I often get asked by people if they can buy me a cup of coffee to talk about how Wil Heupel and I started Accredited Investors Wealth Management and, with the help of all our past and current co-workers, grew it into a firm with over $2.3 billion in assets and over 50 employees. These requests are both difficult to turn down and impossible to accept.

In response, a few years ago we created the Be Our Guest program that allows professionals to spend time with us. A $1,000 donation to the Foundation for Financial Planning gets you a day in our office, when we go through everything we do and supply you with the materials and agreements we have developed over time. The staff members leading various initiatives will take you through everything including our hiring, compliance, technology, investment management, client service, specialty areas, planning process, marketing, culture, stock sales and anything else you can think of. The day is interactive—we encourage guests to talk with any of the employees they wish as well as share some of their own best ideas. We are holding our next session in our offices on June 16 (a nice time to visit Minnesota). We limit the attendees to 20. While $1,000 is more than a cup of coffee, the information is stronger than the most compelling dark roast. Please consider attending.

One of the things we have incorporated into our practice this past year is “EOS”—an “entrepreneurial operating system” based on Gino Wickman’s book Traction and the parable book Get a Grip. It has been transformational for us, and I want to share some things that we have learned from it.

The EOS was designed to use “simple concepts and practical” tools to advance three things—a vision to get everyone in the organization on the same page, a system that instills focus and accountability, and a way for organizational leaders to speak the same language in a way that’s healthier and more effective.

We chose to take this on not because we were having problems but because we have done well and are coming to some key inflection points—transitioning leadership and ownership and hiring from a variety of backgrounds (and thus creating more complexity). Also, we have espoused a belief that everyone in the organization contributes to the growth and success of the company.

It’s easy to make changes in an organization when things are going poorly because you have no choice. It is much more difficult when things are going well because you don’t want to upset the applecart. The problem, though, is that at the bottom of the cart there may be some rotting apples that success covers up. The other thing that success breeds is overconfidence and complacency—two harbingers of doom for service organizations.

Structurally, our firm has 10 shareholders and a six-person executive committee responsible for the day-to-day running of the business. Currently, everyone on the executive team is a shareholder, but that does not have to be the case. While ownership and management are separated, all owners have areas of responsibility, which may include managing others. This is an important point because each shareholder is a significant contributor to the development of the firm, and yet had to get comfortable that a smaller group was making decisions for them. They subjugate their egos in order for this to work. The paradox is that we all need healthy egos to be successful—yet an inability to manage egos destroys growth.

In each firm using EOS, there are generally two set positions: a visionary and an implementor. In our firm, I have always been the person who is better at thinking about 10 years from now than thinking about 10 minutes from now. Wil is great at looking at ideas I have come up with and trying to figure out how to integrate them in the firm—or how to let me down easy.

Key Decisions
We made a couple of key decisions before we got started. First, we chose to hire an EOS implementor to get us going. This is someone familiar with all the aspects of the “operating system” and keeps us on track. I don’t think it would have worked had we initially tried to do it on our own. We would have come up with a hundred ways to change what had already proved to work with our own new “improvements.”

Our implementor led all the shareholders in a one-day EOS off-site meeting and then just the executive team the next day. Every quarter, the implementor would lead us in a daylong review of how we did on the quarterly things we set out to do (these goals are called “rocks”) as well as various vision-setting, staffing and goal-setting work to determine our next quarter’s direction. We are coming up to one year on using the EOS and are using the implementor for day one of our review and starting on our own for day two and future quarterlies.

Using an implementor to get started was expensive, frustrating … and necessary. EOS is a new language, and the best teacher of a language tends to be someone who actually speaks it! It was frustrating because the implementor kept pushing us forward rather than indulging us in belaboring things on which we would get stuck. We found that by moving forward, we wouldn’t ignore the things that had been brought up; they would be placed in a parking lot to tend to in a different quarter. The implementor made sure that we could focus on the things that would lead us to our one-, three- and 10-year objectives, with progress judged quarter by quarter.

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