Two Business Frameworks That Can Make Your Business More Agile

Episode #2
Oct 25, 2018

How do you scale up your business? We talk with Roy Chomko, who started up Adage Technologies and focuses on web, e-commerce, and strategy design. Roy & Jon discuss how to grow your business and the way it’s worked in each of their companies. Listen in as Roy helps you uncover the different methods to consider in organizing your business to achieve success.

“Everything is sort of designed to feed up into what we need to see as a leadership team to better run the organization.”

-Roy Chomko



2:37 - Introduction to Roy and his background

5:12 - Why Roy used a coach to help start the traction method

7:20 - How scaling up improved his business

11:35 - The importance of a daily huddle

17:55 - Why having meetings help your business more

20:11 - The model Roy uses for grouping people together, and scorecards

22:01 - The impact on the culture of his business

27:50 - The big trick to get going on these frameworks



 Connect with Roy:


Jon Voigt:           Welcome to Agile Living, The Entrepreneur's Journey, the show dedicated to discovering how entrepreneurs and digital leaders are doing more with less. I'm Jon Voigt, your host and CEO of Agility, and we're on a journey across the country to learn from top digital entrepreneurs on how to live a more agile, adaptable, and fulfilling life. Thank you for joining me today, and let's dive in.

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Jon Voigt:           Welcome to the Agile Living podcast, to find out how digital leaders across the country do more with less. I'm Jon Voigt, CEO of Agility, and we're on a quest across North America, interviewing entrepreneurs and digital leaders on how to live a more flexible and adaptable life. I'm pleased to be joined by Roy. Roy is from Adage, based in Chicago, and we met up at Tessitura a couple of times the last few years and then also when I drove to Chicago about a month ago.

Jon Voigt:           We had some great discussions, Roy. I really appreciated meeting up, and we started discussing both Scaling Up and Traction. Scaling Up is a business framework that I use, and Traction is one that Roy has adopted over the years, and we started talking about how these frameworks can really make you more agile and more flexible, and I'd love it, Roy, if you'd jump in, introduce yourself a little bit more and talk about your story with Traction and how you used it to improve your business.

Roy Chomko:     Yep. Thanks, Jon, and as you said, it's been great having met you a couple of times now. We're an agency out of Chicago. We do Web and E-commerce work mainly, along with some strategy and design work, and I can say that we've been working with Traction now since back 2013, so almost five years now.

Jon Voigt:           Yep.

Roy Chomko:     It's been fairly instrumental in helping us to guide the company on where we're going, and it's one of those things where, as we get into it, I could explain some more, but I feel like any organization, whether they'd choose something like Traction or the Gazelle framework, what you're using, it can be really, really helpful.

Jon Voigt:           Yeah. Definitely. Definitely. I think we've been using the Gazelles framework for I want to say over 10 years, and we even had a Gazelles coach that helped us build it in place, and it's just given us such a good framework to lean against. We definitely massaged it and adjusted it for our liking and for our business because, depending on the size of the business, you have to adjust it, but it's definitely given us a framework.

Jon Voigt:           How about you? Are you using the raw Traction? Are you using a hybrid, and how did you pick Traction?

Roy Chomko:     That's a good question. I also want to point out, too, that we've been in business since 2001, and I wish somebody had introduced me to this about, let's say, 18 years ago before I even started the company.

Jon Voigt:           Right. Right. We always wish for things after we realize them in business.

Roy Chomko:     Yeah, that's exactly right. What made us decide on it was we were at the time just trying to find ... We knew that we had to learn more and we had to figure out how to be better business people. We've grown the company to a decent size. I think, at the time, we were probably about 30, 35 people, and we just knew we needed something to take us further.

Roy Chomko:     We were also, and when I say we, I mean my business partner and I, we were participating in a group called Vistage, which is a CEO peer group, and we'd heard about Traction as well, so we thought, "Well, let's read the book first," and so that's what we did, and I would say, like you mentioned, having a good coach early on is also very helpful and so you have somebody to-

Jon Voigt:           You did that?

Roy Chomko:     Yeah.

Jon Voigt:           You brought in a coach to kick off?

Roy Chomko:     Yeah, we did, and I self-administer now, but we did kick off the first year with a coach because I felt it was important for us to at least understand how it was intended to be done, and I think, as you mentioned, Jon, is that we've ... We've actually tailored it to our own needs in certain places and modified it to some degree, acting in a more agile fashion as well.

Jon Voigt:           Right. Right, so how long did you use a coach to get started? For us, we tried to use it for a couple of years, had a hard time getting the framework. We used a coach then for, I'd say, three, maybe four years, and then we realized that the coach was more facilitating the structure and, once we knew the structure, we can manage it ourselves. Is that similar to what you did, or how did you kick off with the coach?

Roy Chomko:     Yeah. Contrary to what you did, we didn't even try to do it ourselves because the advice that came across was, "Hey, you better use a coach. It's well-worth the money and the investment to get it set up," and so we really did it just for a year, and I think having the full cycle as the Traction model proposes, these really three quarterly sessions, then one annual planning session, that really kicked us off so that we understood every cycle and how it went in addition to the initial startup cycle.

Roy Chomko:     In terms of our growth with it from that point, I would say that we could handle it ourselves and, quite frankly, I've been running the sessions since then for probably the past four years.

Jon Voigt:           Right. Right. A recommendation from myself, I agree with you, if I was to go back, I would have got the coach the very first year I adopted it, did it for a year, two years max, because that's really where you get the main framework from it, and, obviously, read the book before you even get the coach as well because it gives you the foundational information.

Roy Chomko:     Yeah, that's a really good point, Jon. I don't mean, I'm sorry, to start over you a little bit

Jon Voigt:           No, that's great.

Roy Chomko:     but I absolutely agree with that. I want to emphasize that. Read the books first.

Jon Voigt:           Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, so, in terms of Traction and Scaling Up, those are two of the main frameworks, and there's a bunch of them out there, I think we're just going to talk about those ones because those are the ones that we're familiar with. Why do you think it has improved your business, and what about it has actually improved your business? Has it just given you more insights? Has it made you more adaptable? Has it just allowed you to really focus on your goals and hit them? Can you talk about the results and what Traction specifically has done for you?

Roy Chomko:     Absolutely. The way I describe it to people that don't, haven't been part of it to understand it or maybe aren't business people, I say it's like a playbook for business, for small business in particular at least as far as Traction goes. It just provides you with the basics of things like identifying what your core values are, and that's really important as an organization to start there, to identify who you are and how you want to hire and fire people, and that becomes critical.

Roy Chomko:     I know it's talked a lot about in the business world, but, to me, that was something that we hadn't really identified, and so as part of this model is we sorted that out, and we now use that throughout the entire organization for making some decisions. The other thing is things like core purpose, defining who your customers are, what your own market focus is going to be.

Roy Chomko:     The other thing it did for us is we had never really sat. We get together once a year and talk about how the year went and maybe where we're going with it the next year, but nothing really formalized, and so this forced us to sit down and say, "Okay, every ... You know, what's our, what's our long-term goals?" In the Gazelle program, it's called the BHAG, and they use similar terminology in the Traction model as well.

Jon Voigt:           Right.

Roy Chomko:     That's your long-term goal maybe 10 years out, 20 years out, whatever it is.

Jon Voigt:           Yep.

Roy Chomko:     That's what you really aspire to be, right? The other thing we had never done is outline what our three to five-year goal was as opposed to even a one-year plan and then breaking it down further into quarterly goals. It allows us then to set quarterly goals as part of our overall focus as an organization, and that we then turn around to share with the rest of the company, and it becomes a good guidepost for what we want to accomplish in a 90-day window, and it's not just limited to financial goals. It's oftentimes some initiatives that we know that we can knock out in the 90 days so that we could use that to drive the company forward.

Jon Voigt:           Right. Right, and it's so similar to the Scaling Up methodology in terms of breaking things down, and you talked about the BHAG, the Big Hairy Audacious Goal, and all these things, and, really, what it gives you is this goal post or this net to shoot for, and when you break it down into smaller chunks, it just allows you to focus on what's important right now and still reaching your longer term goal.

Roy Chomko:     Yeah, absolutely, and I think it's also interesting to note about the two programs is that they were actually formed by two individuals who had worked together and then they ended up going their different ways, but they individually created these programs, so they'll have similarities, but they'll also have their differences.

Jon Voigt:           Definitely. Definitely, and I think the Scaling Up method is an older methodology. Gazelles and Verne Harnish started that way back, and I think Traction is supposed to be a little easier and quicker to get going on. I've considered looking at it and considering different parts of it, but the more people I talk to like yourself who use Traction, I'm realizing that we're using probably 90% of the same things that Traction uses, and so switching might not make sense for me right now, and I'm probably using the most efficient components anyway.

Roy Chomko:     I would agree with that. I think, if you're in the Gazelle program, I ... from what I've seen anyways, they're so similar, and I do think Gazelle does a better job in a couple of places from my experience and what I've seen, one of them being Traction doesn't dictate a daily huddle.

Jon Voigt:           Yes, we talked about this one.

Roy Chomko:     ... which is I think is ... Yeah, this is a big one, and which is funny because I listened to a facilitator talk, he said, "If you do one thing, just do a daily huddle," and we hadn't been doing that. The other ironic thing is I had one of my members in my leadership team say to me, "Hey, listen, we should be doing daily huddles." He said that two and a half years ago, so I finally applied that and that happens sometimes. You don't listen the first time, but you do the second time.

Jon Voigt:           Yeah, definitely, and the daily huddle is an interesting one. We've been doing that for a long time and actually solved a lot of problems where ... This is another topic, another podcast that will be going live. I'm not sure if it will be before this one or after this one, but I just recorded it around communication and how we get this information overload, and you don't have to follow up with people as much and chase people down if you have that daily huddle and you know what other people are doing and, if somebody's stuck, they can get help, and it just brings that collaboration together, so really bringing more visibility to the business.

Jon Voigt:           I've had pushback over the years from employees and divisions where they're like, "Why do we have to do this huddle every day? You know, I don't need to know what, who X does, what, like what they're doing over there or whatnot," and I think that comes back to the purpose of the huddle, which is a connection and collaboration and not necessarily for everyone. I'm not necessarily interested to hear what everyone has to say, but I might just be.

Jon Voigt:           That one time could be really valuable, and then if I'm stuck, the stuck thing has been huge for us, so, when someone says they're stuck and someone else says, "You know what? Like I'm not even in your department or do I even know how to do that, but I have some free cycles this afternoon. Can you help you out?" That just moved us along in so many scenarios.

Roy Chomko:     That's great. We haven't really perfected the daily huddles, the leadership team. We were doing it probably for, I'd say, a couple of weeks now. It's been that recent for us.

Jon Voigt:           Yep.

Roy Chomko:     I have found it just from a communication standpoint though, without a doubt, what you said, has helped us tremendously, so I just now I know what's going ... what everyone's up to and, if I need something from someone, I can ask them for it there, and if they haven't responded to an email, I can raise the awareness of it sort of thing, and then, finally, it's just sharing good news like wins, right? When a customer wins, it's always exciting for everyone.

Jon Voigt:           Huge.

Roy Chomko:     Sometimes, that can sit around for a week without anyone knowing about it or certain people not knowing about it, and it's just fun to be able to share that when it happens.

Jon Voigt:           Yeah. Yeah. We've definitely tried lots of different things, so what we do on Mondays is we have a bigger huddle, and we do all of our huddles at 11:45, and the reason for that is it ... Generally, a lot of people don't book a lot of stuff just before lunch, and so we do it then and then, if we need to go a little longer or if someone needs to ... two people need to go off and scrum, they can do it and chew in a little bit of lunch and then take a late lunch.

Jon Voigt:           It gives them that flexibility and it also allows them to come into the office and get going on some things and then remember what they need help with or what's a good win, so it gives them that midday type of thing, but, Monday, we do a bigger one, which is we talk about our rocks, our big goals for the quarter, the updates, the metrics, and then our priority for the week, and then, each day of the week, we do our little one for the day, and then we've talked about doing a Friday one, which is the summary of the week, "Dd you accomplish your weekly goal?" and we haven't really rolled out the Friday one at this point, but that's the format that we've gone to, and the bigger Monday one has been really great for setting the tone for the week.

Roy Chomko:     Wow. I like it. Do you guys meet? A question I have is do you meet weekly as part of the program and just do like ...

Jon Voigt:           Yes.

Roy Chomko:     ... an hour, an hour and a half?

Jon Voigt:           Exactly. We have our strategic executive meeting every Monday to set the week, and then the different departments like our product team, they all meet once as week as well, and then if there's other projects or other sub-things, those are on their own schedule, but, yeah, we do weekly. We do the daily huddle. Then we do the weekly one-week strategy, where are we with the metrics, are we on track, are we not, and that happens before the Monday meeting so we can announce everything at the Monday scrum.

Jon Voigt:           Then we do a monthly one, which is more of a quick touch-base, and then a monthly presentation. It's like an update to the whole company of all the things that are going on, what happened over the last month, what's coming up, just where are we at the bigger one, and then we do off-sites every quarter, which are at least a minimum day away from the office. We go somewhere. Detach ourselves. Really, the rule is you can't even open your computer. You're supposed to be disconnected, and then, once a year, we do a multi-day, and sometimes we fly away completely. In other times, we do it closer to home, depending on people and things like that.

Roy Chomko:     Right. Right. We ... Go ahead.

Jon Voigt:           What do you do for that?

Roy Chomko:     Yeah, we do, this is the difference between the two programs. The Traction model, if there's anything I would recommend to people is that they do have what they call the Level 10 meeting, and that's that weekly meeting that's an hour and a half long. It's actually very structured in terms of how he suggests using it. It's widely available. If you look up Gino Wickman and Level 10 on YouTube, you'll see him talk about the format.

Jon Voigt:           Yep. Okay.

Roy Chomko:     Actually, we've used that throughout the organization now, so different teams get together for their weekly status meetings in addition to the daily stand-up, because every team does a stand-up as well. We, too, as the leadership team, do go outside on a quarterly basis. I will say that another difference with Traction is that, on a monthly basis, we're not meeting, but we adjusted because we felt like that was necessary and that's, like you said, we're just covering metrics and financials and things like that.

Jon Voigt:           Yeah. Right. Right. I think you and I talked about it when we had lunch that one day, too, and I'd like to discuss it a little bit more in here. We talked about this all sounds great, gives more visibility, there's more discussion happening, there's more focus on our targets, there's more focus on the goals, but it just seems like so many meetings and so much time and, especially for an organization that doesn't have this framework in place, to get going on it is a big upheaval, and people come back and say, "Well, there's too many meeting," or there's too much this. What's your thought on that, because it really is a big shift to switch over to that?

Roy Chomko:     Yeah. I thought the same thing when we were initially going to do this. I thought, "Oh, geez, not more meetings, right?" I think it provides more clarity. It provides direction. I think any organization that doesn't have something like this in place should actually be using one of the two programs. I think Traction is probably better suited to smaller, if you're just starting out, like a startup or probably a mid-sized organization. I think Gazelle positions itself beyond the startup phase, but not at the enterprise level type of thing, right?

Jon Voigt:           Yeah, 10 million and above type of idea.

Roy Chomko:     Even that, I thought about making the adjustment, of moving, shifting it over to the Gazelle model because we're entering that sort of size and phase of our development, but I've seen a lot of Traction ... or companies using Traction that are ...

Jon Voigt:           Huge.

Roy Chomko:     ... well-over several hundred employees. Yeah.

Jon Voigt:           Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, so how did you adjust your organization, and did you get a lot of pushback?

Roy Chomko:     No, because we were our own guinea pigs at the leadership level, right? We started there, and I think it's really more for the leadership and the management group to learn how to better communicate to and talk about how often we're communicating.

Roy Chomko:     That was one of the biggest knocks against us before we started this program, too, is that, and still is to some degree, I think people always just crave more information about what's happening, but it definitely has helped us with our communication style and level and frequency, I guess, too, is that we try to use this to drive more information down to everybody within the organization to let them know what we're up to and what's going on and what we're thinking and all that good stuff, and that's all part of the model is what is the communication that you're going to cascade down to the rest of the organization.

Jon Voigt:           Right. Right, and so do you meet just with your scrums and these meeting? Is it just the executive team or is it the whole company, and how do you model that, because I know some people do a whole bunch of small divisions, so people do the whole company? What's the model do you use?

Roy Chomko:     We have functional groups and roles within the organization. For instance, we have a design team, and they meet weekly and they use the Level 10 meeting to talk about any issues and good news and look at their metrics and things like that. Every group within the organization that is following the Level 10 format does have their own scorecard that they're looking at, and it all rolls up into one, which then we'd pick pieces of that scorecard and the metrics into our leadership team meeting, and so everything is designed to feed up into what we need to see as the leadership team to better run the organization.

Roy Chomko:     To me, the important thing there, and I know what the Scaling Up and the Gazelle framework have some things similar, you need to have the scorecard of metrics in place so that you can use them to better inform you and be almost predictors of the business. One of the other important components of that though is I think to remember, too, is you can be agile with those, right? If it's not really telling you anything over time, then go ahead and stop tracking it. There's no point in tracking it.

Jon Voigt:           Yep, change it as you go. Yep.

Roy Chomko:     Yeah ...

Jon Voigt:           Yeah, so ...

Roy Chomko:     ... and I-

Jon Voigt:           ... so you touched on ... Oh, sorry, go ahead.

Roy Chomko:     I was just going to say I wish I had ... This is one of those things I wish I had been doing early on when I first started the company.

Jon Voigt:           Right, so, if you were to go back, do you see a direct change in the business from when you adopted this framework in terms of the rate of growth or the satisfaction and culture because the communication was better, or what changed in your organization for the better or for worse?

Roy Chomko:     I'll touch on the culture piece because I do believe it did have an impact there. I think it, because we now have a quarterly all-company meeting where we update everybody on the status of how we're doing on our goals and share some financials and some of the other metrics in place, we weren't doing that before, so I think that that has really helped some of the transparency and communication.

Roy Chomko:     I still think we have a long way to go. We always have to be improving, so I will never claim it's done, but I also think that it's ... we've been ... Over the last four years, I can say that we've seen 20% year-over-year growth. We experienced pretty good growth prior to that, so I can't necessarily attribute it to that, but to be able to keep that up, I think being flexible and adaptable and more of an agile methodology overall as an organization, it's hard to say whether we've been able to keep up that pace if we hadn't adopted something like this.

Jon Voigt:           Right. Right.

Roy Chomko:     I feel it's been really important for me as an individual to learn how to be a better leader-manager as well as to continue driving the company forward with good growth numbers.

Jon Voigt:           Yeah, for sure, and you touched on being more adaptable and agile. I know, for us, for sure, because every quarter we stop and we evaluate how did we do this quarter, maybe we did really well, but our goals were way off, and it made us sit back and evaluate, did we set the right goal, do we have the right goals going forward, and sometimes we pivoted almost a 180 degrees after 90 days.

Jon Voigt:           That's given us the agile adaptability to look at the industry, look at what we're doing, see those not in alignment or see what we need to shift and veer quickly, and, without the framework, I don't think we would have been able to do that because we didn't have this rigid, "Okay, we have to meet. We have to look at the results. We have to go back and look at this. And it's a new quarter, so we're okay to change it if we want to."

Roy Chomko:     Yeah. The hard thing about that is being honest with yourself, like, hey, did we really get those goals done or didn't we, right?

Jon Voigt:           Right. Right.

Roy Chomko:     Did we tend to fudge it and say we did it? I think one of the main things is to be honest with yourselves. Sometimes, you know, you pointed this out, I think, is we'll meet our financial goals sometimes. We haven't done very well on the other goals that we set out for ourselves, and that's interesting when that happens, too, because then you do have to take a step back and say, "Did we take too many goals on?" because you don't want to ... We've done that very much so in the past, and so we've really tried to limit the number of goals that we set on a quarter-to-quarter basis and say, "Can we commit to these as an organization and get them done so that we aren't over-subscribing, so like many things in progressing, but nothing getting done?"

Jon Voigt:           Yep. Right. Right. I think you talked about it, just looking at the metrics and things, too, we use the scorecard methodology on all of our big rocks for eac

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