Today’s special episode features clips from various podcasts Cameron Herold appeared on as a guest speaker. Cameron has spoken on several different podcast shows, but the ones we’re sharing today are from the following:
- Joe Polish – Click here for full episode
- Orange Label – Click here for full episode
- Systems Simplified – Click here for full episode
- Bigger Pockets – Click here for full episode
In This Conversation We Discuss:
- The origin of Cameron Herold’s Vivid Vision®
- How companies manage the evolution of their Vivid Vision® over time
- The misunderstood role of the COO
- How to surrender control to your employees and trust them with their tasks
Get Cameron’s latest book: The Second in Command – Unleash the Power of Your COO
Subscribe to our YouTube channel – Second in Command Podcast on YouTube
Get Cameron’s online course – Invest In Your Leaders
I want to share highlights of several shows that I have been featured on. I hope you enjoy this episode.
Where did you first start this? Where did you come up with the idea that this is a good thing?
I got exposed to this idea back in 1998 in Vancouver. I was a part of the Entrepreneur’s Organization, which was the first mastermind group I ever got involved in. One hundred and twenty entrepreneurs got invited to the lunch and only sixteen of us showed up. We were meeting with a high-performance Olympic coach and sports psychologist.
He talked about looking into a crystal ball and we thought this was the stupidest analogy we’d ever heard. We are like, “This is going to be the biggest waste of our two hours. It’s going to be a day I’m never going to get back.” He talked about how high-performance athletes would visualize themselves performing the event and how they would literally picture themselves performing the event. We have all seen the athletes like a high jumper. It is the one that I always remember in the Olympics.
You can see them out at the edge of the track with their eyes closed. They are literally in their mind going up over the bar and they do it 1 or 2 times. They open their eyes, go back on their heels, and run. They are literally now recreating the vision that they have done thousands of times in their mind so that when they are performing, they perform completely on instinct.
He explained how athletes did it, then we talked about how contractors did it, and then we understood if we could take this idea and bring it into the business world, our employees could recreate our goals as well. Is that Michelle Partridge laying on the call? I don’t know if she’s a former or still a franchisee with 1-800-GOT-JUNK?.
Imagine that. I didn’t want to spoil the surprise, but we have got Brian Scudamore with us. I was texting him and telling him we are doing the thing with you and he’s got a hard out at 3:00.
Brian and I were at that very same lunch together.
I wondered if that was exactly the thing.
Brian and I and a third friend of ours were at the same lunch. Brian is the one that put it in place better than anybody calling it a painted picture. Brian, do you want to tell your story of how you took this idea and ran with it?
Cameron and I are still best of buds. It’s nice to see you in your home and, Dean, I see you got a horse for sale. Maybe the quick-painted picture story for me. I was in a doom loop as Jim Collins describes it. That meant some depression and wondering what the heck was going on in my business and if I wanted to grow my business or if I even could.
From 1997 to 1998, I’m at my parent’s summer cottage. I was a part of EO. You had to have $1 million in revenue to get in. I got in even though I didn’t finish high school and college. This was going to be my education was EO. I was in a doom loop because I thought it took me eight years to get to $1 million in revenue. I don’t necessarily love the junk business. Nothing sexy about it whatsoever. I saw people in EO that had way bigger businesses. I was comparing myself to others. I don’t recommend you ever do that. It’s not healthy.
EO says, “If you are trying to solve a creative problem, go somewhere that inspires you.” I go to my parent’s summer cottage. I sit on the water. I pull out literally one sheet of paper, double-sided, and I started talking to myself. I said, “No more doom loop. Think of pure possibility. You are an optimistic and happy person. What could the future look like if only you could imagine it?”
It’s very Jerry Maguire-ish but I started to feverishly write this one page, and I never changed a word. It started with, “We will be in the top 30 metros in North America by the end of 2003, five years out. We would be the FedEx junk removal, clean shiny trucks, and friendly uniform drivers. We would be on the Oprah Winfrey Show.” I described in vivid color what the business would look like.
As I started to reread my painted picture, I looked at this and I’m like, “I inspired myself. I could see pure possibility. I got jazzed and excited. I got goosebumps. I can see this. No more doom loop,” but I didn’t know how to make it happen. Fast forward a little bit. I started sharing it with people around me. People like Cameron. We sat on the back deck of my house at that time and had a couple of Boddingtons beer. I remember Cameron and others said, “You are on crack and smoking some hope dope here. You are not going to get on Oprah and have top 30 metros,” and a lot of advisors said it can’t be done.
The magic was Cameron and I, in 1998 or 1999, start working together. I bring him in. We were in the same EO forum and I said, “I can see the vision.” He read it and felt it. Others could read it and wanted to be a part of it. Cameron’s role became reverse engineering. He became the implementer. He became the guy who said, “Let’s make this happen.”
Cameron took us from $2 million to $106 million. We hit the top 30 metros and we got on Oprah. We had shiny new trucks and became the FedEx junk removal. It all happened as if it was magic. I’m happy to put a painted picture but Cameron used to say to me, “I can’t see visions.” Cameron, I don’t know if you remember this where I lost you here, but I’m like, “That’s BS. If you could go on a vacation anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go? What are you drinking? Who are you with? What does it look like? What’s the weather like?” We can all imagine where we would go if we were allowed to travel somewhere in the world. It’s imagining that possibility.
Cameron calls it the vivid vision. Painted picture, a vivid vision, or whatever you see for your future. Dream about it in full technicolor and then take that sheet of writing and share it with everybody around you. I heard Cameron when I first came on, “If people don’t know what the entrepreneur’s thinking, they are going to go in every direction trying to please you. True leadership is having a vision, what it looks like, and sharing it with the world. Those are the people who are going to get you to greatness.” That’s me in a nutshell. Thanks for having me, Dean. I’m happy to take that question as well.
I’m glad that worked out.
The only reason I even changed the name from painted picture to vivid vision was I had a number of coaching clients that thought the painted picture was a vision board with lots of pictures on it. I tried to create something that took away from the idea of it needing to be pictures because it’s okay to have a vision board for yourself. A picture says 1,000 words and different people can interpret pictures differently, but it’s the same concept.
What Brian’s painted picture did or the vivid vision was we then shared that with potential employees like Michelle. I got so excited about seeing the name. Michelle was one of our early-stage franchise partners and joined partially because she read the vivid vision of the painted picture and lights what it was coming. No one in the first 10 or 15 franchisees, they must have been smoking dope. If they only saw what we had at that day, they never would have bought, but they bought in because of the future vision and it was so clear they saw how they could be a part of that.
It’s interesting too, how a vision can take one little thing that you see and describe it in such detail to others. That’s all it needs to get someone excited. A second business we went into, which we franchised called Wow 1 Day Painting. We have 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, Wow 1 Day Painting, and Shack Shine, which is windows gutters, and so on.
In Wow 1 Day Painting, we go paint people’s homes in a day. I remember when I looked at acquiring the business after they painted my home in a day and I was so wowed. I started looking around and asking people, what do you think? I went to people with painting experience. A guy James who used to be a senior guy at college pro like Cameron was back in the day. I remember saying to him, “What do you think?”
He is like, “You are freaking nuts. You are stupid. Don’t do it.” I listened to him for all the reasons why he said it wouldn’t work. I said thanks and I went and bought the business. Several years later, I shared a painted picture, I shared a vision with James. I shared our new branded logo and James is like, “I’m in.” I said, “In for what?” He goes, “You need somebody to run the business. I’m going to be your manager managing director.” I said, “Let’s be clear. You thought I was freaking nuts.” He goes, “Until I saw the vision and understood what it looked like, that made the difference.” James is with us now and phenomenal leader.
Even I sat with Brian on his back deck before reading his first painted picture and said, “You can’t franchise junk removal.” When we were sharing those Boddingtons, I remember where I was sitting on the back deck right by that old screen door. When you got to read the vision of what the future looked like, I’m like, “Now I can see it. I can help you make that come true.” That can be done. I get that.
In our instance, we developed one, and then three years later, we developed another one, but it was very similar to the initial round. How do you see the vivid vision change for companies that do it every three years?
What tends to happen is when companies are focused on executing that vivid vision and they are rereading the vivid vision. Every quarter, they are discussing what projects to make certain sentences of that vivid vision come true. Over time, the vivid vision starts to become true. Each sentence starts to become completed.
After three years, the company starts to look and feel different. You roll out the next three years’ vivid vision and the next iteration of what it’s growing. Much like a child. You have got kids that are 16 and 13. Six years ago, your 16-year-old was still that same person, but when they were 10 years old, they were a very different human than they are at 16. The same company that’s evolving, growing, and scaling.
If you were doing a 3-year vivid vision with your 16-year-old, what you would be focusing on them becoming as a 19-year-old is very different than what you were focusing on them becoming as a 16-year-old. It starts to evolve and build. The core values might stay consistent, but maybe the rhythms are different or the focus on leadership is different. Often, the role of the leadership team becomes less top-down and hierarchical telling people what to do. It almost flips the org chart upside down where the leadership team is below the team supporting, growing them, and aligning the team. That’s where the shift starts to happen as the company scales.
If a reader is reading this for the first time, how does one go about developing a vivid vision? Is it done by the CEO? Is it done by several partners or is it done by a leadership team?
For a starting point, the vivid vision is a 4 or 5-page written description of what your company looks like, acts like, and feels like three years in the future. What happens is it’s best for the CEO to craft the vision of what their company looks like and feels like, and then the role of the leadership team to figure out how to make it come true.
It’s the CEO who needs to get out of the office, go somewhere where they are inspired, and start crafting the rough elements. Thinking about every aspect of their company. Describing the customer and employee engagement three years from now, operations, marketing, IT, and finance. Describing every single business area as if it’s already come true and then you can get a copywriter to polish all that rough work and make it pop off the page. That document is best written by the CEO and then the leadership team is best to figure out how to make that come true.
You touched on the cadence of when you read the vivid vision. Looking at it on a quarterly basis, how to make sure the momentum is happening and keeping it going. What do you recommend in terms of the tools to keep that execution going and the momentum building over time?
Let’s pretend for a second that we were building a home together and we had a vision of what our home was going to look like. We would look at the dot diagrams and look at the drawings and look at the blueprints, and then we’d start building the home for a week. We’d come back and look at the diagrams and the plan again. We’d keep building the home.
That’s what you keep doing at the leadership team level. You keep reading the vivid vision so you understand where you are going over the next three years and then you get back and focus on the next annual plan or the quarterly plan and make parts of it come true. It starts to evolve over time. One of the tools that I do is at every planning meeting, I have the leadership team and managers reread the vivid vision.
Every quarter, I send a vivid vision to all of the customers and my suppliers, my accountant, and my lawyer. Every quarter, you have all of your employees read the vivid vision. You send a copy of the vivid vision to every potential employee before they come for their first interview. You are always talking about the future, but then you are executing on now. It’s by talking about it, rereading it, and resharing it constantly every quarter that people start to feel it the same way that it usually is circulating inside the mind of the CEO.
Have you used it with customers?
I send it to customers and also to potential customers. When potential customers read what you can see, they get more inspired. I used to speak about my COO Alliance as an example. I have an organization of CEOs from around the world. If I talk about what we have now, it’s cool, but if I talk about what it looks like in three years, it’s inspiring and exciting.
More people want to join what they get to help build versus what is already built. I have had clients of mine who I used to coach that landed million-dollar customers because the customer was so excited about what this company was going to be over the next three years. They joined because of what they were going to get versus what they were getting now. I have even had bankers fund companies’ growth because they finally understood what the company was building. They never understood the financial projections or the models that we were handing them.
I can imagine that would be great for employee recruitment as well.
It’s huge for employee recruitment and engagement. It was also powerful because on a daily basis, employees understand where they fit and what parts or sentences of the vivid vision they help make come true.
Do you include it in part of the review process in terms of evaluating people and seeing how they are doing?
Not necessarily on the scoring of an individual employee contributor because their job is to do the tactical work to maybe make sentences come true. It’s absolutely part of them deciding what projects to work on. It’s part of them getting excited about working in the day-to-day work. I have used an example for years. If you have ever been to Barcelona and you have seen the famous cathedral, the Sagrada Familia building. For the last hundreds of years, this incredible cathedral being built.
Several years ago, they asked these three men sitting out on the sidewalk. They were making bricks. They said to the first guy, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m making bricks.” They said to the second guy, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m building a wall and I get to make the bricks to build a wall.” They said to the third guy, “What are you doing?” He said, “We are building the Sagrada Familia and I get to make the bricks to build the left wall of the cathedral.”
All three of them were making bricks, but the person who saw the vision and understood what they were building had more meaning in their day-to-day. It’s less about a management tool and it’s more about an inspiration tool. When everyone is inspired, you don’t have to manage them at all. They are excited to get their work done.
How have you seen the process of vivid vision creation change during the last several months? I feel like a lot of companies were in survival mode and now everybody is starting to talk about vision again. How have you experienced that in the last several months?
I have seen it change in two ways. One, I have a partner on the whole vivid vision process, Jennifer Hudye with her brand Conscious Copy. She and her team have helped about 450 companies take their rough work of the vivid vision and they have a number of meetings with them to pull out more of the ideas, help them craft it, and write them.
The fact that they have written about 450 company vivid visions from all over the world has been a powerful amplifier of the tool. In terms of COVID and the way that it’s being used, companies now are realizing more than ever when you have a hybrid company with some employees coming to an office. Some employees are remote, being from different cities, states, or countries. It’s important for people to understand exactly what that company looks like. How are we operating? What are we building? What’s the rhythm in the business like? The vivid vision concept is a strong aligning tool, much more than a mission statement. That one-sentence statement ever used to be.
It’s transformational, especially during this time. I can see that because everybody is not going to the same place.
It’s also been powerful in recruiting new employees. When you are recruiting employees, you have to stand out and be different than all the other companies they could work with. When a potential employee gets to read a vivid vision of what your company looks like and feels like in the future, they get very excited about what they get to help build. That’s become powerful versus if they are applying to work for X, Y, and Z companies. If that other company doesn’t have anything similar, you do stand out in a completely different way.
Do you have any data points or metrics about company success that have done a vivid vision versus somebody that hasn’t?
I have a lot of anecdotal ones and a lot of emails that get written constantly where people come back and they say, “I was completely excited to write a vivid vision and hoping we could double the size of a company but we tripled. It blew us away.” We won a lot of clients that I worked with years ago to write vivid visions and ended up ranking number one to work for in their country.
I coached two companies that went on to rank number one to work for in Australia. One that she ended up being on Shark Tank in Australia. One that went on to rank number two in all of North America by Forbes Magazine. Two that went on to rank number one to work for in British Columbia. A lot of companies became very iconic cultural brands in their states or countries. I haven’t measured it, but I’m getting again dozens of emails. Even if you go on Amazon and read the actual comments from people, hundreds and hundreds of reviews about the Vivid Vision book, you can see the comments from people.
What would you say are the biggest obstacles in getting a vivid vision down on paper?
The first one is that entrepreneurs tend to try to figure out how am I going to make it happen. Instead of worrying about how am I going to do it, they should start thinking about who can help me make it happen. If we were building a home or if I was going to build my dream home, I don’t think about how am I going to do the electrical and plumbing, and how am I going to install the cabinets because I know I can’t do it. I say, “Someone will figure that out.”
The block in the company tends to be the entrepreneur thinks they need to know how to do it. As soon as they release themself from having to worry about how it will come true, then they are very empowered because it allows them to dream bigger and attract better people who can help them figure out how to make that come true. It becomes a who problem, not a how problem.
We are going to talk about the importance of the second in command and how it all relates to systems because I know that you have that one down and I’m so excited about our conversation.
I have played the second-in-command role a couple of times in my career. Once I was the second in command of the franchising group for an autobody chain that went on to become the largest autobody chain in the world. It’s now called Gerber Auto Collision in the United States and Boyd Autobody in Canada.
I was also the second in command for 1-800-GOT-JUNK? as we mentioned, and then I played a similar role with a private currency company as well. I have been around that role a long time where you have the founder, the CEO, who shares that entrepreneurial vision, who is the culture person who is driving forward usually with strategic thinking. You need that person who is on the inside of the organization making it all happen.
Harvard wrote an article several years ago called The Misunderstood Role of the COO. It’s a role that people didn’t understand because as they described, there were seven types of chief operating officers inside of one company. You could have someone who’s focused on execution. Someone who’s focused on maybe the heir apparent. Somebody who is more of an MVP role and someone who’s a change agent.
There are all these different things that a COO can be doing. What makes a great COO is someone who has the same core values as the CEO, but a very different yet complimentary skillset. You almost become that yin and yang partnership between the CEO and the COO where the COO is great at stuff the CEO sucks at. The CEO is great at stuff the COO doesn’t want to be doing as well. As long as the trust is strong between them, they can operate as a real strong partnership.
Let’s say we have somebody reading this wondering, “Should I find the COO from within or is it smarter to bring a COO from the outside and train them?”
We have got a bunch. We have got some that are smaller organizations and some that are large organizations. I’m going to cover this question from all aspects. The first part, if you are a smaller company and you are looking to hire your first second in command, the first thing I’m going to ask you is, do you have an executive assistant? If you don’t have an executive assistant, you are one.
You need to try to get some of that administrative work off your plate to free up your time to work on the bigger areas of the business. Often, the CEOs don’t need a COO right away. They need a strong executive assistant to free up their time. Now if you already have one and if you truly do need that second in command, don’t call them a COO right away. Maybe it’s a director of operations, general manager, VP of operations, or COO.
The bigger the title should mean, the more responsibilities, the higher the roles are, and what you are going to be paying them. Be careful giving away a title that’s too big too early. We have often gotten very lax with giving titles away. You will have a CFO of a 30-person company. It’s not a CFO. It’s more like a controller or a director of finance.
The person thinks they are a CFO, so they start hiring all these people and trying to build out all these teams and they build more complexity in the organization, and they don’t even have a title to chase down. If you are getting the title correct, then you need to sit down and say, “What are the things in the business that you are working on day-to-day that drain you of energy? What are the things that you are working on in the organization that you are not good at? Can you find a second in command regardless of title who can do those things? Based on that bucket of things, what would the title be and what should the compensation be to make sure that you have the right person?” That tends to be the starting point for me.
What’s the difference then between what the COO is going to do and an executive assistant? It’s a similar process in terms of looking what’s on your plate and let’s get off the plate of the CEO and the things that are not n income-producing activities. That’s for the executive assistant.
The COO may take off in things that aren’t income-producing as well, but they might oversee finance. Maybe the COO oversees legal, engineering, IT, sales, and marketing to free up the CEO to focus on the board, culture, strategy, networking, and rainmaking. In some cases, the CEO is very outward facing like Brian Scudamore at 1-800-GOT-JUNK? is very outward facing.
In some cases, the CEO is very inward facing like Tobias Lutke at Shopify who’s all focused on engineering and his COO Harley Finkelstein is more of the outward facing sales marketing biz dev. You don’t have a traditional role and responsibility other than that true partnership. My brother and his wife are funny.
They have divided up the house over the last several years and they call it pink jobs and blue jobs, but they are not the pink jobs and blue jobs of my grandparents’ generation. When my grandparents were growing up, my grandmother did the laundry and the shopping and my grandfather did the work around the house.
My brother is like, “I like cooking.” She’s like, “I hate cooking.” My brother is like, “I hate cleaning up.” She’s like, “I like cleaning up.” My brother is like, “I don’t like doing laundry, but I like folding it.” They have divided it up and what they mean by pink jobs and blue jobs are those are his responsibilities, those are her responsibilities, but it doesn’t have to be the same for every organization. Whereas a chief marketing officer handles all things marketing, COOs handle very different things in every organization. It’s based on what drains the CEO and what areas will leverage the COO.
It’s looking at strengths of the both individuals and figuring out what works. There will be that yin and yang like you described and then you create a whole. It’s a wholeness in the organization.
That’s why I talk about that yin and yang partnership between the two that they are the sum of the parts. When you add up the two of them, they become that strong force. If the trust is very strong between the two, the COO can start taking on all of the hard decisions and the hard systems to put in place and make the CEO look good.
My role as COO at 1-800-GOT-JUNK? was to make Brian the shining star and his role behind the scene was to make sure that everyone still liked me after me being the hard ass all the time. “Cameron has to do that. Cameron has to push hard.” Meanwhile, I was taking all the tough decisions and trying to roll them out to make Brian iconic so that we would always believe in this beautiful shining light. As long as I trusted that he had my back and he trusted I had him in his back then we were that force.
What questions have you got for me?
About $50 million is hard to pick one right now. How do I figure out to convey or take the stuff that I’m doing right now? I have a hard time figuring out how to pass off some of my tasks to another person. Do I need to spend more time in the training? Do we have to sit there and do it together and follow?
I will answer the first part of the question, then I’m going to give you a quick exercise that will be very helpful and we will be able to wrap with that. You can have someone listen in on all of your phone calls. They can learn from listening and then you can talk to them afterwards. You can forward your emails to them and have them read them or you can blind CC them so that they can read them, learn the way you are writing, and what you are saying to people. You can have them sit in on meetings and they can ride shotgun with you. They can listen in on phone calls that you do with your team or your staff. They get to learn from watching.
I learned a lot about running companies from sitting with my dad and watching him run his businesses. I was around him. Get your employees and your EA around you and they will learn from osmosis. They will learn from watching. What you do on the drive to the next place is say, “What did you see me do? What did you see me say? This is how I did that,” and they go, “Okay.” You are driving anyway.
When you are driving to that other place, you talk to them. The key thing to remember is that it’s going to cost you to train them, but the upside is that they can then do that for you at scale. Your job needs to get done, but not by you. You need to break the habit of, “I need to do this.” No. It needs to get done, but not necessarily by you.
Your job is to figure out, “Can I automate it? Can I outsource it? Can I delegate it to someone?” It all needs to get done, but not by you. I even have a show. As soon as I get off my episode, my Zoom files get automatically uploaded and then my team who are in Tel Aviv in Israel get notified that the files come in. They download the files off Dropbox. They do all the editing of it all and then my post-production team puts it all out in marketing. I do nothing other than I do the interview and I’m done. I delegate everything except genius.
You would say like, “I run through everything that I have to do.” What about putting it through a filter where either I automate, delegate, or eliminate?
Here’s the filter. I want you to pretend that someone followed you around with a video camera for an entire month like Gary Vaynerchuk. They are going to video everything that GV does for an entire month. I want you to write down everything that you see yourself doing. What I do is I open up an Excel spreadsheet or a Google sheet, and I put down every task, one row per task.
I open emails, I read emails, I reply to emails, I show up at meetings, and I talk to some trades. Write down all the 86 things you do over the course of a month, and then you are going to categorize those things in 1 of 4 ways. Either the letter I for Incompetent meaning that you suck at it. A C for Competent meaning I’m okay at it, and E for Excellent meaning I’m good at it. A U for Unique ability meaning I’m good at it and I love doing it.
As an example, I’m pretty incompetent at grilling a steak. I should have someone barbecue for me. For you, that’s impossible. How can you be bad at it? I’m like, “I’m way better at hiring somebody to grill my food for me than I am at grilling my own food. I’m very good at it.” If you can delegate all the incompetent and all the competent, that’s the first thing.
The second way is to put down a dollar figure. What would the hourly rate be that you’d pay someone to do each of those tasks? What would you pay them to grill a steak? What would you pay them to clean a toilet? What would you pay them to wash a car? What would you pay them to call a contractor? What would you pay them to negotiate with a bank? I’d probably pay more to negotiate with a bank than I would to hire a plumber.
What you are going to now start doing is delegating everything that’s below your effective hourly rate. The last thing is, “Can you stop doing it?” Before you delegate or outsource it, does it even need to be done? There are a bunch of things you might be doing that don’t even need to be done anymore. Before you delegate something, let’s decide does it even need to be done.