Too much of a good thing

How can overly positive feedback have a negative impact in EOS?

I had the privilege of traveling to Spain last month for a client’s all-company meeting. Kyero, a rapidly growing online curator of properties available for sale or rent in Spain and Portugal, assembled its team from all over Europe for two days of team building and fellowship, which, to my great fortune, included a boat cruise on the Mediterranean Sea and several delicious Spanish meals. On top of being ideal clients, the owners of Kyero are wonderfully welcoming and generous to everyone in their company.

Kyero is a 100% remote company, so they invited a guest speaker from Buffer, a remote-only social content development company, to share some lessons they’ve learned along the way.

Buffer has an enviable company culture dedicated to transparency and honest feedback. But it wasn’t always that way. They used to have a problem with too much positive feedback. Yes, you read that right. They were too encouraging. In fact, as a company, they had a culture of only giving positive feedback. While that sounds like a great problem to have, the following exercise illustrated pretty clearly why it’s not.

Danny from Buffer asked three volunteers to leave the room. He then placed a note under one of the chairs in the room. When each person returned, we were instructed to give feedback in three different ways.

“Great job” is not the full picture—none of us are getting it right 100% of the time. And if you are, you’re in the wrong job.

  1. The first person received only positive feedback from the rest of us in the room. Despite a chorus of “great job!” and “way to go!” she could not find the note.

  2. We completely ignored the second person. We offered neither positive nor negative feedback. Not surprisingly, she didn’t find the note either. In fact, she never even got close.

  3. When the third person returned to the room, we gave her clear, concise feedback as she searched for the note. We answered her questions and offered feedback like “you’re getting warmer” and “just a little more to the left.” She found the note in remarkably little time.

Danny shared with us that learning how to give effective, meaningful feedback was a major turning point for Buffer. Previously, giving only positive feedback caused individual and business performance to suffer because people weren’t getting feedback that allowed them to honestly and meaningfully measure progress toward their goals.

Being told “great job” all the time might sound ideal. But how can you work toward growth and development when feedback is ambiguous and one-sided? “Great job” is not the full picture—none of us are getting it right 100% of the time. And if you are, you’re in the wrong job because you’re not being properly challenged.

It’s our nature to want to do meaningful work that makes a difference and results in successful outcomes. Telling the first person who came back into the room what a great job she was doing finding the note didn’t help her find the note. It might have made her feel good, but she remained unsuccessful. When you only give positive feedback and withhold the more meaningful and actionable feedback, you’re robbing someone of an opportunity to achieve success.

Your business is not your family

So often I hear business owners refer to their employees as family. “We are family here,” they tell me with an air of pride. The implication, of course, is that having a team that feels like family is a sign of a successful, well-functioning company.

While I appreciate the sentiment, the reality is that your business is not your family. Sure, you might have family members in your business, but the business itself — and the people who are in it — are not your family. Your family is your family. Your coworkers are your community.

You may love your employees. That’s great! The world needs more work environments that are operated in an atmosphere of respect, kindness and dignity. But when difficult business decisions have to be made — and they always do — calling employees your family can cloud judgment and lead to poor outcomes for everyone involved.

I’ve witnessed this several times. Business owners wanted to avoid hurting their employees’ feelings, and since many of us aren’t as skilled in the area of difficult conversations as we’d like to be, they chose to sweep the issue under the rug rather than deal with it head on — a decision that inevitably ended up hurting everyone in the end: the owner, who chose to simply bury and “live with” the frustration; the employee, who wasn’t given an honest, fair opportunity for growth and improvement; and the company, which is only as strong as its weakest employee.

In an EOS setting, this issue surfaces when you have the wrong person in the right seat. If the mentality is that the business is a family, owners are often unable or unwilling to have the difficult conversations that are sometimes necessary to getting the right person in the right seat — a crucial component of long-term business growth and success.

I encourage you as the business owner to be mindful of the fact that because you bear the burden of the company’s performance, you get to make the decisions regarding who stays and who goes. It’s that simple. It’s not always fun, and it’s certainly not easy, but it’s part of your job and what you signed up for. You can love your employees and let them go if the situation demands it. In fact, I would argue that doing so is the more loving choice than allowing them to continue to struggle in an environment where success doesn’t seem likely.

Tough conversations: how to have them and why they’re important

“One of the most important roles of a CEO is to tear down barriers to people’s success.”

“One of the most important roles of a CEO is to tear down barriers to people’s success.”

Typically, the clients I work with have self-implemented EOS. They’ve run their employees through the People Analyzer and GWC tools and determined they have — or at least think they have — the right people in the right seats. So what happens when they start wondering if the right person may actually in the wrong seat?

This scenario played out recently with one of my clients. Nate (I’ve changed his name), a home-run employee, was recently promoted to a managerial position. Before his promotion, the leadership team ran him through the People Analyzer and GWC to make sure this was the right move for him. Sure enough, he checked all the right boxes. The CEO felt strongly this promotion would put Nate, who loves the company and embodies its core values, in the right seat.

Fast-forward a few months and both Nate and the CEO are discontented. Nate is struggling with a critical aspect of his role and it’s starting to affect both the team’s morale and the company’s success.

Nate told me, “I can’t seem to understand how to manage inventory. It’s not coming naturally to me and I feel like I’m screwing it up.” The CEO told me, “We ran out of inventory last weekend and that’s simply unacceptable. I can’t understand why he’s not getting it.” They’re both frustrated, and an absolutely essential part of the business is failing. While Nate might still be the right person in the right seat, a difficult conversation about performance was imminent.

They’re never fun, but tough conversations are inevitable if you want to run the kind of company that attracts the best and the brightest. Here are seven important steps that help make those conversations more productive.

  1. Begin by listing some things the employee is doing well.
    CEO: “I want you to know I think you’re doing a great job running the team meetings and meeting your sales goals. Thank you for owning those responsibilities — it has helped me and the company so much.”

  2. State the current problem, including concrete examples.
    CEO: “Making sure inventory remains at satisfactory levels is a critical part of your job, but we’ve run out of our bestsellers twice this month, and that is unacceptable.”

  3. Seek to understand and listen actively.
    CEO: “Can you tell me why we have been running out of inventory.”

  4. Inquire what you can do to help the employee be successful.
    CEO: “I’d like to work together to come up with a plan to help you improve in your inventory management skills. What do you feel you need from me to be successful?”

  5. Address each of the employee’s requests.
    CEO: “Yes, I can arrange for you to have additional training on the inventory management software. I can also commit to giving you more one-on-one time. Please put a recurring weekly meeting on my calendar.”

  6. Reset expectations.
    CEO: “My expectation is that going forward, we will no longer run out of inventory.”

  7. Summarize what you discussed in an email.
    CEO: “Thank you for your time and openness to this conversation. I’d like to summarize what we discussed today. I heard you say you don’t feel you have the tools necessary to successfully manage inventory. Specifically, you’d like more training on the software and more one-on-one time with me, both of which I can give you. You are going to put a recurring weekly meeting on my calendar so we can touch base. My expectation is that you will continue manage inventory and that going forward, we will no longer run out of any of our products.”

Rather than assume the Nates of your world don’t have the chops for the job, address the issue head on as soon as it comes up so you can help set him up to be successful. And whatever you do, don’t avoid difficult conversations. Doing so leaves unresolved issues, growing resentments and disengaged employees, none of which help you take your company to the next level.

Make sure your to-dos pack a punch

Visionaries, this one’s for you.

Recently, while running an L10 meeting for one of my clients, an issue arose that we began to IDS. Some leadership team members’ first instincts were to immediately create to-dos before a) understanding the root cause of the problem, and b) attempting to solve the problem real-time. This is a natural human instinct and I see it all the time.

The issue on the table was whether to develop a project plan for redesigning their current website. Before automatically generating to-dos, I asked the team some probing questions: What are we really trying to solve for? What do we know about why the current website isn’t working? Have we talked to our customers about their experience on the website and, if so, have we really heard what they had to say?

These questions activated an important conversation that ultimately led to the team’s decision to make targeted website improvements rather than initiate a complete online makeover, saving the company thousands of dollars. By inquiring further in real time, we were able to do the important work right then and determine a significant change in operational strategy.

Solving issues during the L10 often involves creating to-dos. And that’s a good thing—it’s a big part of how EOS is designed to work. The trick is ensuring you’ve gotten to the root cause of the issue and created the to-dos that are going to actually help solve the problem. 

In my work with clients, I find that leadership teams can be quick to want to add to the ever-growing to-do list instead of tackling issues head on. They’re not fans of the pregnant pauses that often precede pivotal discovery, so they avoid them altogether by adding a to-do and moving on to an issue that’s more comfortable to discuss or feels more easily solvable.

On top of that, people tend to equate busy-ness with productivity—the more to-dos I have on my plate, the more I must be getting done and the more value I must be bringing to the company. We all know people who seem to work ungodly hours but actually produce very little.

If it’s possible to solve an issue during the L10 meeting in a healthy, constructive way, do it. Visionaries, you’re great at so many things and critical to your company’s success. I could not do what you do. With your uniquely beautiful brain, however, comes a penchant for procrastination. This is why you desperately need an Integrator: Our job is to get to the root cause of issues and create specific, targeted and productive to-dos. Don’t put off until tomorrow what can be solved today.

Rocks aren't enough — you need Milestones

Milestones are well-defined stepping stones on the path to achieving Rocks — smaller, more manageable goals that build toward Rocks.

Milestones are well-defined stepping stones on the path to achieving Rocks — smaller, more manageable goals that build toward Rocks.

What are Rocks?
If you’re familiar with EOS, you’ve likely heard of Rocks. The term “Rocks” is the EOS way of saying “priorities” — the most important handful of things you must accomplish in the next 90 days. Company Rocks are priorities for the company, departmental rocks are priorities for your department, and individual rocks are priorities for individuals. The individual and department Rocks should align with company priorities. 

90 days is too long for Rocks.
Gino Wickman says in his book Traction that people can’t look out more than 90 days, and that’s why Rocks are set for 90 days. In my experience, 90 days is too long. It’s not uncommon for people to discard New Year’s Resolutions after a week, so how can we expect them to stay focused on and committed to something for three months? Most people are more successful obtaining a goal if they break it down into smaller, more manageable pieces.

Milestones are the solution.
The antidote to our very natural, very human tendency to put off tasks is simple: Milestones. Milestones are well-defined stepping stones on the path to achieving Rocks — smaller, more manageable goals that build toward Rocks. Traction briefly touches on the concept of Milestones, but in my opinion, not enough.

Biweekly check-ins are good, weekly are even better.
Milestone check-ins work best when they are biweekly, or monthly at the very least. If you establish an employee’s Rock for 90 days out and, in your L10 meetings, you simply ask that person, “are you on track?” it’s easy for him or her to give a dismissive “yes” without giving it much thought. It’s much harder to do if that person has established Milestones that are being regularly discussed and followed up on.

With my clients, we set weekly Milestones check-ins, often incorporating them into regularly scheduled one-on-ones. This approach is particularly important at the department level, where Rocks meetings are scheduled only quarterly. The discussion about Milestone progress can be brief, but bringing it to the forefront of the individual’s mind is paramount.

Define Milestones using SMART.
That brings me to how a Milestone should be defined. Every Rock should have clear Milestones associated with it. I like to use the SMART goal-setting method* to define Rocks and Milestones:


Example: “By the end of Q3, I will have created and deployed a digital customer satisfaction survey to at least five customers of projects that I managed.”

If your departmental employees have Rocks and you’re only checking in with them quarterly, you’re missing out on some important touch-points. Milestones are the solution, and they will help you and your employees take your business to the next level.

* Doran, G. T. (1981). "There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management's goals and objectives." Management Review. 70 (11): 35–36.

Project Smart was the first website to put the SMART definition online. Shortly after, the site was contacted by George T. Doran's son, Sean Doran, who confirmed that his father had developed the SMART acronym in November 1981.

Pushing EOS® into the departmental level before it’s up and running at the company level, and why that’s a trap

Lately, I’ve been noticing a trend with some of my clients. While self-implementing EOS®, they attempt to push it to the departmental level before it’s fully up and running at the company level. Some businesses have even tried to implement EOS only at the departmental level. Here’s why this is a bad idea.

Business priorities come from the top.
EOS is designed to drive focus and simplicity first and foremost at the company level. The reason it begins at the very highest level is simple: The business priorities and vision must come from the top. How else can each department know if what it is focusing on is right for the business as a whole? The role of each department is to support the company priorities and vision. Departmental Rocks and Issues should flow from the companywide Rocks and Issues.

Give your leadership team time to get on board.
There’s another reason EOS begins at the company level. The business’s vision and roadmap must be fully vetted and accepted by your leadership team before EOS is ready to be implemented into the rest of your company. Sometimes this takes time. You might discover that what felt spot on in the beginning actually needs some tweaking. You won’t regret giving your leadership team time — sometimes up to a quarter or two — to get comfortable with the new business operating system.

EOS is a deliberate, disciplined approach that takes time.
I believe one of the reasons some businesses try to push EOS into the departmental level too early is because they are looking for a magic pill. They’ve heard about EOS and are hoping it can be a quick fix in the departments that need the most urgent help.

EOS is not a quick fix. Rather, it is a deliberate, disciplined approach to changing the culture of your business. It requires patience and determination. If you’re self-implementing EOS, you will want to quit at some point. But if you can firmly embed EOS into your company’s foundation, the benefits of the operating system are monumental.