Six months into Sagacious Partners, 9/11 happened… of course, it was very scary for a multitude of reasons, but by the end of 2001, I had 3 clients (including David Campbell who was with Chernoff Silver at the time and is still a client today). I was “full,” so I started to outsource the things I did not have time to do. I got a lawn guy. Then I hired Tory Sojourner, who had been our part-time accountant at the internet company.
Once a week, Tory would come to my house, walk through the kitchen, through the den and up the stairs past all of the bedrooms and into the FROG where she would do the books. This was well before everything was cloud-based, so she had to be there in person.
Tory became my first part-time employee and as we added clients, I gave her more and more work. She went from part-time bookkeeper to full-time assistant and bookkeeper; from working from full-time in her home, to full-time working at our home, and eventually, in our first “real” office (shared with client New Carolina, now called the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness, circa 2006).
A few years in, we started taking on more project management work, particularly with EngenuitySC. I hired some really smart young talent…. Josh Gowans and then Rachel Card. It all started to come together with Greg Hilton and Katherine Hutton, who were both hired as project managers. I found clients, managed the big picture, and relied on Greg and Katherine to deal with all the details. They grew into the key leaders and project managers for Sagacious Partners.
In 2012, I made what would really become a game changing hire for Sagacious Partners: Meghan Hughes (now Hickman). I knew the day I met Meghan she was a special person. A lot of people say a born leader isn’t possible, but she really is. And Meghan did many things really well that I don’t. I knew Meghan was a keeper when every three to six months, one of our partners or clients would try to hire her away. In 2015, I knew the only way to keep Meghan around was to give her the thing that no one else could: I made her my business partner.
These were busy years for us. Greg and Katherine had moved on for different reasons, and we needed more project managers. Kristin Hamilton, Whitney Williams and Lauren Liles came to work for SP during the same time. Together with Meghan, I dubbed them “Angels” (like “Charlie’s Angels”). It was really fun because everyone was friends, we all enjoyed working together, and we were doing great work. The business was growing and we were busy.
We’ve been really lucky to make great hires through the years. There have been many talented people who made a big impact in our company, including George Hutton, Franklin Buchanan, Will Schenk, Katie Fox, Anton Dela Cruz and others.
I want to share my gratitude to every person, full-time or part-time, Intern to Senior Project Manager, who helped us get where we are today. “Right People” who took a chance on a small and emerging company and helped blaze new trails, creating a great reputation for our work along the way. Meghan, now our Managing Partner and Integrator, is my thinking partner and has helped my ideas (as the Visionary) come to life. And I’m so grateful for the support from the home team – Deb, Veronica and Thomas – I haven’t messed it up yet, Deb!
You’re only as strong as your weakest link. I’m grateful to have been linked to a strong team for 20 years.
In the Beginning
I’m going to take you back in time to March 1, 2001. The world was significantly different in every imaginable way. Gas cost an average of $1.53 a gallon. Those of us who were early tech adopters were taking calls on our Nokia 8250 mobile phones: the world’s first with a monochromatic display (a single color – blue – blacklight). A whopping 96% of us were using Internet Explorer to surf the ‘Net. The first iPod would debut later that year, so we were still hauling CDs and Walkmans around to listen to our music.
I was 39 years old, and had a 4-year-old daughter, a 2-year-old son, and a mortgage. I’d just spent the last three years as part owner of an internet startup and wasn’t sure about the direction of the company (and I was the COO). When I started thinking about changing course in late 2000, I had interviewed with some national consulting firms and nothing panned out. So in January 2001, I thought, “If I can’t find something else, maybe I’ll just start my own business.”
As part of the internet business, I had really enjoyed helping business owners make decisions about their web strategy, so the new idea was to serve as an outsourced CIO to help business owners make decisions about all of their information technology needs. I hastily put together my business plan: what would the business do, how would we make money, who would be our target market, etc. I was probably two pages into it when I let my wife Deb know, “I’m going to start my own company.” Now, this was a bit of an issue because Deb had JUST left a full-time job with good benefits. We had two young kids at home. But she believed in me. I think her words were, “I’m going to support you, but don’t mess this up.”
So I had a discussion with my business partner at the internet startup and told her I wasn’t sure about the future of the company, and we came to an agreement about what I would do for the last several weeks (but as you know, when you announce that you’re leaving, people quickly move on). I had mentally moved on, and they had moved on from me… I remember someone took over my office within the week!
It was time to focus on my new baby. I was basically nesting as a new business owner, doing all the things that you feel you need to do to make it “real”: I researched a name, locked down a web address, set up a bank account, got a P.O. box, and set up the FROG (“furnished room over garage”) as my new office. I hired our former creative director to create the logo and letterhead. Sagacious Partners was born. (A lot of people have asked me where the name “Sagacious Partners” comes from, so here’s the story: I was looking for a word that had “CIO” in it, and I found “sagacious.” And that seemed like a better name than Loquacious or Bodacious Partners).
When we settled on a logo and brand colors, we had the business card designed and there it was: Neil McLean, CEO and Managing Partner. It made it real. It may sound silly, but it was a big deal for me to see it right there in print. 39 years old and the CEO of my own empire.
Deb went back to working full-time hours (I am still indebted to her for this) and Sagacious Partners was formally launched on March 1, 2001. I’m pretty sure I worked every single day, doing something. As a new business owner, you’re just scared. I set up an advisory board of people I trusted to give me good advice (including my lifelong mentor/Dad; David Dunn – who later became a client; and Fred Monk – a prominent business journalist and friend). I scheduled our first advisory board meeting at the Capital City Club, and shared my business plan with them. I met with other successful business owners to get advice about being in business and let them know what I was doing. They introduced me to others.
Soon opportunity called. I went to Walter Bull, an entrepreneur and the owner of several successful businesses, and he said he would be willing to put me on retainer. I had my first client.
These changes will not affect Sagacious Partners’ clients, but it’s important to know.
EOS Worldwide (EOSW) was looking for ways to expand its already incredible offerings. It quickly became clear that EOSW had hit the ceiling with its current business model, and the only way to provide more value was to franchise. On March 17, EOSW announced that it is transitioning its global business to a custom-tailored franchise model, with all states, territories, and key international markets slated to be live by the end of 2021.
Sagacious Partners is excited about these changes and to continue to be a part of EOS Worldwide. The only difference you’ll notice is a new EOS Worldwide email address as part of joining a more united global EOS Implementer Community™ (for now, you can still reach us at our @sagaciouspartners.com addresses). We will still be teaching you the same Six Key Components™ and EOS Tools that you’ve come to learn and love.
Questions? As always, we’re here for you.
Our COO Meghan Hickman was recently named a 2020 Phenom by the Columbia Regional Business Report for her role as EngenuitySC’s Executive Director. Meghan was also recognized as the 2020 Community Champion Award winner by CRBR. Watch the full 2020 Icons and Phenoms Award Ceremony here (catch Meghan’s segment at 46:41!) to see all of the 2020 award winners.
Congratulations, Meghan! You make your Sagacious Partners team proud!
Moving to virtual EOS sessions — and virtual meetings in general — can seem like a downgrade, but it does NOT have to be. Here are some tips (compiled from EOS Worldwide, fellow EOS Implementers and personal experience) to help you have the best virtual meetings possible.
Before Session / Set Up
- Ready your technology.
- Have fast internet. It’s crazy in these times for your video to ever sputter and skip. It’s incredibly distracting, and it shouldn’t be forgiven any longer.
- Plug into the internet/ethernet. Make sure you are hard-wired to avoid any disruptions. When your audio and video are seamless, it will feel more like you’re in the same room together.
- Make sure your microphone is of high quality. Buy a microphone or headset if necessary. Headsets help prevent feedback, but if one is not available, best practice is to mute yourself when not talking. When people can’t hear you, they struggle to pay attention and this effort to adjust burns energy. Note: the sound is better when facilitator is not using AirPods.
- Use dual monitors if possible. Dual-monitors if available help keep the shared session document on one screen, and your meeting screen on the other.
- Do a fresh restart or shut down your computer the night before and have your computer charger handy.
- Do a quick test a few days prior to the meeting just to be sure you can log into the platform.
- Close all browser tabs (other than the document or platform you’ll be working from for the session) so you’re not tempted to check email.
- Ready your workspace.
- Sit on a chair at a table or desk. Don’t sit or lie on a couch or bed. This is a business meeting. This is the challenge with working from home: it’s hard to transition into work mode. This will help. It will also help everyone’s energy level.
- Lighting is vital. Make sure there are no lights behind you and have a light on your face (such as a desk lamp). People need to clearly see your face.
- Have your camera eye level. This is vital. This will prevent people from leaning and slouching, and you will better keep the attention of your audience when speaking. Be in the center of the screen with your head an inch or two from the top of the screen. Obviously, don’t use audio-only or call in from your phone.
- Stay in front of the screen. It’s important that no one goes off-screen. Frankly, most of the time this is an excuse to do something else (such as check your phone, pet your dog or have a sidebar).
- No background noise. Make sure you’re in a quiet room with the door closed, no dogs barking, and no kids coming in (tell your family you are at the office).
- Have snacks and lunch prepared and nearby for breaks.
- Choose a platform (we prefer Zoom for ease of use) and stay with it. This helps the team member become familiar with it and feel more comfortable as the meetings continue in this manner.
- Use a Shared Workspace for collaborative real-time writing. The meeting should be documented in an easy format you all have access to (e.g. GoogleDocs, Microsoft OneNote.)
- The shared workspace is a shared, editable document that can be screen-shared during the video conference call.
- If you are using Traction Tools or 90.io, that becomes your shared workspace, i.e. you would not need Google Docs.
- Choose a team member act as “scribe” to capture To-Do’s and other real-time notes on the document.
- The scribe should test that they are able to edit the shared workspace document and the video conferencing software the day before your meeting.
- Hold a practice session with your team/client, so they can practice leading. Practice all scenarios (raising hand, chat, screen sharing).
- Set your video conference on gallery mode. Most video conferencing platforms have this function. Make sure that you can see all of the faces participating in the meeting at a glance. The typical meeting has three to nine people. With nine people, it will look like The Brady Bunch (for those of us old enough to know what that means).
- All for One and One for All: one person remote, everyone remote.
- Be fully engaged in the meeting. We’ll do this voluntarily, but we will assign accountability to one person (default to the Integrator) to keep everyone fully engaged with full attention.
- No multitasking. We will be enforcing the “Meeting Rules” as if we were in person, but also these “Online Meeting Rules”. Ask family to keep in other rooms, turn off TV’s, phones, smart watches please.
- No looking at your phone. Have your phone silenced, turned over, and ideally out of your view — just like any other in-person meeting.
- Ensure the Group emphatically understands the Context, the Problem or Opportunity of the topic we’re discussing immediately, within the 1st 60 seconds of introducing any topic. They call this the [first] “60 Second Rule”. Hit everyone hard or emotionally to snap everyone to attention
- Regular breaks. I’ve been hosting 7 hour sessions. We break every hour for 5 minutes and 20 minutes for lunch. Encourage participants to move around.
- No Observers. We are all participants, and we all share responsibility for the success of this meeting.
- Nowhere to Hide. You will be given tasks and expected to be fully engaged, no matter whether this particular problem “appears to apply to you or not”
- Minimum Viewable PowerPoints (MVP Rule). Let’s avoid mind-numbing slides or visuals, keep them to a minimum. If you feel “mind-numbed” then call it out – may be time for a break.
- Make it fun! Share something personal about yourself and ask how the client /team is doing. Use this time to bring relationship and community to social distancing.
- Use pen and paper. All should have pen and paper handy. Share notes by taking a photo and uploading to the shared document. Continue “3 quiet minutes” protocol.
- Go verbal. You can’t see when people are finished writing, so you need to ask when people are finished.
- Master Thumbs Up. Have people give a “thumbs up” when they are done or good with the conversation.
- Call on people. Instead of “start with the brave one and go left” you need to call on who starts and facilitate the order of the conversation (recommend using the order of appearance on screen).
- Unshare content (unshare screen) to allow people to see one another better during conversations.
- Assign a person to keep all To-Do’s on a shared document that has all your session content.
Source: these tips came from multiple sources: Gino Wickman, Ken DeWitt, Mark O’Donnell, and personal experience.