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The visionary isn’t the person who executes for growth. This is what you need. [Rocket Fuel book review]


Most people have heard of Henry Ford and most would likely classify him as among the top businessmen/entrepreneurs of the last two centuries.

Yet in spite, his incredible business acumen and Ford’s right-hand man, not to mention a US Senator, far fewer people have heard of James Couzens.

While many know well his runaway success, namely the McDonald’s fast food chain, the name behind the monster hit, Ray Kroc, isn’t as well known.

Even fewer people know Fred Turner, yet he was one of the best operations guys in modern food service history.

Nowadays, we tend to over-focus on the role of the visionary: Jobs, Musk, Zuck, Sergey, and now even Kevin Systrom (Instagram) and Evan Spiegel (Snap). Those are the big names, giving the big speeches, associated with big money, and disrupting markets left and right. That’s what we’re told to aspire to and aim for. That’s the focus.

But what the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS®) recognizes is that there are actually TWO crucial roles critical to successful entrepreneurship:

  • The Visionary (those are the guys in the last paragraph, Musk, Jobs, Systrom etc.)
  • The Integrators (the Couzens and Turners of the world)

This is the guiding principle of Rocket Fuel by Gino Wickman and Mark C. Winters. It’s a remarkably powerful read, especially if you’re trying to rapidly scale a business.

The 35,000-foot view of EOS® Integrators

The easiest way to think about “Integrators” vs. “Visionaries” is this: the visionaries see the future and know where they want to go with a product or service. The integrators actually get them there. They draw the map and make sure others are following that map. They execute.

The roles could not be more different.

An Integrator is the person who is the tie-breaker for the leadership team, is the glue for the organization. He/She holds everything together, beats the drum (provides cadence), is accountable for the P&L results, executes the business plan, holds the Leadership Team accountable, and is a steady force in the organization.

The Integrator also creates organizational clarity, communication, and consistency; typically (but not always) operates on logic, drives results, forces resolution, focus, team unity, prioritization, and follow-through; is the filter for all of the Visionary’s ideas; harmoniously integrates the Leadership Team; and helps to remove obstacles and barriers. 

What happens to Visionaries when they don’t have Integrators?

Nothing great, honestly. We’ve probably all worked with people who have tons of ideas, some of them even potentially revenue-awesome ideas, but they have no idea how to execute on them or move others towards that goal. There are millions of dead startups in this pile -- great, world-shifting ideas with no execution plan.

Although we don’t often think this way in the crush of day-to-day responsibilities, work is pretty simple when you come right down to it: you’re trying to align a broader strategy with day-to-day execution. When we talk about employees not being “engaged,” as fluffy a concept as that might be, it usually boils down to employees not understanding how their work (the execution) is tied to the strategy. The disconnect depresses and disengages people. No one wants to run in place on meaningless tasks all week.

Integrators get people moving in the right direction, on legitimately purposeful (or at the very least revenue-facing) work.

A visionary can dream all day, but eventually, you need to take action. That’s why all Visionaries need Integrators.

Per Harvard Business Review, only 8% of leaders are good at aligning strategy and execution -- and those 8% see staggeringly stronger financial returns.


So how do you train, recruit and hire Rocketfuel Integrators?

The DNA you’re looking for includes these characteristics (this is a screen capture from the book):

If your Integrator is not a co-founder and you need to recruit an Integrator, the question of HOW to do so needs to be very focused.

Ideally, your Integrator is going to be your main day-to-day point of operational responsibility. First and foremost, you need to understand their working style. The questions you could ask might include:

  • How do you work day-to-day?
  • How important is process to you?
  • How would you go about getting different teams on the same page?
  • How do you prioritize work?
  • How do you motivate?
  • How do you know if a project was successful? What is being analyzed?
  • When given a new responsibility, how do you map A to B?

Notice how many of these questions begin with “How.” Visionary entrepreneurs are “Why” people. (Think Simon Sinek.) Rocket Fuel Integrators are “How” people. They get it done.

When recruiting, you absolutely need to be convinced -- 100% convinced -- that this person can get it done. That’s your Integrator.

You might even consider giving them a series of test projects (sample work) to see how they move through organizing, planning, and directing others around execution. This can be challenging if you have multiple Integrator candidates, but you want to see how the work is getting done and you may need to test it in real-time.

The Working Visionary Integrator Relationship

According to Wickman, there are five rules for the Visionary-Integrator relationship:

  1. Stay on the same page
  2. No end-runs
  3. The integrator is the tie-breaker
  4. You’re an employee when you work “in” the business
  5. Maintain mutual respect

Rules 1, 2, and 5 all speak to the same issue: respect. If you’re a small business owner looking to scale and need to recruit an Integrator, you don’t need to be best friends with the person. They don’t need to look like you, have a similar educational background, or even share similar professional backgrounds on the way up. None of that necessarily matters. You do, however, need to respect the person’s work ethic and commitment. Without mutual respect, the end-runs will happen and you will drift off the same page and that will impede growth.

No. 4 on Wickman’s list is interesting. It talks about “owner” mentality vs. “employee” mentality. Oftentimes, with vesting or co-founding, both the Visionary and the Integrator might be owners of the business. There are times they can operate as an owner, yes, but when they’re down on the ground floor in the actual work of the business, they are both employees. That means:

  • No politics
  • Unified front
  • Full accountability for the seat
  • Yes, you can be fired

In other words: no BS. Don’t pull the owner card just because of your stake in the business. Do the work and be accountable to it being great.

The power of patience

You’re going to need patience. Scaling takes time. Building great businesses and great day-to-day relationships with those businesses don’t happen overnight. Jobs and Woz weren’t successful overnight. Neither was McDonald’s or Ford Auto.

The first major Integrator check-in should be at about 90 days, at which time you should expect to run through operational and logistical procedures and challenges from those first three months (about a quarter). You should be working closely with the Integrator every hour of every day before that, but 90 days is the appropriate time for the first formal check-in. After that, six months and one year -- while maintaining a daily and weekly cadence of evolving the work, of course.

At the one-year mark, you should be able to fully understand and appreciate the working relationship you have, see what results have been hit, and assess growth.


Rocket Fuel Book Summary

The bottom line on the book Rocket Fuel by Gino Wickman and Mark C. Winters.
There are a million and 17 different business books out there right now about how to 10x, how to scale, whatever whatever. Most books consider only the product or service side of business models, which is logical -- as that’s how many entrepreneurs think. Not many looks at relationships as the key to growth, and the ones that do tend to be too fluffy and focus on aspects that cannot be quantified. While Rocket Fuel has some fluffy moments, it also goes into detail about actual partnerships -- and if you get the version with the bonus chapter, you’ll discover a lot of actionable meeting plans and scorecard frameworks. You can even see a 1-year plan for an Integrator within the insurance industry (i.e. what the Visionary wanted the Integrator to spearhead and achieve). If you’re looking for ways to scale relatively quickly and understand the importance of relational dynamics to that process, Rocket Fuel is a great choice.