Let’s say you’ve finished your annual planning session. You’ve developed your strategic priorities, worked on your culture, and designed the execution plan for this quarter to drive business productivity for the year. Hooray!
You’ve designed the rocks the team needs to accomplish to move things forward, and your team is excited and ready to get to work! But is that enough?
Unfortunately, far too many companies fall into the same trap around execution and fail to make time to complete their rocks. Let’s see how to avoid this so your team is consistently crushing their rocks to get $#!% done and move your business forward.
What are Rocks in Strategic Planning?
Let’s back up for a minute and define rocks in strategic planning. Rocks are the name given to quarterly goals that are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) in the EOS and Scaling Up methodologies. By choosing clear priorities that need to get done to drive your business goals forward, your team gains the focus – and what Gino Wickman refers to as traction – needed to achieve these goals.
But it doesn’t matter whether you’re using EOS, Scaling Up, Metronomics, or any one of a thousand other frameworks for scaling your business. Creating rocks is useless if your team lacks the discipline to get them done. So, how do you do that?
Polish Your Quarterly Rocks
In a planning session a while ago, we were discussing how the rocks that are developed and put on a sticky note aren’t always the smartest, fully thought-through goals. One of the astute attendees chirped up and pointed out that once you’ve got the idea for your rocks, you need to polish them.
This makes complete sense. So, how do you polish your rocks? Once your team has brainstormed a priority as a group, you need to take it a step further to ensure that it is:
- Properly scoped
- Aligned with the strategic goals of the business
- Something you have control over and can actually get done (and that everyone agrees on what “done” means)
You should involve your team in this polishing process, and the output of this is a proper SMART goal (or OKR) with a tangible execution plan.
Create Your 13-Week Plan
There are usually 13 weeks in a quarter. Your 13-week plan tells you what work needs to be done from week to week and should include a milestone for each rock every week or two. This means having an objective way to measure whether you’re on track or not (not just someone subjectively announcing “Yep, sure, we’re on track!”).
Once you have a 13-week plan, it becomes incredibly easy to start setting time aside for your rocks…IF (and it’s a big, all-too-often non-existent if) your team is disciplined enough.
So why is it that simply looking at your calendar and blocking time off for your rocks isn’t enough to make sure they get done? This is where you’ll hear people say things like, “You know, I blocked time to do this and just got busy with other stuff.” It’s a discipline and time management problem.
Build the Discipline to Complete Rocks and Drive Business Productivity
If you had a client meeting in your calendar, would you dare miss it because you had to answer emails or do some other less important tasks? I sure hope not! So, why is it that if rocks are the most important thing that you need to do to drive your business forward, your team is using that time to do other tasks?
There will always be an infinite number of tasks to fill your calendar. You must be intentional about setting time aside to work on rocks. When you have the time set aside, be intentional about closing your email, getting off Tik Tok, resisting watching cat memes, and doing the freaking work.
Years ago, I was turning around an IT company where everyone was insanely busy. Over the first quarter, they achieved basically zero of their rocks. When we looked into the reasons why this happened, everyone said they were simply too busy and couldn’t make time for rocks.
If they were going to achieve the goals they wanted, we’d have to make a cultural change. Here are the steps we took to achieve that:
Step 1: Block Time for Rocks Into the 13-Week Plan
As part of their rock polishing process, we had everyone create their 13-week plans and then block the work into their calendars. They’d generally schedule 2-hour blocks at a time to ensure they had a good chunk of time to get focused and accomplish something. They scheduled their rocks in their calendars and still started to fail. So, we added another element…
Step 2: Add Team-Based Accountability for Getting Rocks Done
Every morning during the daily huddle, if someone had time set aside to work on a rock that day, they would tell the team exactly what time they were working on their rock and ask to not be disturbed. For example, they might say, “I’m working on my rocks from 2-4 pm today. Please don’t disturb me unless it’s an emergency.” Then, the next morning, they would tell the team if they managed to spend that time working on their rock or not.
Seems pretty minor, but do you want to let your team down by telling them that you didn’t get anything done on your rock, after you said you would?
At the same time, we created a simple scoreboard to use in weekly leadership team meetings. The idea is to log the percentage of the time you set aside to work on your rocks that you actually achieved in the last week (with the goal, naturally, being 100%). If you set aside 4 hours, did you achieve 4 hours?
This scoreboard was updated, maintained, and reviewed as a team. This allowed the team to see trends over time. It only took a couple of weeks before people were hitting 60, 70, 80, and 90% of the time they scheduled to spend on their rocks.
It took about two quarters for them to go from sometimes double digits on their rock-crushing rate to nearly 100%. It was a complete cultural transformation, from “I’m crazy busy” to “I’m 100% utilized, but I’m focused on the right things.”
This transformation started with rocks, but they soon applied this accountability strategy to any project people were working on. They’d set time aside in their calendars and have the discipline to follow through with that focused time.
Do you want a 100% rock-crushing rate in your business? As a business strategy consultant, I’ve seen these simple steps to build accountability elevate a team’s ability to focus on strategic execution. Get in touch if you’d like to learn how our team can help you do this.