Imagine commuting across the country on a weekly basis and actually missing it when you don’t have to make those trips.
That’s how Erik Church feels sometimes. As the President and COO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, he splits his time between the company’s Toronto and Vancouver offices. (Full disclosure: Erik is a good friend of mine, and I previously held the COO title at 1-800-GOT-JUNK?.)
That gives him almost nine hours each week of uninterrupted time to read, research, and think.
“If I miss a week of commuting back and forth, it’s rough,” he admits. “It’s highly scheduled, regimented time that I use.”
Why is that time at cruising altitude so important? Because Erik spends his time on the ground developing 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and the other brands in the O2E family, whether that means working closely with CEO Brian Scudamore or coaching other team members to enhance the business alongside their own professional growth.
Erik has an extensive background in business operations. Previously, Erik led EF Education Canada, the largest privately-held education company in the world where he was able to double the company’s profits during tough economic times. Prior to that served as Senior Vice President at EONS, Senior Vice President for Student Online Solutions, and Vice President at Plum Traders. He’s also been a franchisee himself, having owned a College Pro painting and window-cleaning franchise.
When we chatted for the Second in Command podcast, Erik stressed the importance of looking to the future of the business and planning for a specific reality. Here are a few lessons he shared for developing that reality in tandem with the CEO.
Imagine ‘the painted picture’ to plan for the future
The “painted picture” is a valuable tool that 1-800-GOT-JUNK? leadership uses to encourage the company to think big and make tangible plans for achieving its goals. Back when I was at the company, Brian and I learned some powerful team motivation strategies from an Olympic coach. I codified it in a book, “Vivid Vision.” Here’s how Erik describes it:
“What is it going to look and feel like when we’re standing at that moment, in that time when the painted picture is dated? We paint it four or five years out, and it is painting the picture of exactly what it looks and feels like to be in that moment.”
The power of the “painted picture” is that it can guide any team member forward. Rather than look at numbers as the only measure of success, the “painted picture” offers a framework for considering the entire atmosphere of the organization, including customers and their experiences.
Once you’ve designed the painting, you can work backward to develop strategies to achieve the goals necessary to create that look and feel for the company.
“We use that as a barometer of the things to say ‘yes’ to and the things to say ‘no’ to,” Erik says. By having a clear vision of the path ahead, the company has a better idea of what it can say “no” to.
Do succession planning — early and often
Erik stressed the importance of sharing a company’s culture from the first day of onboarding an employee. But as an employee gets settled into their role, succession planning becomes a focus.
It may seem presumptuous to think about an employee’s next step just as they’re starting out or while they’re satisfied in their current role. But fostering internal talent is crucial for a company like 1-800-GOT-JUNK? that’s experienced rapid growth. When Erik joined the company in 2011, 1-800-GOT-JUNK? brought in about $100 million in revenue; by early 2018, annual revenue had climbed to about $365 million.
Erik says it can take “the better part of a year” to hire someone from outside and get them comfortable in their role. “If you have the ability to grow and develop people internally, you can grow much more quickly,” he says.
But before someone can find their next career step at 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, they have to figure out who will replace them, Erik advises. “The reality is the next opportunity will never exist unless they can develop people below them,” he says.
By focusing on coaching and team development, employees can prepare their potential replacements as they prepare themselves for their next move. They complete performance reviews and professional development reviews to facilitate this holistic growth.
Erik, too, seeks feedback to help him grow — both from people he works with directly and from an outside coach who keeps him accountable. Making sure he gets time one-on-one with Brian is essential, too.
While quick meetings are good for solidifying decisions or reviewing goals, Erik and Brian plan an entire day each month to review strategy and progress so they can dive into longer-term planning for the company.
Then at least quarterly, they spend time together outside of the office, which can “free up your mind a little bit” and help you see things from a different perspective, Erik says.
Embrace ‘two in a box’ leadership, but avoid crowding!
Although Erik and Brian have a close relationship — it’s really more like a good marriage, honestly — they both have distinct roles in running and growing 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. While Brian is the face of the brand, Erik thrives behind the scenes as the company’s internal-facing leader.
Erik cites the concept of “two in a box” leadership from the book “Rocket Fuel,” in which the CEO and COO exist at the top of the organizational chart, but have them “in one box with an angled line across the middle.” It’s not a model that works for every CEO/COO relationship. But for Brian and Erik, it’s a perfect fit.
“We spend time to go through all of the ideas,” Erik says. “The transformative ideas that we get for our organization come from Brian…What my role is and anybody who works with the founder is to let the founder be creative. Take the vision of where it can go. Our job is to figure out — can we make it scalable? And can we replicate it?”
But none of that idea development and refinement is possible without a strong team, and Erik wants other COOs to know how important that is for growth. It’s perhaps what he’s most proud working on 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and the other O2E brands.
“I’ve built a strong team,” he reflects. “I brought people from the outside that believe in people, believe in empowering people, believe in developing people.” And, just like in the painted picture, he’s offered them a vision: “Not just for the company, but providing a vision for what growth of the individual means.”
This article is based on an episode of Second in Command podcast, where your host Cameron Herold interviews the chief operating officer behind the chief executive officer to learn their tips, systems, and insights from being the second-in-command of an amazing growth company.