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How A Painted Picture Is Worth More Than 1,000 Words: Part 2 of Our Conversation With Brian Scudamo

In the first post from our conversation with Brian Scudamore, Founder and CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and O2E Brands, we talked about how he built a nearly $300 million business but not before he had to let all 11 of his first employees go because they didn’t fit with his vision of customer service. After that reboot, his business fundamentally changed with hiring happy people that he liked, hiring on attitude and training for skill.

As a follow-up, we talked to Brian about how he maintains his vision on a regular basis. Beyond the reboot, how does a CEO paint a picture of the business and convert it into reality so that people live it, breathe it…and continue to believe in the mission every day?

Leading With Courage Academy:

We’ve talked about how you set a new vision, direction and course for 1-800-GOT-JUNK? At the time, did you know exactly how to get there? Was the course in your mind on how the new team would work together?

Brian Scudamore:

No. In fact, it reminds me of one of your 9 de-railers to a CEO’s success early on, which is lack of winning strategy.

In 1998, I did not have a strategy. It was just building a junk removal company and providing exceptional service, but there was no real, clear or measurable direction of where we were going. So, in 1998, I sat down on the dock of my parents’ summer cottage and was in a bit of a doom loop. I didn't know where I was going or where I wanted to go. I was comparing myself to others who had bigger, better businesses. They were sexier businesses. They weren't in the junk removal space like me and I said, "Okay, what am I going to do here? I don't have the money. I don't have the brains. I dropped out of both high school and college. What if I took a more positive viewpoint and said, ‘What could this business look, feel and act like at a point in the future?’”

I created, what I called, my Painted Picture. I took a sheet of paper, one page, double-sided and I created this Painted Picture vision: We will be in the top 30 metro areas in North America by the end of 2003.

It talked about us being on the Oprah Winfrey Show. It talked about us being the FedEx of junk removal, with clean, shiny trucks and friendly, uniformed drivers.

I had a clear picture and once I shared that picture with people on the team, it separated them into those who believed in the vision, saw what I saw and wanted to build it with me. Those who didn't see it, got out of the way and left the company.

That Painted Picture was like magic in those first five years. On December 31st, 2003, we hit those top 30 metros. We hit the Oprah Winfrey show. All these different things we wanted to happen did happen.

Still, before that happened, lack of a winning strategy and not having a clearly Painted Picture was absolutely a big, big miss on my part.

So you paint your picture of where you're going to be in 2003. One of the challenges I regularly hear about is: You’ve got to get out there and then communicate that picture broadly, frequently and consistently. What did you do in that regard? Because, obviously you were successful so how did you do that? How did you align people with your vision?

Lots. I took the Painted Picture and blew it up and posted it on the walls in our office. I blew up posters and sent out posters to every franchise that we had and said, "Here, put this up in your office." I read it out at our annual conference in front of all our team, our franchise partners and lots of our employees. We started all our leadership team quarterly meetings by reading the Painted Picture or getting together with our franchise advisory council and reading the Painted Picture out loud with them. Everyone would take a paragraph and we'd read it aloud until we were through the Painted Picture. So it was constant communication to make sure that we were reading it and everyone understood where the gaps were in terms of where we wanted to go. Ultimately, that helped us be successful.

How often did you revisit the Painted Picture and fine-tune it? In other words, are you constantly repainting the picture?

Yes, we've always got a Painted Picture for three to four years out. As we achieve one, we start to paint the next.

Our 2016 Painted Picture said we would double revenues to $200 million and we’re almost there today. We said we would read the Painted Picture in celebration in Hawaii with our franchise partners and their families. It's coming true. We'll actually finish this year at about $220-225 million. We already booked Hawaii and we have 800 people who will be there on the beach as we read the Painted Picture.

So it’s about seeing the future in that it's ensuring that we celebrate along the way, that we continue to talk about it and that we paint the next Painted Picture. We’re having high-level talks about us hitting $400 million in revenue and what that future will look like from a clear, compelling picture that people can see, believe and follow.

You said the current picture expires, if you will, or matures, comes to maturity at the end of this calendar year. When did you start working on the one for 2020, let's say?

The 2020 vision we've been working on for about a year. It was finalized and read for the first time the morning after the dinner that we have where we read the 2016 Painted Picture and celebrate.

When you're developing the 2020 picture, how much input do you get from a variety of people in the company? It is just your leadership team or are you reaching out to people who are riding on the trucks to franchisees to the folks you have in Vancouver? How broad is the input that you're getting for the next Painted Picture?

It's broad. We turn to our franchise partners. We turn to our internal team here and we ask lots of questions. We continue to gather ideas. We put them together into one picture, where I will be the person writing that Painted Picture and there will certainly be people that read it and give me feedback before it's baked and set in stone.

But once it's set in stone, we're not changing anything and we just have to figure out how to make it happen. To me, a Painted Picture is where you're going not how to get there.

Good point. You know, one of the attributes of a Leader With Courage we found was in something you just said. They're able to draw a line in the sand and stick with it. That doesn't mean that in the presence of all kinds of data that says you're going the wrong way they just say, "No, no, we're going over the cliff." But they become very focused on the end in mind and it takes a lot to get them to change.

They say, "This is the direction. We all thought about it," and they stick with it. And they don't have the meeting after the meeting and they don't flip-flop on these big issues facing the company. It sounds like you do that.

How do you avoid #9 on our list of de-railers then: Overpromising? Does that ever come up, "Yeah, we were a little too aggressive on that Painted Picture," or, "We break it down into smaller goals and we're just not achieving them." How are you not overpromising?

We had a Painted Picture one year that was out of whack. I can't say it was overpromising because it wasn't a promise. It was a commitment that we all saw and said, "This is where we're going. We're going to figure out how to get there." But the economy went sideways, all sorts of things happened and we really said, "We created a Painted Picture that was wrong and didn't work." Maybe we were losing confidence along the way, but I admitted, as a leader, my mistakes. I admitted that the Painted Picture was one that we had to learn from because we didn't succeed and achieve it. But it taught us something so the next Painted Picture that we did was setting more realistic goals and that we were really working hard to make sure that there was buy-in to the destination.

Do you think that was the biggest issue in missing that other Painted Picture's objectives or goals? Just not enough buy-in or you misread the market? What do you think happened?

I think we were probably a little too aggressive. We had a lot of learning to do in leadership. We had the wrong person running the company at the time and wasn't the right guy to take it to the next level. The economy hit hard. There were internal and external factors. I absolutely believe that the internal factors were far more important and a bigger part of where we went wrong.

We took ownership and we admitted defeat with our franchise partners and said, "Okay. We didn't win here. We weren't as excited about the Painted Picture. We lost hope. We let external factors get in the way," and learned.

Good for you to be accountable for that and to admit that it was a mistake. So many don't and they just choose to go over the cliff.

Brian Scudamore is showing a great way how to paint and re-paint the picture for the next several years for 1-800-GOT-JUNK? How does your business paint a picture of success? What does that look like and is it similar in Brian Scudamore’s in how it’s constructed?

What’s that? You don’t have a clearly Painted Picture or know how to entice buy-in on that picture from others on your team? In that case, it sounds like the perfect time to talk to Leading With Courage℠ Academy about a workshop that crystallizes the vision for you and the rest of your emerging leaders. And you can get there in two days or less. To learn more, view our interactive road map, call us at 312.827.2643 or email

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