“In my mind, internet is more important than water,” says Nathan Stooke, CEO of Wisper Internet headquartered in Mascoutah, Illinois. “As an individual, you can buy water. You can transport water, and you can store water. But you as an individual cannot do any of that with the internet. Someone has to bring it to you.”
And the Covid-19 pandemic proved his point.
While so many other businesses were negatively affected by the pandemic, Wisper Internet’s experience was completely the opposite.
We had record numbers of installs and record usage,” Nathan says. “With so many people working at home, our bandwidth demand increased. We’ve been trying to hire people to be able to meet the demand.”
The other ‘demand’ that Wisper had to face was the number of employees who shifted from working in the office to working at home. A number of employees who had children were faced with closed daycare and other childcare facilities. Juggling working from home with children became an issue.
“To us, family is important,’ Nathan says. “To help reduce the stress that came with caring for children and getting work done, we built flexibility into work hours. For example, instead of an eight-hour shift, an employee could work a shift in the morning and then a shift in the afternoon, maybe a little bit later than they normally did, and that seemed to work out fairly well.”
Nathan credits EOS with providing the structure that has helped navigate a number of changes and challenges, but it hasn’t been without some growing pains.
Earning The Title of CEO
Back in 2007, Nathan realized that something in his business needed to change.
“I woke up one day and said, ‘Oh crap! I own a real business.’ I was in charge of a company that had 17 employees. That meant having 17 families relying on me to make good decisions. I realized that I was a CEO by default because I own the company, but I wanted to become the CEO that deserved to be the CEO.”
From his perspective, the business wasn’t running the way he wanted it to, yet he couldn’t put his finger on how it should be running. To get some answers, he set out to read books. Having dyslexia didn’t discourage him from his task even though his reading skills were at a sixth-grade level. To get around this, Nathan took to listening to audiobooks.
“I would listen to a leadership or a business book then go to my leadership team and say, ‘Alright, I read this book and we’re going to do this,” he says. “And my leadership team would be like, ‘Okay.’ And then I would read another book and they’d complain that they hadn’t finished implementing what I talked about the previous week. I would look at them and say, ‘Well, hurry up!’ and then I would go on and read another book.”
In 2008, a friend handed a copy of Traction by Gino Wickman to Nathan and it immediately resonated.
“The book really tapped into the struggles I was going through which makes sense since Gino is at least 20 years ahead of me in business” he says. “I got so excited that I signed up for Base Camp. I decided I was going to self-implement EOS for our business.”
But Nathan quickly discovered that his leadership team wasn’t as enthused as he was.
“I did the 90 Minute Meeting with my team to brief them on what was going to happen. I just about had a revolt on my hands.”
Holding Up a Bright Light To Accountability
“It wasn’t just that they were fed up with me pushing all these new things, but now I was talking about accountability. I didn’t realize it until later, but they were terrified that I was trying to hold people accountable. They were happy doing what they wanted to do, not what the company needed them to do.”
Nathan’s 90 Minute Meeting turned into 180 minutes of how they could not or should not do EOS. Over the next year there was little to no progress on solving recurring issues and problems. As Nathan pointed these out, his team became increasingly frustrated with the lack of problem-solving. Nathan put his foot down and announced that they were going to adopt Traction and implement EOS with little push back this time.
“You can kind of see on our revenue chart how we were fumbling along, doing well, and then we implemented EOS. The chart went down a little bit while we were implementing and then it’s gone up from there. I attribute that to EOS for sure.”
Bringing in an Outsider
Nathan admits to a love of learning, but he also saw the value of bringing somebody in who has seen issues and challenges in other companies. Someone who was outside the company and wouldn’t bring in any of the company politics or background issues.
“I think one of the challenges I was having with self-implementation was that you think you’re doing it right, but without somebody kind of helping and guiding you, you may not actually be doing it right.”
In hindsight, Nathan admits that if he had to do it all over again, he would have started by using a Professional EOS Implementer®.
“As business owners, we all want to run our businesses better. We all want to grow. And even if you just want to stay where you are as a company, you still want to run it better. An implementer is that outside person that has a different perspective on things and brings EOS into what you’re doing so much faster and so much better. There’s not a lot of that guesswork that comes when you’re trying to implement and interpret it for yourself.”
One of the problems Nathan needed addressed was that he felt with self-implementing, he wasn’t getting through to some on the leadership team. People weren’t being held accountable for what needed to be done and the Scorecard wasn’t being used the way it was intended. When he announced he was bringing in an EOS Implementer, he got resistance from his team.
“I ended up pulling the ‘CEO Card’ and brought in Certified EOS Implementer® Jeanet Wade,” he says. “After the first offsite with Jeanet, the team was all onboard. Everyone felt that Jeanet peeled back the onion where it needed to be peeled back and it was really, really good.”
Ready to Grow
Nathan admits that being in the internet world, Wisper was doing well in spite of itself even without EOS. But that success hid a lot of unhealthy habits and practices.
“Bringing in Jeanet helped tear the mask off the things we were struggling with. Those struggles became even clearer when we won a government subsidy of $220 million to provide internet to people that needed it most. We were an $11 million company when we won so the $220 million catapulted us practically overnight.”
That growth exposed a difference in vision among members of the leadership team, which ultimately resulted in the turnover of three of the five members.
“I envisioned a lot of growth and they were very content with where we were,” he says. “We had some amazing people that got us where we were. But it was clear where we needed to go, and they weren’t on board with it.”
Building Quiet Confidence
One of the unexpected benefits for Nathan of implementing EOS into his company was confidence.
“When I first read Traction, I wanted to implement EOS purely, exactly the way it says how to do it in the book. After all, I’ve never run a business this size or one that is growing this fast. So when I told our team we needed to do something based on what I had read, they’d say ‘We don’t need to do all of that.’ And I would say, ‘Oh, but I bet we do!’ EOS really gave me confidence as a leader, knowing there’s a proven process backing me up. Now I have this confidence that we’re making the right decisions and we can move forward.”
Bigger Than Plugging People Into the Internet
Nathan acknowledges that his company’s mission is to get people connected to the internet. But his passion is even bigger than that.
“My core passion is to help build an industry and to see people grow to be the best v
ersion of themselves. That’s what gets me really excite
d,” he says. “I’ve always wanted a lot of customers and a lot of employees. And that’s not because I want a bigger company, but that with more customers, I know that we’re doing something that people need and we’re solving that.”
Then he quickly shifts to his passion for seeing people grow.
“When I hire someone, they come into this organization and they know they’ll be following EOS and our processes. I’ll be able to have this influence, this effect on those people that they’ll carry with them the rest of their lives. Even after I’m long gone and retired, I want these people to be like, ‘Wow, my time working at Wisper was the best thing I had, the best thing that helped me with my family and helped me become the person I am today.”
For Nathan, it’s about growing people to their maximum potential. He admits that sometimes it takes tough love, but it’s worth it.
“I want my legacy to be that people come into this organization and leave a better person. And EOS is helping me create that legacy, which is one of the reasons why I would recommend that every business run on EOS. It will do amazing things for you.”