Ontraport COO Lena Requist Reveals Proven Strategies on How to Build a Productive and Unified Team for Your Business!

Are you struggling to get everyone on your team unified and on the same page? How productive or effective is your team? Are you currently taking on tasks that you shouldn’t be doing, aren’t good at or don’t enjoy doing because you have employees who are not delivering your desired results?

In this interview, Lena Requist the COO of Ontraport reveals how she got her entire team on the same page by clearly defining business terms and having new hires go through a proprietary Driver’s Ed training program. You will also discover how she was able to get her staff to do all of their work in half the time and deliver her desired results!

Lena Requist Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Ontraport

 

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In this Episode You will Discover:

  • How Lena developed a training program to teach her staff to relieve the burden of doing everything herself.
  • Why Lena believes that there are two types of work; business maintenance tasks and project work.
  • Why Lena believes in getting clear on your business maintenance tasks and creating processes for all of them.
  • How Lena got her team on the same page by defining business terms.
  • Why Lena believes in setting clear expectations for your team.
  • Why Lena allows her team to pitch growth projects that help take the organization to the next level.
  • How Lena implemented time blocks for her team to work on specific tasks to mitigate interruptions.
  • How Lena uses a process creator template to document processes.

 

Noteworthy items Mentioned in this Episode:

  1. edX for online courses
  2. Atlassian for team collaboration
  3. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni

 

Episode Transcript:

OWEN: My guest today is Lena Requist and she’s the Chief Operating Officer at Ontraport. Lena, welcome to the show.

LENA: Thank you, thank you for having me.

OWEN: So let’s jump right in. What exactly does your company do and what big pain do you solve for your customers?

LENA: Well, our company is a marketing automation platform and what the pain point we saw for our customers is you have thousands of customers that try to deliver their products and services to the world, but get stopped by technology. They want to be online with a website, they want auto responders, they want shopping carts, they want an affiliate program, they want all these fancy tools that all these enterprise companies are using. But, either they can’t afford it, or their not an engineer, they’re not a designer, and they just can’t take it on themselves. So our enterprise tools for the very small business that is simple to use, drag and drop, a few clicks. And you’re in a business online using the automation tools that are available out in the world.

OWEN: So basically, if they’re trying to automate their marketing and sales, your tool is the place to go.

LENA: Absolutely, yes.

OWEN: Good. And so, my listeners always want to understand the scale of the business. So, how many full-time employees do you currently have?

LENA: Well, we’re at 88 right now that we just hired 20 more. So we’re over 100 officially.

OWEN: Wow, and what was last year’s annual revenue and maybe what you’re expecting to do this year?

LENA: Last year we did just over 8 million, and this year we’re on track to do about 13.

OWEN: That’s awesome. So, you’re the chief operation officer at Ontraport and the interview really is to understand how you guys got to the point where the business is systematized and can run without yourself as well as the CEO Landon. So, let’s go ahead and talk about what was the lowest point in the business and describe how bad it got.

LENA: Well, I guess there’s two different things. I would say like systemizing and the lowest point in the business might be two different things. Definitely, the lowest point in our business is when we launched a new feature early on and we didn’t necessarily have the systems and processes in place to properly QA features early on in their development. But now we do. That was always very challenging, launching new features. But nowadays, I guess probably the biggest challenge. I guess this is the question you’re asking, not necessarily the lowest point. The biggest challenge we face in growing this business is really getting our staff to execute and deliver on their work, and deadlines, and staying on track. And keeping the ship running and moving forward when you have a lot of people and there’s only one leader. And it can become very overwhelming, and keeping track of what everybody’s supposed to be doing, and their deadlines, and their projects, and who’s working on what projects and the different resources you need is a bit too much. I couldn’t keep it all in my head.

OWEN: Yes. During the pre-interview, you even mentioned that when moving from 25 to 26 employees you literally had no more brain space to track everyone’s work. Talk about so the listener can understand what was going on at that point.

LENA: Yeah. So, this was just in 2011. We had 25 employees, it seemed like the ship was running smoothly. We had a bunch of processes that we were operating. And the staff was really awesome. We were a tight-knit group. And everybody was doing their best work. And it was a lot of fun, our business was growing. And then we added just one more employee and it felt like my head exploded. All of a sudden, I just didn’t have any more capacity to remember what everybody was supposed to be doing. I just couldn’t keep track of, this person was on vacation and this person was supposed to deliver this thing by Friday. And this person was supposed to do this and that. Everybody had questions just lining out my door every day. Question, question, question, question. It was just too much.

OWEN: Another thing you mentioned during the pre-interview is that you also needed a better way to train employees on business maintenance task. And I think you also had to explain what you mean by business maintenance task as well to the listener.

LENA: Yeah. So, it was around that same time that part of the problem with these employees and their asking me questions and why I just couldn’t keep track of it all is because I was driving all the projects, I was the one who’s saying, “Okay, you need to do this, and you need to do that” and assigning out all the work. I’m an excellent delegator. And so, assigning out all the work to everybody was great and easy for me. But then at 26 I just couldn’t do it anymore. I needed my staff to be able to drive projects themselves. I needed them to see opportunities in the business and take advantage of them. I needed them to see challenges where things were just totally inefficient and fix them, instead of coming to me and relying on me to do that. And so, part of how the solution to this all came about was I was talking to one of our advisers on the phone and expressing to him my challenge with staff and how I was overwhelmed. They just can’t come up with these projects, and why do I have to do everything sort of thing. I’m sure many of your listeners can relate to that. And he said, “Well, the thing is you just can’t teach people to be drivers.” I guess the Buddha says they’re either floaters or swimmers. And there’s either people who know how to drive projects are people who don’t. And I am a big believer in the human potential. So, I just couldn’t believe that, that was true. And so I took that on as a personal challenge and I said, “Challenge accepted.” And I went to work developing a training program to teach my staff of 26 how to be drivers, and actually how to relieve me of this burden of doing it all myself. And that’s where the Driver’s Ed Series came from.

OWEN: Let me see if I can even make it clear for the listeners because during the pre-interview you mentioned that primarily two types of tasks that you guys are doing, the project space task, remember like launching new features in this project. And then there are the task that were repetitive, which you call the business maintenance task. And the issue you were having especially with the business maintenance task was that there was no training to teach them those repetitive tasks that are going to always keep happening, right? And this is where you now started talking with the adviser who said, “Oh, maybe you didn’t hire the right people in the first place.” And you said, “No, you spend time to handpick and pick this through on. You are not going to fire anybody and replace anybody. And that’s where you now decide that you were going to build the driver’s ed training program, right?

LENA: Yes, that is correct. So, most people think that work is work. All work is the same. But in reality, there’s actually two different kinds of work. There’s your business maintenance tasks with the repetitive work that you do in your business just to stay afloat, right? This is like answering customer service calls, paying your bills, trying to generate new leads. And then there’s project work, which is about growing your organization and taking on new initiatives. So, part of the challenge and especially around systemizing is getting really clear about what your business maintenance tasks are, and separating out the two, and getting really clear about what your business maintenance tasks are. And creating processes for all of them. Because then you can streamline those processes and make yourself really efficient. So, in the driver’s ed course one of the first things we teach our employees how to do is how to reduce their workload of business maintenance from 100% of their time to 50% of their time.

OWEN: Why?

LENA: So they have the opportunity to take on project work.

OWEN: Okay. And the project work is what makes them grow to the next level, am I correct with this?

LENA: Yes, the project work keeps them engaged, that’s why people want to come to work. It allows them to contribute to the organization. It helps them grow to the next level. It allows them to own and drive projects, which was my complaint early on. And is incentive for them to get their business maintenance task done fast and efficiently because it’s a reward. And it’s a huge benefit to the organization because now you have an army of people executing on all your ideas and initiatives, which you thought you probably were the only one who could do. So, it’s really kind of an interesting concept especially if you can imagine almost doubling your workforce without spending a single dime more, because you’re able to get your staff to do all their work and half the time.

OWEN: And that’s awesome. And so, I wanted to take the listener back to at that point where you decided that you wanted to create this driver’s ed training program. What was the first thing you did or how did you go about laying out this program. Can you take us back?

LENA: Yeah, definitely. I probably spend a month or so kind of getting in the mind of the employee. I had a few different employees here that I used as my avatar. I had rock star employees that always did everything right and reported. And I had the ones that were kind of middle of the road, you know, B-rating employees. And then there were the employees that just were like really cool people and a great cultural fit. And had a lot of potential but were lazy. Because we didn’t have any bad employees. Everybody was great. We just had a few people that were a little lazy and maybe lacked the proper motivation. And so, I went through a few of these employee avatars and tried to understand where they were coming from and what challenges– get in to their world and what challenges they were facing in terms of doing their job. And what I discovered was the perception from them that they were constantly being told to jump from task, to task, to task. They were constantly told to change directions. And it was very frustrating for them. It probably felt a lot like an entrepreneur feels like when they’re constantly jumping from fire, to fire, to fire, having to deal with all the things that ticks around their business. It feels a little bit like you’re out of control. It feels like you have no input in your destiny. And you’re just a taskmaster. You’re a glorified assembly line worker.

OWEN: Yeah.

LENA: So, as soon as I got that perspective it was really easy for me to shift it, to take it from that starting point of A to get it to the ending point of B, which is where I wanted them to be. Does that make sense?

OWEN: It makes sense. So you basically understood what the problem was and then create a kind of step-by-step map in order for them to get to the end goal. We’re going to cover that in detail as we go through the interview. But one of the things you mentioned is you made it mandatory for all current and new employees to go through the driver’s ed program, which is now actually taught by the director of education, right?

LENA: Yes, that’s correct.

OWEN: You also mentioned this story that really makes this point of the need for the driver’s ed education thing come across clearly during the pre-interview. You mentioned that story about– can you talk about the story about the kickball team and how you went from losing streak to winning games.

LENA: Yeah. So I like to use this analogy because it’s a funny one. It’s true. So, we have a kickball team at Ontraport, and we’ve had it for years, since like 2010. And for 7 seasons, we lost every single game. And it wasn’t for a lack of having good players or bad players. We had a lot of really athletic people on our team. But for some reason we kept on losing every game, until someone decided that we’re going to do a little practice after work. And they taught the team, they taught us one or two plays, just one or two plays. “Okay, when someone kicks it to this area in the outfield, you’re going to throw it to this base and then to the pitcher, or the home plate, or whatever. This is what’s going to happen when this scenario goes down.” And we practice it, and then we went, and we played the game and we won. We literally had one or two plays and we won the game, it was amazing. And I think that’s what driver’s ed really is for business. It’s like the playbook businesses could utilize. And you practice it every day to win the game in your business.

OWEN: And you also mentioned that your employees to, when you launched the driver’s ed program they actually had some feedback. Can you talk about some of the feedback that they talked to you about after the program was launched?

LENA: Yeah. So we have employees that are right out of high school, right out of college. We have employees that have been in the workforce for 3, 5, 10, 15, 20, or 30 years. And at every level, even our CEO, he went through the course. And it’s amazing. Every single person who comes out of the course says, “I had no idea that it was like this.” I had no idea that taking your tasks and organizing them in a way that we teach them to do in driver’s ed is actually the kind of correct way to do business and the correct way to organize your task in life. And it just makes you super efficient. And it’s just kind of some basic, professional time management skills that you don’t learn in school or in the workforce anywhere. You either figure it out because you’re into that sort of thing, or maybe you took a workshop like Stephen Covey or something like that. Or you just like, it’s a natural thing and you’re just like a weirdo like me who just tries to figure out how to get the most done in the least amount of time. And so, when I shared this and taught this to our staff, every single one of them was just like, “Man, I wish I would’ve learned this earlier. I wish I would’ve learned this much younger because it would’ve made a huge difference for me in school, in work, in my life. It’s a really valuable skill set to have.

OWEN: And so, you shared how the first thing you did was create a driver’s ed program which in a way is a way to map out where they’re trying to go and what it takes for them to get there in terms of the task that they have to do every day. So mapping out the procedures for the month. I’m guessing that’s what that was. And the next thing that you did to– let me even ask it in a form of a question. What was the very first thing you did– this in line with getting people on the same page and making sure that they had the same language. Can you talk about that?

LENA: Yeah. So, that is actually a really important piece in business is that when managing a staff, one of the most important job any leader has is communication. Creating clarity whenever possible. I think that’s probably what I spend most of my time doing, making things clearer for the staff so they can execute on their work. And communication is difficult. Everybody has different understanding. If I say a word, it might mean something different to you than it means to someone else. And so, what we did in driver’s ed is we set-up a word and we defined it. We said, “Okay, this is what a task is, this is what a project is, this is a recurring task, this is deadline.” And we just defined it. It made it really easy for our staff to understand what we’re saying when we talk about things. So now, we have a language that we can use and communicate to each other. So when we say it’s your business maintenance time everybody knows what that means and they can get to work and there’s no confusion. It just ends up saving a lot of time, and people are very clear about what they need to do and there’s no hurt feelings, or drama, or excuses.

OWEN: And you also mentioned during the pre-interview that on top of this you also took to the next why you actually spend the time to detail out job descriptions, so that not only do they know the language and the terms you use, but for each role they play they knew exactly what was expected of them in that role. The basic stuff too.

LENA: Yeah. That’s really important. Expectations is the most– When you set expectations and you make it so clear, you’re creating a bar for your staff to get to, right? And so, if you don’t put that line in the sand, or you say, “Okay, we’re going to go to 7” They might go to 3, or 11, or someplace else entirely, Z, who knows. But if you say seven is what we’re working towards and you set that expectation, then it’s really clear to everybody what they need to do. And in my opinion. every person wants to work at a place and do things that they’re good at, and be acknowledged for the thing– they want to be acknowledged, they want people to say thank you, and this is fantastic, and good work. They want to do a good job. And nobody wants to be told that they failed, or they missed the deadline, or they’re late, or they’re bad, or they’re wrong. So, as soon as you give them the expectations and say, “Okay, you’re getting to 7”, guess what, the majority of people get to seven. It’s amazing, it’s just how that works.

OWEN: And one of the things I like is that not only did you break down the terminology in terms of the types of work– so the first type was business maintenance task which where the recurring task that they have to do. And then, on the other hand there’s other tasks, which you call growth projects. Can we talk about that too?

LENA: Yeah, so growth projects are projects or initiatives that help our organization move forward, it takes us to the next level. It either supports one of our strategic initiatives for our company, it supports one of our quarterly goals. It takes advantage of an opportunity that maybe we’re missing out on. Or eliminates a problem that we’re currently facing. So, our employees actually pitch these projects themselves. I only select like four projects a quarter to be done for the team. But the other 50 plus projects that our organization accomplishes each quarter are all picked by the team. They pitch them themselves.

OWEN: During the pre-interview you mentioned that not only does this help them to grow and get carried to the next level, but they actually make more money as a result of doing these growth projects, right?

LENA: Yeah, they’re gaining new skills, they’re contributing to the bottom line. We had an employee, this customer service rep from Mississippi who moved here. He actually pitched an idea about how to implement our clients. And we thought it was pretty clever. And so, we gave him some resources. And in a quarter he improved our retention by 40%, which is huge in terms of our revenue, this punk kid–

OWEN: So he started from an office engineer, became a graphics designer, and then eventually became an engineer himself.

LENA: That’s right, yeah.

OWEN: Awesome. And that just shows the growth when you incorporate this into the company. So I want to have you talk about how we [Unintelligible 00:22:11] because you said there are two quiet times in the day that you mandate the employees to focus on strategic growth, and growth building projects. Can you talk about how that’s broken down?

LENA: Yeah, so we have 3 hours a day, what we call time block, which is total communication silence. It’s a time that we set aside that’s scheduled. So everybody’s on the same schedule, so everybody’s working in time block at the same time so there’s no distractions. But how this works is have you ever been like in the middle of writing an email, or writing a paper or something and the phone rings, or someone walks in to your office, or you get interrupted several times. And everytime you get interrupted you have to go back and start at the very beginning, and figure where you left off, and you waste all this time and  energy. And so, if everybody is on this kind of schedule where they’re focused on their most important projects, you actually get a lot done in that amount of time because you don’t have any interruptions. And so, we organize our day where we do business maintenance time, during business maintenance time. And everybody does their business maintenance at the same time, and this is where you can ask questions, and everybody’s running around, and sending emails, and doing instant messaging. And then, during out time block, which is focused on growth projects it’s quiet and everybody’s in their seat, or in a conference room if they have to work with someone else, focus on their projects to move the business forward.

OWEN: And so, let’s talk about some of the specific systems that you actually have in place to make the business run without you having to be there. And I think during the pre-interview you mentioned something about having a process for making processes. And I want you to enlighten us on that.

LENA: Yeah. Its sounds funny but we have a process for making processes. So, we have a worksheet that I created called the Process Creator. And it’s a step-by-step process that walks you through the creation of a process. So all of the processes in our business have similar qualities, like they have an explanation why this process is important. They have the steps required to complete the process with maybe links, or Screencast, or pictures so people can follow along, or any appropriate documentation. And they have the reporting structure. If there’s any kind of reports that need to generated and when you need to do this. So, there’s like a template, a format that all of our processes are created under. And so, that way anyone can just pick up our process creator, and go through it, and produce a process.

OWEN: Exactly, the same thing, yeah.

LENA: That’s exactly right.

OWEN: That’s awesome. I love that. As a matter of fact I didn’t ask you before the interview, but I don’t want to put you on the spot. It’s okay if you don’t want to share that with us.

LENA: Oh no, I can share it. Everybody can have it.

OWEN: Okay, great. And also, you mentioned how working with an assistant yourself also helps you– Talk about that. How does working with an assistant within the company help you when it comes to making more systems for the company?

LENA: Well, I have three assistants.

OWEN: Wow.

LENA: And I know many entrepreneurs have a challenge just finding something for one assistant to do. And I think the most valuable thing I have done just for myself personally, not for our organization. But just for myself and my sanity is I have made a process for being my assistant. I have guidelines for being Lena’s assistant. And it’s a several paged document, it talks about how to schedule appointments in my calendar, when to schedule appointments, how to determine when to move things, or when to reorganize stuff, when to ask me about certain things, when not to ask me, what to include in the appointments. And that’s just one item, calendaring. But then there’s also everything in the sun, from like how to interface with the staff, how to collect my to-do’s, how to organize my workload, how to execute tasks that I give to them, everything. And so, before I did this, I could only actually, really work with one assistant because it took years to teach them how I liked things done, and it was a very carefully cultivated relationship that I never wanted them to go. But then, over time it just becomes too much work. And so, when I brought the second assistant on is when I went through. And along with my first assistant we created this document. It’s a working document and it’s evolved over time. But now when we bought the third assistant on she just pulled it up, and read it, and was off and running. There was no training time whatsoever.

OWEN: That’s awesome. My listeners always like it when I ask this question. It’s like in this case now for your business you have an entrepreneur who is interested in automating their marketing now and they’re out there researching who to work with, and then find you guys. Maybe they go from finding you guys. On the other end of the conveyor belt to becoming out there, they’ve used your service, they’re out there raving and shouting to the whole world and letting them know, “Hey, I love Ontraport, you guys should check it out.” But there is this transformation that’s going on behind the scenes, right? And so, I want you to give us a peek as to what’s going on behind the scenes and what systems are connecting to make sure that this person is getting transformed from a potential lead to a person who’s now a customer raving about you guys. What’s happening behind the scenes to make that happen?

LENA: The different systems that we utilize?

OWEN: Yeah, I mean like the different parts that are making that transformation happen, as much detail as you can share.

LENA: Yeah. So, everything is systemized. From how that customer got to us to the moment they filled out a form, to the information they got, to the first phone call they had. The appointment and the first phone call they had with one our reps. Everything up into that point was completely systemized and automated using our software.

OWEN: Awesome.

LENA: So, systemizing is the first step. Once you have process for things then you can get fancy and use software tools to run your processes for you. So, everything up until the first phone call is completely done with our software. And then the rep who’s talking to the person is going through a series of questions that they’re actually completing. We call it discovery and they’re completing the discovery notes. And there’s certain field that we want to get information on so we can determine which training path we need to put our customer on. And  because we have four different training paths based on the type of account set-up, and implementation they need. And from the discovery they go down another automated path and they get a different series of emails and information about the software. They get routed to a different implementation rep who will setup their account for them, stuff like that.

OWEN: That’s awesome. I just wanted to give the listeners some insight to how all this is working behind the scenes to make that person transform, and I’m glad to share that. And so, we’re talking about the great things about systemization. But as you know there has to have been challenges. So let’s talk about some of the challenges that you had initially, and what you did to solve them. So, during the pre-interview you mentioned how employees didn’t realize that some of these tasks were repeatable.

LENA: Yeah. So, it’s challenging. Especially it’s challenging for employees and for entrepreneurs. Everybody thinks they’re unique and special, which they are. Of course we’re really unique, special snowflake. But their tasks are not. Tasks are the same. We’re not inventing the light bulb here. These are things that people do in business all the time. So, what we have employees do to realize this is they carry a little yellow notebook around with them every day, all day long, for two weeks.  And every 15 minutes a little alarm goes off and they have to write down all the tasks that they did in those 15 minutes. And if they look on their list and they see that they did that task before they have to put a little check mark next to it. And after 2 weeks they’ll see something like 80% or 90% of the items on that list were things they did multiple times.

OWEN: I love that strategy. And that’s just literally saying, “Hey, you think what you’re doing is different all the time? If you record it and you have the tracker data to track it you can see it for yourself that it’s really not so– Now, let’s jump into working on creating systems around what you do.” So the next one that you mentioned as a challenge was how it was kind of annoying when people– there’s already a system in place when someone goes in there and tries to change it. Let’s talk about that.

LENA: Yeah, that was like biggest pet peeve for a while. People thought that they were so clever, and they were going to make the system more effective or efficient because maybe there were steps to that print system that didn’t seem worth it, or seem like cumbersome. They didn’t think that it needed to be done. Then they decided to remove them from the process. And then maybe a few weeks or a month, or sometimes even a few months would go by. And then all of a sudden a problem would happen because we put that step in place for a reason. So the problem would always come up. It would always rear its ugly head and of course I would say, “Why didn’t you follow the process?” And then someone said, “Well, we did. It was changed.” And so, we get back to the heart of why it was changed. So now we track all change orders on processes.

OWEN: So you mean it’s basically difficult for people to change without somebody else above them approving of this getting changed, right?

LENA: That’s correct.

OWEN: And given the fact that trying to systemize the business already comes with a lot challenges itself. What kept you motivated to stay and committed to this new direction of always trying to systematize and improve?

LENA: Well, when your business is systemized, you can do a lot of things. You can scale your business, you can track your margins really well. You can make little tweaks to your processes that generate huge increases to your bottom-line. And you can take 2-week vacations and know that your business will still run without you, and can sleep well at night.

OWEN: And so, we’ve kind of given the listeners some insight to some of the things that are going on behind the scenes but the systems you have. But let’s dive in a little bit more. So, what systems do you have set-up that enables the employees to know what exactly they need to do. So, earlier you mentioned of a clear on boarding process. Can you talk a little bit about that?

LENA: Yeah. So, every new employee that starts goes through a new hire training class. So they spend a week in our classroom learning our software and the way we do things around here at Ontraport. So they spend a week in our classroom. Their director of training giving that kind of weeklong orientation. And then, that next week they have what we call role training. So for their specific role, either through an online platform we actually use EdX. They will do–

OWEN: What was the platform, FedEx? Sorry, what did you say?

LENA: EdX.

OWEN: EdX, okay, go ahead.

LENA: Yeah. You can create online courses. And so, our employees go through an online course for their specific role. And so they learn about their role and their department, and what their job description requires them to do, all their recurring tasks, they learn how to do that.  And they start doing it. And they usually have to shadow an employee for a couple of days. And then that employee shadows them while they do it. And within 2 weeks they’re up and running full speed ahead. And then there is a week-by-week kind of initiative process where they have specific projects or task assignments that they have to do every week that we check in on o make sure that they’re gaining a very well-rounded education in their first 90 days. And then, 45 days from the day they’re hired they check in with their manager, and we see how far along they are on this process. That way we can make sure that, A, they’re successful, and, B, if they’re not working out we can end the relationship sooner rather than later.

OWEN: And also, you mentioned that once they’re in– you guys also have a knowledge base or wiki. Can you talk about that specifically?

LENA: Yeah, the knowledge base is where we store all of our processes. So, for every department they can go in and search, and find the process and figure out how to do something if they’re new to that department. So they don’t have to go and ask someone, or bother them. They can just go and search it, and read the instructions, and do it themselves.

OWEN: Yeah, you said you guys were actually doing Google Sites but now you’re moving to– what are you moving to, Confluence I think.

LENA: Yeah, we’re moving Confluence. We recently, like in the last year we started using a series of Atlassian products called Jira. And one of the Atlassian products if Confluence. And it’s kind of like a wiki of sorts where there’s like– like the Google sites where there’s like pages, and meeting templates, and any kind of template that you want. So we use that for all of our processes and role instructions.

OWEN: Awesome. So how do you track and verify the results being delivered by your employees. I think you mentioned during the pre-interview about a ticketing system for all tasks and requests?

LENA: Yeah. So, now we’ve gotten super fancy. So, over the years we’ve taken our task to the next level. So, the task on our processes that can be automated, we have automated using our software Ontraport. And the ones that can’t be automated we create tickets for, which are different issues that we track. So we can make sure that the employee completes it and they completed in a timely manner. So, even with my assistants whenever I assign a task, because you can’t really automate that. Like, “Hey, send flowers to this client because they just had a baby.” You can’t automate that. I actually send it in a ticket. And then there’s a ticket, and when they do it they complete the ticket, and I can see which tickets are open, which tickets are closed, when they got it done. And there’s really amazing reporting on that. So you can make sure that there’s not an employee who’s not doing any work.

OWEN: And you mentioned how, because of the reporting that it’s actually fun for this staff, they can look at stats about their progress. Can you talk about that too?

LENA: Yeah, the second we started sharing the ticket numbers with everybody like the ticket volume and how quickly people get things done. So there’s something we talk about like first reply time and full resolution time. And just total ticket volume. The employee started to create a little competition and started to compete with each other with who had the most number of tasks and who could do it the fastest. And that was just how it started. And now we actually have standards, what’s expected in terms of the number of tasks that get done in a weekly basis, and how quickly people should respond to things and stuff like that.

OWEN: And I like that because especially if it’s like how you call the business maintenance task, which is sometimes repeatable. And if you’re tracking the data you can see how everybody’s working and how long it’s taking them to do that task. And now you have a standing point where someone else is coming in. You can compare their performance to previous data. It’s that kind of what you’re aiming at?

LENA: Yeah, that’s absolutely correct. You could say like, “Oh, this person just isn’t producing the same volume as this other person.” And it’s just very clear and there’s no question about it. There’s no opinions to be had. It’s just like, right there in black and white, this person did 150 tickets and this person did 30, it’s just that clear. And so, you talk to the person that did 30. “Hey, why are you only doing 30 tickets, what’s happening there?” Let’s look at your work habits and improve what’s going on here.

OWEN: And since right now the business– We’ve shared all these with the listeners. The business itself literally runs without you. What’s been the longest time you’ve been away?

LENA: I went to Ecuador this year, just totally disconnected, it was in the middle of the rainforest for 10 days. And then just in June I went to Croatia for 2 weeks, but I had internet access in Croatia. But I didn’t really have to do anything.

OWEN: And just so the listener knows, we’re trying to compare this back in the day. I’m sure back in the day you probably couldn’t even just disappear or disconnect.

LENA: Never. If I even went on vacation, I was working on vacation.

OWEN: I don’t even say anything, enough said on that. So how will you say the company has transformed as a result of systematizing the business?

LENA: I think this is the reason we’ve grown so much, honestly. Yes, it has a lot to do with our product and service because if we didn’t have a good product or service that’s definitely the starting point. But I don’t think we would’ve been able to handle the volume of work, or be able to grow as quickly in terms of being able to service as many customers, or take them on as quickly if we didn’t have these systems and processes in place.

OWEN: And on your personal life, how will you say your personal life has been transformed as a result of systematizing the business as well?

LENA: Well, see, I’m kind of a workaholic.

OWEN: If you love what you do then it’s not work.

LENA: No, you how it’s transformed is like I don’t complain about the little stuff anymore. Like the things I work on are fun. And that’s what’s exciting. It’s fun to come to work.

OWEN: And so, with all these free time that you have, which areas in the business are you now currently focusing on right now and why?

LENA: So, we’re focusing on expanding our service offerings. We’re working on expanding our marketing efforts, we’re working on expanding our target market, and making our software more attractive to different clients. So, I don’t we would’ve been able to take that on if we didn’t have systems and processes in place in order to handle all of our existing customers and leads that we’re currently getting.

OWEN: That’s awesome. And so, the person who’s been listening to this interview up to this point obviously is interested, and they really want to get their business systematized so it runs without them. But what will you say is the very next step that you think that they should take to move in that direction?

LENA: I would say the very next step they should take is the little yellow notepad just for themselves. And I do this actually with my direct reports, my management team. Because sometimes they get overwhelmed and there’s just too much going on. So, I say, okay, start writing down everything that you do, and what you can do too at this when you look at the yellow sheet at the end of two weeks. You can actually see the things that you want to be working on and the things that you don’t want to be working on. And the things that you don’t want to be working on, those are the processes you should start creating now so you can delegate them immediately.

OWEN: Awesome. We didn’t ask you this during the pre-interview because you are the chief operating officer, you’re awesome. I can tell by just talking to you and seen how you’re communicating the information. I’m wondering, if the listener wants to hire a COO, what do they have to look for in a potential COO?

LENA: I get asked that question all the time. And I would say there are a couple of different kinds of operations people out there. And the specific things I would tell people to look for someone that doesn’t have your same skill set. So, for my CEO here Landon Ray, he is very much like a creative visionary. And a lot of entrepreneurs are like that. So, if you hire an operations that is also wants to be like a creative visionary, probably not a good fit. You want someone who is very interested in details, and is more excited in executing a plan.

OWEN: Awesome.

LENA: The next thing I would say is often times operations people have a challenging time giving a long with sales people because operations people are just like, “Oh, well that’s just more work for me to do.” And sales people are like, “It’s for the sale.” And so, that speaks a lot of like different CEO’s and COO’s I know of. And so, what I would also recommend is you want to make sure that your operations person believes in your vision and isn’t going to stand in your way. That they’re going to support your vision because that’s really important. If you have someone who believes in you and wants to execute your plan, then they’ll execute your plan. But if they don’t believe in it then they’re going to maybe not work as hard as they could have, or they might come up with plan B’s instead of a really awesome plan A. And then finally, you want someone who’s a yes person.

OWEN: But does that sound bad to say, I’m just wondering.

LENA: Yeah, you want someone who’s a yes person. You want someone who says, “Yes, and” not, “No, we can’t do that”, or “We have too many deadlines”, or “We have to change everything now.” You want them to say, “Yes, and.” So, when you have someone who says, “Yes, and” then anything’s possible. So entrepreneurs have really amazing ideas and this happens with our CEO often times too. So we’re in the midst of a quarter, and we’re working on our projects, and moving forward on the plan as we’re supposed to. And an exciting opportunity comes along. And he says, “Hey, this is something that we just really need to take advantage of and we need to move quickly.” And my response is yes, and. Yes, and what do we need to shift in the schedule in order to make this happen.

OWEN: That’s awesome.

LENA: And then he can see like, “Okay, these are things that we’re working on, what’s the lowest level priority and where does this fit in?”

OWEN: I love that. And so, what books will you say have influenced this way of thinking and why?

LENA: Right now, I’m totally into reading everything by Patrick Lencioni, wrote Five Dysfunctions of the Team. And he’s a really interesting organizational development consultant. And he really puts into perspective how teams should work together. And so, if you have a team, it really is an excellent read, and he’s very insightful. That’s my recommendation.

OWEN: Awesome, I’ll check that out. And what’s the best way for the listener to connect with you and even thank you for doing the interview?

LENA: They can email me lena@ontraport.com.

OWEN: Awesome. And final question for you because we try to be as exhaustive as possible. But is there a question that you were wishing that I asked you during the pre-interview that I didn’t ask you. And if so, post the question and then answer.

LENA: What do you think the key factors to success are?

OWEN: Go ahead.

LENA: I’m starting to believe, and I’ve just been thinking about this a lot lately over time. I’m starting to actually believe that there are three important factors to success in driving results. And one has to do with leadership of an organization. Obviously, if the leader is weak or is not inspiring then no one will follow, right? It has to do with the follower. The follower needs to be engaged, which is also true. But I’m also now starting to realize that you need to have little wins along the way in order to get the full-blown results you want in order to keep the momentum going and motivation up. So, even if you start a project and all you do is make a project plan, like acknowledge yourself and say, “Congratulations, first step done.” And I’ve noticed that with my team with me and with the CEO, with everybody. When you have little wins the project always succeeds. When you don’t have little wins things are all up in the air.

OWEN: I totally understand that. Celebrate every single point you move no matter how little it is, I totally get that. And so, I’m speaking to you the listener right now. If you have enjoyed this interview all the way to this point, I want you to do us a favor. Go ahead and go to sweetprocess.com/iTunes. And the reason for that is we want you to leave a positive review, an honest review if you really liked this interview. The reason we want you to leave a review is because when you do that other people will check out your review and want to figure out why you left such a beautiful review, and come ahead and listen to the interview. And by getting more listeners and eyeballs checking out our podcast we will be inspired to go out there and get more COO’s like Lena to come on here and share the process of what makes their business successful. And finally, if you are at that point in your business where you’re tired of being the bottleneck and you want to start documenting step-by-step how you get tasks done, well, sign-up for a free 14-day trial of SweetProcess. Lena, we’re done.

LENA: All right.

 

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Here are 3 Steps to Take After Listening to the Interview:

  1. Document everything you do, especially the things you don’t like doing.
  2. Set clear expectations for your staff and help them to get on the same page.
  3. Create a structure for your team members to contribute and add value to the organization.

 

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