The Constant Pursuit of Excellence

“I can tell you what it is that makes you successful in business, more specifically as a CrossFit affiliate,” CrossFit founder and CEO Greg Glassman says. “It’s the blind and relentless constant pursuit of excellence.”
– Greg Glassman, Pursuit of Excellence with Greg Glassman

Greg Glassman has spoken quite a bit about what it takes to build a thriving affiliate, and while I agree with most everything he says, I think there’s some unstated assumptions that affiliate owners just aren’t grasping.

In the same article as the quote above (From a CrossFit Journal entry in January 2010), Greg talks about building quality first, and worrying about financial gain later.

“Financial success comes later of its own accord if you’ve focused first on quality.”
– Greg GlassmanPursuit of Excellence with Greg Glassman

A few years earlier (January 2006) Greg sets the stage for this by explaining a little bit about what he feels like business should be founded on.

“I have a real problem with any business activity that isn’t about value creation,” he explains. “Money is essential to run a business, but it’s not why you run a business. It is not what makes business grow. Businesses grow on dreams. Trying to make money is no way to run a business.”
– Greg Glassman, Pursuing Excellence and Creating Value

These are the sentiments that have powered near explosive growth in the creation of new CrossFit affiliates all over the globe over the past 10 years. These are the founding ethos of many affiliates out there, yet I still see an overwhelming lack of quality across the board.

How can this be?! Have we as an industry forgotten what it means to pursue excellence, or is it that we have a close-minded approach to where “excellence” should be pursued?  I think the latter may be the offending party here, because of the thousand affiliates I’ve spoken with over the years – there are very few that don’t want to be “the best”.

Having a close-minded approach to excellence is only applying it to the product (or service) itself, and is generally done without any objective metrics. So how do you pursue excellence with broad strokes in your affiliate? Where do you even start?

Coaching & Movements

  • Are your coaches coaching the same thing?  I’m not talking about one coaches strengths vs. another coaches weaknesses, I’m talking about YOUR vision and how your coaches adhere to it.  If one coach has no regard for scaling, and another coach never corrects a movement during a WOD, and your vision to create athletes with virtuosity, are these coaches supporting your goal?
  • Are your classes being run consistently? Does one coach say “warm up on your own”, while another one says “do the warmup on the board”, and yet another says to do this, then do that.  Does every class receive the same amount of instruction/preparation/involvement?  Essentially, how scripted is the itinerary for a class? If you haven’t set this up, chances are that no one else has.
  • Do you have consistent movement standards? I’ve been to gyms that allow burpees without hands above the head and pushups that look more like they incorporated a cobra yoga pose. On the flip side, I’ve been to gyms that won’t let you kip until you can do 5 strict pullups in 1 minute (approved by a coach).
  • Do you incentivize your trainers to get more certifications? If you’re pursuing excellence, but your trainers aren’t… then it’s your vision that will suffer.

If you answered no to any of these things, your business has no real ideology and members will see this and they’ll either form cliques around certain coaches (or class times), or they’ll see the inconsistencies and consider you a less professional gym.


  • Do you know what you’re actually programming? I’ve posed this question many times, and generally get a very hesitated pause… because a lot of affiliates just don’t know, yet this could be the most foundational aspect of your gym.  Are you programming to build athletes?  Are you programming for GPP (general physical preparedness)?  Are you programming for barbell/gymnastic virtuosity? Do you include strength cycles?  Are your WOD’s multi-part? Do you believe in RX weights? Do you believe in tiered programming? Do you believe in periodized programming? What are the range of movements that you feel are acceptable to include on a daily basis to achieve these goals?

I’m mentioning this because this is what you’re going to base the rest of your business on.  Without even knowing what your focus is, it makes it really hard to improve the quality and really pursue excellence in that area.


  • Do you know who your target demographic is?  99% of the time I ask this question I get the same answer – “males and females from 20-65…” or as I tend to translate this…“I have no idea”.  I hate to say it, but although the needs may not differ, the way that you approach someone in their 20’s is nowhere close to the way you’d approach someone in their 50’s or 60’s. Just because your business has someone from each of the demographics doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re targeting the entire demographic.
  • Do you know what sets you apart from the competition? This is another question I frequently ask, and the answer I most commonly receive is “Our Coaching and Our Community”. That’s about as useful as saying “Our Name and Our Address”… of course they’re different.  It’s a different business.  But what is it about your coaches and your community that is different that would help uniquely describe you? If you don’t know this, then the only real competitive advantage you have (with new prospects) is location.

Without knowing what you’re selling, or who you’re trying to sell to – it makes it really easy to chase your tail, but very hard to pursue excellence.


This may be the glue that holds your business together as a single unit. This is what will help keep your business running the same regardless of whether your most valued coach leaves, or if you decide step out of the day-to-day operations.

  • What is the process a prospect goes through to become a member?  This should be something you could quickly and easily jot down as an itemized and actionable list, and all your coaches should be able to give the exact same answer.  Each time you say “or” is liking having a hole in your process. The lack of clarity here is a huge source of consumer confusion (something that should be avoided).
  • If you have a free intro, is it consistent enough to be scripted?  If everyone has a completely different experience, it’s really hard to see what’s working and what’s not working.  Sometimes the basis of quality control is to have a scripted itinerary.
  • How do you communicate with your members? I could probably write an entire blog post about this. I’m going to skip straight to the point here… I’ve seen most everything work… at least a little bit. If you tell me that “members don’t…”, then that generally tells me that you haven’t trained them to.  Your members are vested (financially) in your business, and they look to you for direction.  If you only post event info on signs in the gym, then you may have a hard time reminding people of what’s going on when they aren’t there.  If you post news/announcement to Facebook, then you have to realize that not everyone is on Facebook all day, and even someone that may check your page daily could still miss information because it gets buried.  Ultimately, there are good ways to do things, and there are better ways. Pursue the better ways.  Seek outside advice.  Realize that ANY change will require training your members, and stick to it.

Running an great gym takes more than nice equipment

If you’re pursuing excellence across the board, then you’ll understand how valuable it is to create consistency within your business. You’ll understand that a top-notch gym has nothing to do with the size of your rig, what kind of barbells you have, or whether you use kilos instead of pounds.  You’ll start investing and building a business that leverages marketing, finance, programming, coaching, community development with the goal of creating something truly unique and excellent.

Creating quality is a fundamental piece of EVERY part of your business. If you’re satisfied with filling the basic requirements of running a business, yet you want success – you’re gambling with your livelihood, and you’re doing your members a huge disservice.

How Can I Do This Better?

Ask yourself this every day.  Ask this about everything in your business. And then act on it.  Make things better everyday, and don’t settle.

Why Lead Measures Matter Most

I think most new business owners (like myself) must have watched Field of Dreams… a lot. (And if you haven’t… seriously… what are you waiting for?!  The movie has Kevin Costner AND James Earl Jones AND baseball!) Anyways, I think we’re hopeless romantics that ultimately believe that all it takes is our dream, and a “if you build it, they will come” mentality. Or maybe its our dream that actually blinds us to the reality of what business actually is… a market of goods and services where the best doesn’t always win, and good people close their doors every day.

imagesAs I was reading The 4 Disciplines of Execution, they introduced a pretty neat concept of Lag Measures and Lead Measures, and I feel like knowing the difference between the two is the key to knowing how to make ANY business successful.

Here’s a basic definition of the two:

  • Lag Measures – These are measurement of a result you are trying to achieve. They are called lag measures because by the time you get the data the result has already happened; they are always lagging.
  • Lead Measures – They are predictive and influenceable. They generally consist of very specific actions that can be measured and that you are in direct control of.

Let’s get really crude, functional example of each.

  • Monthly sales revenue – This is a lag measure because by the time the end of the month rolls around, theres no way to affect this metric.  You can’t force people to purchase from you, you just have to hope that everything that you’ve done will show fruitful results.
  • Monthly cold calls – This is a lead measure because its within your influence to change.  You have the ability to pick up the phone and make a call.

I’m sure I’m not the only one that has looked at a lag measure (generally monthly revenue), and set future goals that anticipate growth in your lag measure.  You may even have things like “increase marketing” as a vague vehicle for reaching that growth.  But how many of you have lead measures that you track on a monthly basis?

Lead Measures Aren’t Enough

Yes, knowing what a lead measure is, and how it affects your business, and tracking it from month to month is a FANTASTIC step in the right direction, but part of working with Lead Measures is knowing exactly what lead measures are most effective at moving your Lag Measures.

For example… in my crude example of sales revenue v. cold calling, what if we found out that increasing cold calls had little to no affect on monthly sales revenue? Once you find that out (which could take months, because let’s face it… we can’t assume you had a perfect pitch on your cold calls), increasing the number of calls you make isn’t going to make you any more money (technically at that point it will make you less money since you are spending extra time doing something that bears no fruit).

Just like anything else, we should be willing to explore different things in a measurable, and repeatable way to see what kinds of results they produce.  It’s a rinse & repeat type of approach.  Find something that works – do more of it. Find something that doesn’t work – stop doing it and try something else. If you follow this cycle enough, you’ll be in a constant cycle of growth (success).

I challenge you (as much as I challenge myself) to take a look to see what kind of lead measures you can put in place.

Do You Build Clocks, or Just Tell the Time?

This isn’t a post about clocks… it’s a post about building your business.

“Imagine that you met a remarkable person who could look at the sun or the stars and, amazingly, state the exact time an date. Wouldn’t it be even more amazing still if, instead of telling the time, that person built a clock that could tell the time forever, even after he or she were dead and gone?”
Jim CollinsBuilt to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies

Are you feeling burned out and overworked in your business?  Are you wondering how your competition is opening new locations, or getting more business while arguably having just as good a product/service as you? Maybe it’s time to take a step back and reflect a little.

Ask yourself the following 7 questions:

  • Do you find yourself doing a lot of the same tasks over and over?
  • Do you frequently “hire yourself” to do something instead of creating a repeatable process?
  • Do you “wing it” when communicating with clients?
  • Does your business have anyone that isn’t replaceable (because no one actually knows what they do)?
  • Would you have to do research to find out how many new clients you got last month?
  • Do you have to train every new employee ad hoc?
  • Do you frequently “hire yourself” to save money (opposed to hiring an expert)?

How many times did you answer “yes”?  If you’re like most small businesses, you probably said yes 7 times.

Let’s think back to the original question in the title… “Do you build clocks, or just tell the time?”  If you want your business to grow, to flourish, and to last, you’ll eventually have to accept that you need to step out of the “do it yourself” role (telling time), and start spending your time actually building a business (building a clock).

Hiring out takes guts, because let’s face it… YOU are the cheapest employee you can have.  Whether you’re in business to make money, or help people (or both as I feel is necessary), you got into business to provide a product/service on your terms. You got into business to have a direct hand in creating your future.  Becoming a slave to your own business, and getting stuck telling the time, puts you in no better a position than if you worked for someone else.

If your pride is holding you back, get over it.  If your afraid of spending money, be wise and invest in your future. If you just didn’t realize there was a better way, you’ve now been enlightened.

Now go build a better clock!

Following Best Practices to Realize Optimal Results

Best Practice: commercial or professional procedures that are accepted or prescribed as being correct or most effective.

I run a small web design company in a niche industry, and the primary focus on the websites we build is new customer acquisition.  In my line of work, “best practice”, is generally referring to standards in design, development, and marketing.  And when a foundation of “best practice” is applied, it makes optimizing a website for new customer acquisition that much easier.

Several days ago, as I was working with a client to wrap up a website, I made a suggestion to reduce the number of items in their main menu, as the Magic Number of 7 dictates that most people have a hard time holding more than 7 pieces of information in their head at a time.  They opted to keep more items in their menu because “I know this is against the industry rules, but as you know we love to break all the rules.” 

Sadly, I did know they like to break all the rules… they had gone against several of my best practice recommendations.  They weren’t breaking MY rules, they were going against “best practice”.  And unfortunately, those have natural consequences (as stated in the definition) of making the website less effective.

My client actually chose to make their website less effective, which in turn means that they will most likely get fewer customers (and in case you’re having a hard time following this logic… fewer customers leads to less revenue).  I think Josh Kaufman (The Personal MBA) described this situation best with his concept of Absence Blindness.  Here’s the basis of the concept:

“Here’s a curious fact about human beings: we have a really hard time realizing that something isn’t there.”

I’m betting that if my client could actually see the dollar signs lost with their decisions, they’d choose differently.  However, because they can’t see the effect of these decisions, it’s easier to feel like their a rogue cowboy breaking out of the mould, and doing something cavalier. (Lets face it… prospects don’t contact us to tell us why they didn’t purchase.)

Bottom line – follow best practices, see better results, make more money.