Many companies lose focus and progress on their strategies because their execution is too long-term and unfocused. Rocks fix this problem.
Steven Covey‘s idea of Rocks is a “First things first” metaphor for prioritizing the most important activities and goals in life. In business, this idea can be applied to achieve greatness by building strategy execution with Rocks. This business context was further developed by Geno Wickman in Traction.
Covey uses an analogy of filling a jar (representing limited time and resources.) Consider that you have a pile of sand (everyday tasks) and rocks (big priorities) to fill the jar. If you put the sand in first, there is not enough room for the rocks. But, if you put the rocks in first, the sand can fill empty space left between them allowing all to fit.
So, if you want to accomplish big things with limited time and resources, prioritize and work first on the big priorities represented by Rocks.
To illustrate, consider a company that has an objective to launch a new product. The Rocks would be the most important priorities for a successful launch, such as developing a marketing plan, and finalizing product design. Sand might be less important issues and tasks, such as responding to emails and attending meetings that do not impact the product launch.
Defining the Rocks gives them focus while allowing the sand to get less attention, get outsourced, or maybe get stopped all together.
Wickman suggests that people are programmed in a way that makes it difficult to stay on plan much past three months without a need to refocus on priorities. Teams should therefore set at most a quarterly pace for delivering new Rocks for their strategy. Most teams find quarterly is the right pace, but startups and other very agile organizations may have shorter monthly or even two week iterations.
Prioritize Rocks on this iterative schedule to create focus and make commitments to the next key milestones that are most important for your Theme objectives. Themes and their Objectives can be longer term, but Rocks allow focus and rhythm on an interval during which people can stay focused.
Each Rock has a goal that defines success. These goals are results that can be binary – like delivering a capability, or can be measurable – like reaching a sales target.
Each Rock has an owner. Each person on your leadership team should own 1 to 4 in total.
Rocks are the units of coordination at Leadership Team meetings. Track progress and resolve issues around Rocks there. Each leader should plan action items, and work daily, and track progress on the Rocks they own to move them forward.
At the end of the quarter (or your iteration cycle if shorter,) ensure each Rock fits the space it was expected to fill by having the leadership team evaluate what was actually delivered against the goal. Celebrate finished Rocks. Unfinished Rocks may have a simple action item remaining to capture or there may be issue that needs problem solved to deliver its results. Carry Rocks over to the next iteration if needed with appropriate changes.
Then, plan the next Rocks that deliver results to get even closer to longer term Theme objectives. The team can be confident that by delivering each Rock they will eventually deliver what is needed to achieve their Objectives and ultimately build their Vision.
One at a time, iteration by iteration, Rocks build the foundation on which to place future Rocks that together build toward Themes and the long term Vision. They deliver great success.
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