When growth slows down, it may mean that you have a bottleneck in your business. More often than not, that bottleneck will not be some external circumstance or some elusive scapegoat within your systems and processes. Most of the time you – the business owner – turn out to be the bottleneck in your own business. When this happens, it means it’s time to make positive, holistic changes. Ben Baker talks more about this with the founder of Do Good Work, Raul Ochoa. Raul shares his experiences working with small entrepreneurs, big corporations, and his own business experiences. Raul talks about taking a holistic and strategic view to help improve the business. He also shares insights on what businesses may need to do in today’s COVID-dominated world.
I’ve got Raul Ochoa from Do Good Work. We are going to talk about why removing bottlenecks from your business won’t solve your problems. Raul, welcome to the show. We’ve got to get into this. Let’s start the conversation.
What is a bottleneck? Readers, what do you think is a bottleneck in the business?
9 times out of 10, it’s me. You get there. You put your hands where your hands don’t pull up. I have been teaching leaders for years. You hire good people, train them, believe in them. Let them do what they are trained to do. Get out of their way and let them do the magic that they do. Owners of companies, especially small business owners, tend to get their fingers in places we don’t belong. A lot of the time, we mess things up rather than letting the water flow naturally.
It’s pinpointing to the surface-level problem. You are a business owner. You are in every single project. You have multiple projects going at once. You have your fingers in everything. At some point, you do have to. There are also some hidden attributes of becoming a bottleneck that a lot of business owners don’t see, either in the way that they act and behave with their team, the setting that they create, the environment, micromanaging is another way of labeling that. In addition to not trusting the team, you could have the right people and the right procedures in place, those things. If you don’t have those three elements of trust with your team, making sure that you don’t micromanage and have oversight, having the right metrics to check the pulse, then you will be a bottleneck in your business, as opposed to the current definitions that in everything and get your finger on every single project. You are holding the projects up because you can do everything. It’s human nature.
We are going to get into all of that. Before we do, tell the audience a little bit about yourself. You have an interesting background that has got you to where you are, enable you to talk intelligently about all these policies and procedures and how to get out of your own way. Give people some insights about where you came from and where you are now so we can talk about where we are going.
It’s important to note that my experience isn’t just from running companies, growing companies or even owning a company. It’s also coming from working with the small entrepreneurs, mom-and-pop shops to the multimillion-dollar brands, as well as my experience in Corporate America and my education. I used to work with JP Morgan. I grew up there going through school. My education was in entrepreneurship, where everything else in school was easy, like to classes or nothing. One piece of my education was, “You’ve got to start a business every semester. You’ve got to start failing as fast as you can.”
I was in incubators. I learned how to paddleboard. With the Cofounder of Volcom, I learned how to think business strategy with the attorney that was fighting the case for Nest before Google bought them out. It’s interesting to get that level of exposure early on, see trends and themes pop up as I work through my own company as well as with clients and their companies. It’s a unique mix to be able to have that dynamic. It’s something that mentors and friends have been able to help me identify how I can truly help entrepreneurs.
What’s one thing you learned growing up that enables you to be who you are now?
There are a lot but one key thing was my mom telling me growing up while I was doing my bed that, “The lazy person does things twice.”
We always have time to rush through things but we never make the time to do it right because we don’t do it right. We have to do it over again. It’s amazing how many people don’t have the money, don’t have the time, don’t have whatever it takes to do it right the first time but they always have the time and the money to redo things when it’s a panic.If you are right now figuring it out, persisting, persevering, adapting and pivoting when necessary, then you are on the right path. Click To Tweet
It doesn’t mean that it has to be perfect. It just means that you have to at least put all the effort that you currently have with your given resources and circumstances and being prudent about that decision. I’m elaborating based on my learnings on that. If you are going to do something, do it at your best. Do good work.
That’s where Do Good Work comes from. Is that where the philosophy came from? If so, what does Do Good Work mean to you?
The philosophy came from several different exposures to learning early on in my career, life and faith life but it’s all about whatever you are doing, do it to the best of your ability because at the end of the day, success doesn’t mean that you are better than someone else’s, that you are better than who you were that morning. If you can look at yourself in the mirror at night and say, “I gave it my all. I pushed. I did what I could, when I could,” you can’t BS yourself because you are the only person who can, then you did good work. It’s doing that day in and day out. It’s about the actual struggle of going through that. No one is going to applaud you when you wake up at 3:00 or 4:00 AM and for staying up until 2:00 AM finishing projects. It’s being able to have the discipline, focus and maintenance of that through time and overtime. Only you know that. It’s highlighting the struggle behind what people don’t see.
Growing up, I came from a father with a construction background and doing commercial renovations. I grew up from the age of 12 or 13, if not, younger, sweeping job sites, digging holes, getting cigarettes and coffee for the guys. My dad’s attitude was always, “Do whatever it takes to make it right.” I learned that from a very early age. Whatever it takes and do good work are hand in hand. They are two sides of the same coin. It enables us to realize that it’s not our job to compare ourselves with multimillion and billion-dollar companies and do the things that they are doing because we are not them and they are not us. We need to do good work at our level. We need to be able to wake up every morning and be proud of who we are, what we do and why we do it. We don’t need to sit there and say, “Google does this so I have to do the same thing.” That’s not realistic.
That’s installing different frameworks that work for that type of company and assuming that it’s working correctly. Sometimes we assume because someone is ahead of us that they are doing the right things. We start mimicking that when I have seen behind the scenes. It’s like, “It’s not the right thing. Don’t mimic it, three design.”
You have billion-dollar companies that still aren’t profitable. You have these unicorn companies that still haven’t made a profit but on paper, they are worth a billion dollars. It’s all speculation. You sit there, “They are successful. They must be rich. They’ve just got a billion-dollar valuation.” All that means is that people gave them a bunch of money to take part of their company away from them. They have more people than they are responsible for. It doesn’t mean that they are profitable, happy or even successful. It means that they are valued for one shape, reason or another at a billion dollars.
Even the playing field just a little bit because you hit it on the head. I talked to a gentleman who runs a software company here in San Diego. They have valued at unicorn billion dollars but they are profitable. He told me on one of our podcasts, “Everyone in this space, you think they know what they were doing? No one has a clue. They were just figuring it out.” If you are right now figuring it out, persisting, persevering, adapting and pivoting when necessary, taking data in, trust me, you are on the right path.
Let’s take that figuring it out and equate that to the bottleneck. That is a great segue there. You talked about three things. Trust, metrics and what was the third point that you talked about?
Trust, metrics and the culture that you are building as a leader.
They all go hand in glove. Let’s talk about them as the triumphant. Let’s talk about how do we, as a company, realize that where we are being keeping us from being where we want to be. First of all, how do we recognize that as an individual, as a leader, without taking that ego kick in the pants? Once you do realize that, understanding what are the first steps to move beyond that bottleneck and moving into a position where you can move from that $1 million to $2 million, $2 million to $5 million, $5 million to $25 million, $25 million to $100 million or whatever it is that you look as an individual metric for success. How do you move from where you are to where you need to be?
You asked a tough million-dollar question. I love tough and million-dollar questions. The first one was around having the awareness to understand that I’m not getting to where I want to be because of me. That is a very tough question. Once you get that through that level of awareness, the steps to getting to where you want to be, that’s where I shine because that’s not difficult. We can talk about that. There are so many different mechanisms that you can use, including having outside consultants, coaches, mentors and friends. It gives you that mirror. Here’s a tipping point. This is why it legitimately is worth a million dollars a question you asked because I have seen this value for this question. The person who receives that question awareness, it’s their choice to change. If they don’t want to change, you are missing out. I speak from experience here.
When you are looking at that first level of awareness, where is the leader in their pride, ego but also, where are they willing to go? Who are they willing to become? That takes a lot of places up in here in the noggin. It’s more than just introspection but it’s also introspection tied to reality focused on future progress. Those are a lot of work that needs to be done with interpersonal communications, self-relationship, self-views, status worth, etc. Once you have the identity and understand that, “I need to become someone greater. I need to focus on growth. My team needs me to be this person, my community, my impact, the people that I’m serving, the customers and clients.” If I’m willing to accept that and embrace that, it is a level of responsibility. A lot of people shy away from responsibility. When you embrace that, then you can start making the changes.
The changes don’t have to be overly dramatic, which what I really focus on. I focus on two things, simplicity and results. When you focus on simplicity, it doesn’t mean that it’s easy. It means that it’s clearer, easier to understand, to grasp but you can take action on it. The first stage is to untangle the bottleneck. Whatever is happening over here to get to where you want to be is redesigning towards, “Where does that point that we want to be?” Let’s have a case study. Do you have any good idea of a product you want to be taken to the next level?
We could take the podcast host for hire program. For my readers that aren’t aware of it, is we produce podcasts for large enterprise-level companies for internal communication only. We have a lockdown, enterprise-level security program. What we do is we take it from soup to nuts, everything from the strategy, design, all the way through distribution, including being the on-air talent. The challenge with those types of situations is understanding the internal dynamics of the companies that you are working with. The bottleneck doesn’t tend to be with me because I can be flexible enough to understand where people’s challenges are. It’s enabling me to understand how to navigate the internal politics within certain organizations to be able to build the brand champions to see this thing through to fruition.
The reason I like to teach frameworks is that there are a lot of people that teach you the tactics and strategies but they keep you dependent. “What’s the principle behind it so that I can create my own framework?” It’s almost like a drug addict like, “Here’s your new hit.” I know it’s a horrible example but that’s what I have seen. When you look at the framework, “How do we redesign based on these key assets, key players and the end outcome?” Here’s where you have to do you like an idea, a discovery session with the team or with the stakeholders at hand to identify what is the next best plan of action and creating iterations off of that. Now that you have your version one, you get feedback from those key players or internal team members.
Create V2 or Version 2, then you go to market and test it. You have feedback loops to help you along the way. When you do that around iteration 3 to 5, you should be finding something that’s “working.” That process that I just described answers the other question. That’s the process. Figure it out. There is a problem here. There’s a wall that we have to jump. There’s an obstacle like, “I ran tough muddier obstacle courses.” You have to jump four walls under hoops and mud. There’s an obstacle course here. How are we going to go through it? How are we going to get feedback if we are unable to go through it? How are we going to prepare better for the next time they are going to go through this obstacle?
All that’s important. The first thing people need to understand is they need to be clear about what their goals are. From my understanding, everything we the other guests have talked about is that not only do you need to understand where you are but you need to understand where you are going, be able to build that bridge. Take it in bite-sized pieces. It’s the conversation of, “How do you eat an elephant one bite at a time?” If you are constantly saying, “I want to go from $0 to $10 million,” you are probably never going to get there. If you sit there and say, “My goal is to be a $10 million company with 30 employees that does this,” you’ve got the tangible goals and the metrics along the way getting back to your trust metrics and your communication type things enables us to be able to look at benchmarks along the way. Am I right or am I not understanding what you are saying?
You are right. We are talking more boots to the ground, more firm and less abstract. Let’s use an example from the experiences that I have helped companies grow triple in almost less than a year. When you are looking to do that, you don’t just start to the end outcome. You start with what’s the next best step because there’s an intersection. This is something that I’m writing about. There’s an intersection between your responsibility, current things that you are exceptional at and market need. When you find that intersection, you address that head-on and do it better than everyone else is doing, you have market share or wallet share there. We started doing that better. You can identify, “How can I expand the brand deck? How can I expand with new products or services to better service these customers and increase profit margins, increase revenue and increase the team that we build out?”
A good case study was a San Diego-based company. They were in the sports action scene. They only had one product that’s making them go bankrupt even though they were probably world-renowned. The issue was that they didn’t build additional products. They didn’t build out the brand. They just focused on a product feature that didn’t build out lifestyle gear, different types of cameras and those things recently, they did, so they are out of that hole. For a long time, we were looking like, “Are they going to go out of business because they are not diversifying their portfolio and what their offerings are?” An arbitrary company, just for example, if you are doing podcasting.
You have to identify who’s the market, what’s the need, what’s your responsibility, a very heavy responsibility as well as, “What am I exceptional at? What can we do better than most of the competition?” Address that need first. Get results and expand that slowly. As you start building a new baseline, I like to call it a new baseline of growth trajectory, new team members, you can start seeing the horizon from a different view. I’m not sure if you would like hiking but when you go hiking at the beginning, you start at the bottom. Then 1 or 2 hours later, you are 3,000 or 55,000 feet up. You see a different view of the values.Design the journey, do your best but also enjoy it. Click To Tweet
The trees are much smaller. You have a lot clearer view of the horizon. It’s amazing the things that you can see at 5,000 feet that you can’t see at sea level.
When you start doing that, then you start saying, “Now I see the terrain from a different stance. The mountains still there. What else do I need to do? How can I better prepared now that I have become stronger to get to this level? How can we reassemble? How can we readjust and align to that vision? What are the other things that we can service for these customers?” Those are some of the questions to look at. This is going more around strategic level thinking. The bottleneck of your business, the first thing is to get out of the day-to-day in the driver’s seat and be able to view everything from a holistic point of view. When you start looking from a holistic point of view, you can start seeing areas that, “That’s a weakness that I didn’t see in the past. Let’s solve that.”
Let’s take a look at a real problem. This is the problem that I’m seeing in hundreds, if not thousands, if not millions of businesses nowadays. There’s a bottleneck that’s causing this and understanding what the bottleneck is and how do we resolve it? We have gone from being in a position where you had very successful businesses in 2019. Everybody worked side by side. They had very effective communication, policies and procedures that worked, they were humming and COVID came. People got sent home with a look, prayer, Band-Aid and duct tape. Leaders, technology and people were unprepared for this system, processes, etc. How do we move forward? We have been in a situation where we have done stuff. It’s COVID. We will deal with it for now. We are at a stage where the Band-Aids and duct tape come off. We need to figure a way forward where not everybody has ever been returned back to the workforce. How do we make sure that we are not creating bottlenecks and enabling a new set of policies and procedures to evolve that will allow us to thrive due to the noose sense of what normal will become?
It’s a real one that I have had to work through with clients. I want to break this into two because you identified two key areas. The first being communication and the second being personnel, making sure that we have the right team to execute the right things in the right order. Going back to the communication, I hit principles here. What I like to call it is shortening the gap between information and action. I will give you a real example. When you can set the principles of shortening the gap between what information is in translating that into action and being able to do that at a quicker velocity or the velocity that’s best for your company and your team’s cadence, you have something valuable that transcends in-person versus remote work.
I had a client’s voice still in person. They have an office but now some of their staff are going remote. I’m like, “How do we transition to these remote departments that are going to be led by this leader? How are we going to have that communication? How are we going to make sure that we are doing things right?” We set things up in a way where all of the communication, meaning threads, emails, Slack, we have been able to translate that into one centralized port of communication where all the team has access to, as well as leadership has direct access to private communication. Sales have access to private communications, directors and even managers have their own private lines of communications. When you centralize that, that’s 1 part of the 3rd.
The second is having information that either you can use now or you can store and use in the future. When you centralize that and have the right access and people, then you never say, “Ben, knocking on your door. Can I get this PDF worksheet? Can I get these logins because I need to go do this X, Y and Z?” They were, “Let me go and find it for you.” You then spent two hours trying to find it. That’s when you have already in the get-go, a system in place. This is what a system is like. It’s not technology. It’s just as the framework in place to have those two things.
The last piece is action and making sure that you are tracking the key company initiatives, knowing who’s doing it, how it’s being done and know that it’s being done correctly. The information that you provided is, “This is how we do things around here. This is the level of excellence that we expect.” When you have those three things marry together, you can use different stuff. I don’t care about the tools you use. You can use different software or whatever your team is comfortable with. This is adapting to what your team works best in. If you follow that principle and framework, you can create cohesiveness between departments, between teams, as well as get things done faster. I care about speed. I’m an entrepreneur. Speed is my second language. Get things done faster but get things done right. That’s one of the most important pieces to have. That’s a huge hurdle.
With small teams, 15, 20, it’s not that hard. In larger teams, when you’ve got 50, 100 up to 200 people, that’s a bigger beast to move. I have noticed the setup time to get things rolling in that direction. That’s what I’m helping teams do. It’s a little bit slower and harder but it’s the same principle. It’s adapted to a wider scope, making sure that there’s buy-in from every key stakeholder and team member to implement that. The first piece that you just asked around, “How do we make sure there’s communication? How do we make sure that our team is still there?” The real question is, “How am I going to make sure that I still have a team?” It’s a human question. A computer screen is not a team. I’m in my room by myself. “How do I make sure I still have that?” There are different elements that you can include but that’s one of the key frameworks to executing your work.
Interestingly, you use the word team because there’s a big thing going out, “Are we a team or a family?” There was a big thing that says, “We are not a family. It’s company. We are a team.” Your families are a dysfunctional team. The family tries to get away with stuff. The family has different sets of rules but a team is all sitting there, looking at saying, “What are the objectives that we are trying to move towards? How do we create effective policies and processes to make sure that we achieve our objectives?” With families, the objectives can get muddy with personal relationships, etc. That rule runs into different things with trust issues.
I wanted to diverge and get back into trust because trust and bottlenecks seemed to be a big issue. Sit there and say, “How do you get people beyond the fact where they think they are out of sight or out of mind? I don’t trust them.” To the point that says, “They may not be working from 8:00 to 5:00 anymore. They may be working from 3:00 to midnight. They might be working from 6:00 AM until 11:00 in the morning, taking a break to one, then working to 6:00, then on 8:00 to 11:00, depending on what their particular schedule is and if they are working remotely. How do we get leadership to understand, trust the people and be able to build in the flexibility to allow people to accomplish tasks instead of you will be there for X number of hours on a daily weekly basis? We are not in that stage of reality anymore. It’s time-based work. It’s all about outcomes.
Even when I hired, even teams that I have helped grow, I stopped counting at twelve, different time zones. I don’t care if it takes you twenty hours to do this. As long as the results are there and you are happy and we are happy, we are good. To answer your question, there are two real ways that I found. One is better than the other. It depends on the person that we are working with. Let’s first define the statement, “I don’t trust you.” Leaders are not going to say that. They are not going to say to your team, “I want to group huddle here. I want to look everyone in the eyes and tell you I don’t trust you.” They don’t say that. They say it their actions. How? “I’m going to need a report every single day knowing exactly what you did. I’m going to need you to log your hours. Anything over the 42-hour mark, I’m going to need to get a report exactly what that was. I’m going to need you to set up and attend these meetings and tell me what you are working on.”
They might sound like an exaggeration. Those are some ways that I have heard and seen, keystroke logging or even saying, “I’m recording you now. Your heat map and everything that you are looking at. This is my computer. It’s my technology. It’s my ownership.” These are from real companies. I’m not making this up. This is from real leaders. I understand that you want to have control. There are two ways of really doing this and one is more rudimentary. This might sound a little bit harsh. The other way is a little bit more tactical and ofter. The first way is, if the leader is adamant and does not want to change and you have tried to try to come to their senses, you’ve got to let them fail a little bit but not fail so hard where they fall on their face and it hurts other people.
That’s tough love to because they are not going to learn and say, “This is not going where we want it to be going.” How long will that take to get results? It might take 3 to 6 months. Is that ideal? No. Is it ideal to change behavior? Perhaps, depends on the personality. The best way of doing this is to work with that leader and navigate the conversation where they believe that they are coming out with the outcome themselves through using some of Chris Voss tactical empathy, moving emotions, using rationale, actual outcomes and finding a solid ground where we can have cool. If they do these things, you don’t have to worry. I will give you these metrics and reports every week, done by the outcome of their work and you will be able to see that and measure. This is just the micromanagement that we are sharing.
Who likes those reports and be able to have certainty? What they want is they want to feel like they are in control and that’s okay. Usually, for entrepreneurs and business owners, you gave life to this company. I get that level of ownership, high respect. Know that level of control isn’t going to help not only you but your team. If you are treating them like a hired work of hands, you are missing out on the hidden talents that they can bring to the table and help them shine and grow. Every single company now can do a little bit more in the human department and being able by the way of changing your thinking, attitude and culture. You can enhance productivity. I don’t know what level of percentage but I can guarantee you it’s going to go up by doing a different approach that enables them and empowers your team to do their work better at their best. It’s significantly different from them doing the work what you think needs to happen, how you need to happen. You are now a bottleneck again because you hired someone who’s supposed to be smarter than you to execute that work.
From $0.01 point of view, as a bottleneck, if you are spending all these times reading these keystroke reports or these management reports, you focus totally on these reports, micromanaging and all the metrics that go through it, you are spending hours and hours each week micromanaging rather than spending the time with your customers, coming up with the next big idea or enabling the company to grow. You are that bottleneck because you are so focused on micromanaging, on not trusting these people and allowing them to do that all you are doing is putting yourself in a position where you are using your high-value time, doing low-value work. That comes down to the crux of the matter.
Even going as far as not even checking and they have another assistant or some technology checking. At the end of the day, that extra redundant work that your team has to do, the number that is $ 0.01. That takes it away from their activities. Those activities can either be supporting customers or getting new customers, which are the most important activities in companies.
This has been a fascinating conversation. We will make sure that everybody knows how to get in touch with you and has all the links to you. I have one question that I asked everybody as I let them out the door. As you leave a meeting, get in your car and you drive away, what’s the one thing you want people to think about you when you are not in the room?
Have fun and do your best.
That is probably one of the most insightful answers I’ve got. I’ve got 270 plus answers at this. I have never had somebody say have fun.
You have to enjoy the journey.
Enabling your customers to have fun because people in business take themselves way too seriously. We all need to sit there and go, “For most of us, it is amazing how we live our lives and we don’t enjoy what we do.” That’s critical.
It’s important for you, your team, your customers. Design the journey, do your best but also enjoy it. If not, it’s going to belabor that’s not fun. I don’t want you to live that life.
Raul, thank you for an amazing conversation. Thanks for being such an amazing guest. I learned a lot. I’m sure my audience does as well. I can’t wait for you guys to continue conversations offline.
I appreciate you. Thank you.
Raul Hernandez Ochoa is a business strategist, coach, and consultant. He has trained hundreds of entrepreneurs through live seminars, online programs, and private masterminds. He’s played a key part in helping scale businesses and has overseen hundreds of online advertising campaigns. His work has helped positively impact the lives of his clients and the teams he’s helped flourish.
He lives in San Diego and is loving life with his family. When he’s not working and drinking a homemade cold brew coffee, he’s either serving his community and Church, training for a crazy obstacle course race, or simply surfing.
My goal is to help entrepreneurs get “un-stuck” from their business & scale their impact so they can leave the legacy you were created for.
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