses.

I think there’s also an amazing immigrant community that’s growing here, that really wants to live and work and be part of growing the economy in Maine. And we need everybody’s help. So think bigger in where you can find employees. It doesn’t just have to be in the greater Portland area. We have a lot of talented people that want to contribute to our economy. And I’m excited too, to see ways that we can make that happen.

Rich: Awesome. Thank you so much. So I’m sure that people, after listening to this, many business owners are going to be interested in learning more about EOS and maybe in ways that you can help them. So can you share with us maybe where they can get started with EOS, learn more about it, and also how they can get in touch with you?

Megan: Absolutely. So that EOS website is a great place to start. There’s a directory there that will take you to me, and you can reach out via email, through the forum there, whatever way is easiest for you. My email is [email protected]. And I love to speak to groups. I speak to some of the CEO round tables here in Maine, to various other peer groups. I love to come in and teach people about EOS, run workshops, help them to start to understand the tools, and use them on their own even. And then if somebody again wants a professional guide, I hop on basically a free 90 minute meeting to help people understand what EOS is all about and figure out, really, is this the right fit for me or not. Because again, it’s not for everybody. And so I really spend a lot of time talking with leaders and helping them to figure out is this right for our company or not.

And no matter what, I promise along that discovery journey you will learn some business insights that you can use, whether or not you move forward with EOS. So lots of different ways to get in touch with me, and I will be excited to hear from people.

Rich: Awesome. And we’ll have those all in the show notes. Megan, thank you so much for coming by. I really enjoyed our conversation around EOS today.

Megan: Thanks so much, Rich. This was a blast.