All journeys start with the first step. For James Delaney and Patrick McKenna, partners at DMi Partners, a fast-growing digital marketing agency in the Greater Philadelphia area, that step was a decision to implement a business operating system and hire a coach.
So, they reached out to other entrepreneurial CEOs in their network who had successfully grown their businesses. After exhaustive research, (James and Patrick are very thorough as I’ve learned over the time that we’ve worked with them), they chose Verne Harnish’s Scaling Up.
James shares, “We read the book and went to the website. We knew from talking with other CEO’s that Verne’s system would give us a formula for establishing and implementing a three-year plan for growth. We also heard how essential coaching support was for success. So, we started calling Coaches.”
They kicked off their Scaling Up journey in the Fall of 2018.
Their “First Year” was challenging, but also illuminating. Initially, like many small mid-market companies, they struggled with the challenge of running an existing business while installing a new Operating System. Ultimately, however, James, Patrick, and their entire leadership team learned a great deal, about growing a robust company, and becoming more Enlightened Leaders.
About Growing a Company and Being Intentional
“At a minimum,” starts James when I ask him what lessons the first year of ‘Scaling Up’ taught him, “it requires a commitment to embark on this journey. You can’t just make a decision and then sit back idly. You must be intentional.”
He pauses, then adds, “There is a treasure trove of knowledge on leadership that Scaling Up unlocked for me; there are so many tools out there to facilitate growth as a leader and to fortify leadership teams. Working with a Coach who can point us in the right direction has been critical.”
“Scaling Up requires a commitment to embark on a journey. You can’t just make a decision and then sit back idly. You must be intentional.”
About the Four Decisions Framework of Cash, People, Execution, and Strategy
Learning about the Four Decisions framework was also a vital component of success for DMi the first year.
James relays: “From a Cash perspective, I came to understand new metrics that reveal so much more than just good financial statements. Whether it’s [Greg Crabtree’s] Labor Efficiency Ratio calculations or measurement of unit economics, these metrics to guide decision-making and inform our strategy.”
“From a People perspective,” he continues, “We learned how powerful it is to have a strong, collaborative, well-aligned Leadership team. We also honed our ability to foster a more engaged workforce and developed strategies for finding and retaining A players.”
James and the team worked with Gallup to measure their engagement and are using the Q12 to benchmark and improve their scores going forward.
As for Strategy?
“Strategy doesn’t happen quickly,” James acknowledges. “It needs to be constantly and painstakingly evaluated and considered in the setting of what the market is doing. One of our biggest lightbulb moments was realizing how incredibly valuable it is to get feedback proactively from your customers.” He pauses, then adds with a smile, “customers really do give you feedback when you ask them directly. That feedback offers valuable and actionable information that you can then use to discover strengths, identify core competencies, and refine and recommit to your Brand Promise. It’s a wealth of knowledge when it comes to honing your Strategy.”
About Execution Disciplines to Keep on Track
“From an Execution standpoint, we learned how vital, regular rhythms are. Primarily that’s meeting rhythms, but it’s more than that,” shares James. “It’s giving yourself time to evaluate and reevaluate components of the Plan. Establishing regular rhythms provides the space to do the work and accountability necessary to achieve the Plan.”
James and the team implemented the Rockefeller Habits structure for Annual, Quarterly, Monthly, and Weekly meetings, and Daily Huddles for both the Leadership Team and each Division. Company-wide meetings are held on the 1st of the month; Friday afternoon meetings are a venue for shoutouts and end-of-week celebrations.
“The things that bubble up out of the Daily Huddles are shared on Friday,” says James, “and that helps to keep everyone focused and energized.”
About the Critical Number and Accelerating your Progress
James and the team also saw how impactful it could be to rally the entire company behind a Critical number.
“It was one of our biggest levers for gaining alignment and teaching everyone in the business about the business model, and what decisions make a difference,” James reflects. “The dividends of getting everyone behind a unified cause can’t be overstated.”
In one Quarter the team focused on talking to current clients about other services DMi offers. In another Quarter, the team reached out to personal and professional networks to talk about opportunities for growth and how DMi could help.
“[The Critical Number} was one of our biggest levers for gaining alignment and teaching everyone in the business about the business model, and what decisions make a difference.”
“It is incredibly satisfying and energizing to have everyone in the company working towards a common goal. First, it offered a mechanism for recognition — in addition to Daily Huddle shout outs, emails went out to the whole company acknowledging individual contributions to the goal. Second, it fostered a learning environment. Now, everyone in the company can confidently sit down and have a conversation about what DMi does. And this knowledge is accelerating our progress and our ability to implement our growth plan.”
About Himself as a Leader and his Relationship with his Partner
“I enjoy the responsibility of keeping the leadership team healthy and aligned. I find it very rewarding to harness the collective brainpower of the team and the company as we work through problems and challenges. And, I’ve found that by diligently preparing for meetings and fostering participation, I can significantly impact the team and DMi on the whole.”
One of James’ goals for the Second Year is to strengthen his ability to run meetings and hone his facilitation skills. “I want to learn how to create an environment that will allow the team to come up with the best solutions in the most efficient manner possible.”
“We have the three-year plan that we wanted and feel good about it. We hit both our gross profit and net profit goals and are planning to grow even more over the next two years.”
As for what he’s learned about the ingredients of a successful partnership?
“It’s clear to me the company would not be as far along in this process were it not for Patrick. It would not be possible to enumerate all that he does. His support has allowed me to focus the majority of my time assuming an Integrator Role, which enabled us to accelerate the implementation of the Operating System.”
About Achieving Results and Continuing the Journey
I asked James what he feels most proud of as he reflects on the first year of their Scaling Up implementation.
“First and foremost, we have the three-year plan that we wanted and feel good about it. We hit both our gross profit and net profit goals and are planning to grow even more over the next two years.”
He smiles before adding, “And I deeply appreciate your ability to be a go-to resource for us. Anytime I asked, “How do I learn more about this?,” you had a vetted, relevant resource, or person, or article to offer. CEO Think Tank ®’s Brand Promise of giving me back my time played out in that way, and as such, has been incredibly valuable.”
So what’s next?
James and Patrick are incredibly confident in the leadership team they have put together. And their ability to execute. “Patrick and I trust the team, the Plan, and the team’s ability to execute on the plan to accelerate our growth in the coming years. We’re both looking forward to what we can achieve together.”
Tags: Business advice for the mid-market, Executive Education for Small Business, Leadership Development in Philadelphia, Overcoming small business challenges, Small business advice, Strategic planning for small business