Editor's Note: Ryan Markewich (@rmarkcoaching) is an Advisor/Coach/Owner at Rmark Coaching and the Founder/Shareholder of Creative Roots Landscaping. Ryan is a guest contributor to LMN. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.
This article has all the elements of a well-written story - a plot, a setting, characters - along with conflict and resolution, and serves as an introduction to my journey and one of the best things to happen to me during my 26 years in business. And while it’s unlikely it will have you on the edge of your seat, I am hopeful you will be able to gain some insight and relate it to some of your own experiences.
I've chosen to share this because you are likely someone like me who may have started your company with a truck, a lawnmower, and a shovel or perhaps have purchased someone else's well-intentioned dream. Either way, I'm sure your story was, and hopefully still is, accompanied by as strong a desire to succeed as mine has been. I'm telling it because I want the good parts of what I experienced to happen to as many other entrepreneurs out there doing their best to build a better life for all themselves and the others it comes into contact with. I hope you are reading this in a comfortable place, enjoying your favourite coffee, tea, or maybe a cool late afternoon beer while reflecting on your own story. I believe that if there is any chance of making a truly meaningful, long-lasting, positive financial and cultural change in your business, we need to keep an open mind and be willing to challenge our currently held beliefs.
The story that follows is one that started about ME to one that is now about US. It's about harnessing the collective strength of your greatest asset…the people who surround you. It's the missing link, the secret, the connecting of the dots. I hope it piques your interest and encourages you to investigate further making a change like the one I did would be right for you.
The year was 2007, and in my neck of the woods – Kelowna, British Columbia Canada – amongst many others who live in a “microeconomic bubble,” most of the city’s businesses were booming as they had been for many years. I started my business – Creative Roots Landscaping – in 1994, and was experiencing the benefits of a long and positive run in our country's energy sector. One that had baby boomers bringing their hard-earned dollars to our little piece of Canadian paradise to live near the lake, sip on the abundance of locally produced wines, play at world-class golf courses, experience the dry powder on one of two amazing ski hills, enjoy four equally spaced seasons surrounded by nature, and do their best to enjoy the good life. Luxury homes were being built, retailers and restaurants busy, and everything was looking up. There was money in the bank, food on the table, a nice home, a great family, and so many other life privileges. But just as life goes, with every upside there were also downsides.
You see, I was always pushing hard to “make hay while the sun was shining.” I was working a minimum of 14 hours a day and was beyond exhausted. The seemingly endless supply of energy and love for the chaos that had been present in start-ups had, for the most part, diminished. Looking back now that is not surprising as I was dealing with a herniated disk in my lower back and maybe getting 4 hours of sleep per night, the better part of my employees were not as engaged as I wanted them to be and I had a hard time saying no to more work. I fell into the trap of pointing my finger at others for their “shortcomings” and not taking the time needed to look in the mirror to see who was truly responsible. Even more embarrassingly so, I found myself often acting in a manner I don't like to believe was natural for my true character. I felt like I was alone and barely keeping up.
Needless to say, I was oblivious to what I now consider a very obvious and natural law of life and business. That, unless intentionally so and regardless of if the “sun is shining” on your market, or you are trying to survive a downturn in the economy, if you continue to go at something alone and build on a weak foundation for long enough, you will spend the majority of your time trying to fix what wasn't built right, to begin with, and feel as though you are always trying to "keep up". Don’t get me wrong - logically, I knew my problems could be much worse and I shouldn’t be "crying the blues." I had my goals written down and knew that for the most part, I was in control of whatever success or lack of success came my way - but that still didn’t change the way I was feeling and behaving at the time.
(It might be too late to make a long story short, but the details are important, so I’ll get on with it).
I was burnt out and something had to change. My good friend and mentor suggested I look into a (new-to-me) way of running a business called Open Book Management. With nothing to lose and everything to gain at this point, I took his advice and had my “aha” moment. Not long after, I attended a workshop in Springfield, Missouri put on by the pioneers of the business system The Great Game of Business and hired one of their coaches to help me learn The Game. I committed to the process, and have been "Opening the Books'' in my business for over 13 years now. Don’t get me wrong...the road to this point was not a smooth one, and I wouldn’t trade that journey for anything. The most significant transformation and the culmination of playing The Game occurred In the last 4 years as I brought on 3 employee-partners and created a solid plan to scale the business that will include several more in the years to come. By doing this, I am now able to spend my winters in Mexico where I work on Creative Roots Landscaping rather than in it without worrying about employee engagement, profits, or other day-to-day business operations. I maintain a role within the company, just like everyone else, that brings value to the team but is not reliant upon my day-to-day presence to achieve our vision of being a GREAT company. This ensures that if any one part of our team fails, including me, it doesn't bring down the company.
This all hit home in a big way in 2011 when my wife was hospitalized with a life-threatening illness that abruptly, and for several months, took my focus away from running the business. To make things even more interesting, this didn't take place in the off-season, but in the middle of our busiest time of the year. Because I had embraced Open Book Management and built a team of like-minded people, my employees shifted into "owner-mode" and, albeit a little bit rocky, the ship continued to sail, customers were looked after, and the company didn't fall. If I had kept a more traditional command-and-control approach to running the business and not had the transparency and foundation that allowed my team to think and act like owners, the doors would have likely closed, or at the very least, delivered a huge hit to the company.
Open Book Management is a system that doesn’t simply encourage or try to force everyone in the company to think and act like an owner. In this system, employees are given the measures of business success, taught to understand them, and expected – as well as enabled – to act on his or her knowledge to improve overall company performance. Decisions are made with mutually agreed-upon goals in mind and the outcome, win or lose is shared company-wide. This is how you ensure everyone has some skin in the game.
One of The Great Game of Businesses philosophies that has stuck with me is Ownership Rule #1: The Company is the Product; It states that people have to understand that they have a direct role to play in creating the kind of company they want, and creating such a company is their responsibility and the ultimate goal of the business. It is the results of all their efforts.” All that comes from it – the fun, products, services, camaraderie, sense of purpose, community involvement, profits, and so on – all have outcomes, good or bad, related to the behaviours of the people within it.
So…does it not make a whole lot of sense to include your employees, "the players", and arm everyone with the tools and information necessary to understand what the company stands for, what it is trying to achieve, and make plays that win?
I could use a thousand different analogies to help you understand what Open Book Management is all about, but for now, I will leave you with my belief, and my experience, that without a shadow of a doubt, it is simply a far better and more sensible way of operating a business than any other I have come across.
Over the last 26 years, I have been fascinated by business and all it has to offer to improve the lives of the people it touches. From working on the shovel, business visioning, and everything in between, to now being able to share my experiences through personalized coaching services, my goal is to help other owners work on their business, increase profits, have more time for themselves, and find enjoyment in the process along the way.
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