Tag Archive for Verne Harnish

If Everything Is a Priority, Nothing Is

For years, my wife and I had envisioned having some sort of “mini-farm” in our backyard, and had dreamed about what that might look like. We did lots of research into various plants and animals, talked about which ones we thought we would want, and even sketched out plans and ideas. But just as often, this led to feeling overwhelmed with what it would take to get started, and how much we didn’t know about how to do it well (and how to keep everything alive!). But then, several months ago, we did three things: committed ourselves to action, changed our approach from “all at once” to “one step at a time,” and accepted the fact that it would take time to see the fruits of our labor. And so we entered into the world known as “urban farming.”

Rather than trying to start all of our ideas in one season, we decided to do only one thing first – plant a couple of potted dwarf fruit trees. We believed this would be a simple and low-maintenance way to start, so we purchased and planted two pear trees and an apple tree, and placed them on our patio. When that was done, we planted two different herbs in pots, and only after they were growing did we move on to the next step, which was to assemble a small chicken coop and purchase two laying hens, so that we could have our own fresh eggs. Now that we are comfortable with caring for the chickens, we are finally moving on to constructing our first raised bed garden space, but (like everything else) a little bit at a time (in this instance, one 3’ x 6’ box at a time). Finally, piece-by-piece, in a manageable process, we are becoming urban farmers.

There are two valuable leadership principles that I believe we can draw from this experience. The first principle is referred to by Shawn Achor, in The Happiness Advantage, as “The Zorro Circle.” This is the idea of starting with small victories and accomplishments, and gradually working your way outward to larger ones. That’s what we did when we started with a couple of plants and gradually expanded what we were doing, but not until we had experienced victory with each step along the way. We didn’t plant herbs until the trees were successfully growing, we didn’t start the chicken coop until the herbs were growing, and so on. The successive victories boosted our confidence and kept the grand vision from becoming overwhelming.

The second principle is found in Verne Harnish’s Scaling Up, when he talks about prioritizing priorities. In other words, if everything is a priority, nothing is, so even if there are many needs, in order to be successful you need to select only a small number of those needs to make as your top priority, and only when those are in order should you move on to the next one. If every need is receiving priority attention, you will be spread too thin to manage each one well, so address them sequentially, one after the other and not all at the same time. This also means you have to choose which ones to address first, and work to keep the other needs from distracting you until the first priorities have been addressed. In our tiny “urban farm,” we didn’t give our attention to fruit trees, herbs, chickens, root vegetables, and other vegetables all at once, but chose the order that would work for us and tackled one priority at a time.

I’m sure you can see how these two principles compliment each other: choose the most important need and make that the priority, work at it until you see progress, momentum, and success, achieving smaller victories, and then expand your efforts by moving to and/or incorporating the next priority. One victory at a time, you will grow and accomplish goals, and eventually you will look back and be pleasantly surprised at the progress that has been made, and you will find that you are maintaining much more than you could have if you had tried to start out by doing everything at once.

In the first year at my new job, this intentionally became how I approached my leadership. I first took time to listen, observe, assess, and learn, and saw the variety of needs and issues in front of me (as well as the plethora of good), and I knew that I couldn’t give my attention to all them at once. So, I prioritized those needs, and began addressing them one or two at time. I shared with people the needs I saw so that they would know that I was listening to them, but I also shared – out loud – that if everything was a priority, nothing would be, so I would be tackling needs one at a time, and then I shared the order in which I was starting. This helped me to keep the other needs from distracting me, helped people to be patient, and built trust that I would eventually address all of the needs as they saw me accomplishing the first priorities. Prioritizing the priorities, and then achieving the initial victories, paved the way for a succession of victories and a pattern of growth and accomplishment.

You have heard the old adage, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” The same is true with the tasks and needs in front of you. Sort your priorities, and begin to address them one at a time. Achieve small victories. Move to, or add, the next priority. Continue the cycle. Your confidence will grow, your successes will grow, and your leadership will grow.






Do You Have A Dashboard?

I recently had the privilege of watching the boys’ varsity basketball team at my school compete in the state championship game. The game was in Fort Worth, Texas, about 175 miles from where I live, with numerous small towns along the way. On the drive there and back, I quickly observed that there seemed to be a police car parked discreetly somewhere near the entrance of each town, ready to give a speeding ticket to anyone entering  going too fast. So every time I approached a town, I did the same thing that you would probably do whenever you notice a police car behind you or on the side of the road – I checked my speedometer.

The purpose of your speedometer is to help you know your speed. It doesn’t determine how fast you go, rather it tells you how fast you are going. And it’s not the only instrument on your vehicle’s dashboard: you also have a gas gauge, as well as icons and gauges that keep you informed about tire pressure, engine heat, doors open, seatbelts, temperature inside and outside the car, radio dials, and so on. Your dashboard is an instrument panel designed to provide you with all the pertinent, immediate information regarding your vehicle’s performance and operation.

This same concept has valuable application to your leadership and to your organization. Vern Harnish, in Scaling Up, talks about Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), the numbers that represent the data that serve as the most important indicators of health and performance. WordPress, the platform for my blog, has a section on my administrator’s page that lists my recent and upcoming posts, the most recent comments that need to be addressed, and updates to software and plug-ins. You personally probably have a calendar that you check regularly, a to-do list, and a checkbook or ledger with a constantly changing balance that you monitor. All of these things are versions of a dashboard.

A dashboard is more than simply a helpful tool; it is an incredibly valuable (and necessary) means of monitoring how you and your organization are doing. Like the speedometer in your car or the thermometer at your doctor’s office, it doesn’t set the speed or the temperature, it tells you what they are. It gives you the most critical and basic information that you need to know in order to assess your current performance, get a gauge on your health, and then make the most appropriate decisions based on that information. If you think about it like that, you will realize that your dashboard is key to your decision-making.

Therefore, you need a dashboard. And I don’t think that there is only one way to design a dashboard (just like no two makes of cars have the same dashboard), so you need to create or choose one that works right for you. To do this, start by identifying the most important data that you need to track, the basic or critical information that gives you the best big-picture snapshot of how you are doing. This may be bottom-line budget numbers, time spent on tasks, deadlines, calendar dates, completion rate, performance ratios, or any number of other things that are specifically relevant to your own job and performance, or to your organization’s performance. Then, put all of this data on one page – whether in a spreadsheet, a word document, a useable app, or some other form that works well for you – that you can update at least once a week. Doing this will allow you to keep track of the information you need to see on regular basis, so that you can know how you are doing. It becomes your personal (or organizational) dashboard.

Currently, in my school, I have a dashboard on which I keep track of year-to-date income and expense, and accounts receivable and accounts payable; previous year-to-date comparison of income and expense; current enrollment and re-enrollment numbers and percentages, and previous year-to-date comparison enrollment and re-enrollment numbers and percentages; the current and next months’ calendar of events; and the critical annual tasks that are coming in the next two months. These work well for me because they represent my type of business (a school) and because they give me the information that I need to see in my present circumstances that tell me if we are moving in the right direction.

You don’t need to use the same data, but you do need to figure out what data you need to use. Once you do, put it all together in one place, make it easy to see and easy to track, and check it often. It’s a dashboard. Use it see how you are doing, and so that you can make adjustments when you need to. Imagine not having a speedometer and driving past a police car, with no way of knowing whether or not you are under the speed limit. Operating your organization without a dashboard is the same, because you can’t really tell (at least, not easily) if you are on track, underperforming, or in trouble. Again, it doesn’t matter so much what your dashboard looks like, but it does matter that you have one, and that it has the data that gives you the best big picture.

Your challenge, then, is to ensure that you have a dashboard. Make it personal and relevant, make it something you can easily read and use, then use it. Then, when you come across the “speed traps” that catch others, you’ll be able to make sure you are making the right adjustments to avoid them, all because you are checking your dashboard.




What Rockefeller Habits are you developing?

Verne Harnish, in Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It . . . and Why the Rest Don’t, spends some time applying the Rockefeller Habits to organizational growth and function.  If you are familiar with and are implementing the Rockefeller Habits in your own organization, would you share how your are doing so?  Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

“Scaling Up,” by Verne Harnish

Scaling Up, Harnish, coverI was recently in a board meeting, during which the conversation had drifted to some strategic planning discussion, when someone mentioned “the Rockefeller Habits.” This person started talking about how they – the Rockefeller Habits – had been implemented in his workplace, and how they had benefited his organization, and encouraged the rest of us to look into it. So, I went home and ordered a copy of Verne Harnish’s Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It . . . and Why the Rest Don’t, which had the unofficial subtitle of “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits 2.0. The book primarily walks through the four crucial decisions that leaders have to make in growing their organizations, decisions related to:

  • Leading people
  • Setting strategy
  • Driving execution
  • Managing cash

Each section/category is broken down into more detailed explanation, with worksheets and documents to help guide the process. Along the way, woven into the four categories, are the applications of the 10 Rockefeller habits. Ultimately, the intent of the book seems to be to provide tools and strategy to help any organization grow significantly larger and still succeed. For that purpose, it is a very practical and valuable book, with excellent ideas. If, like me, you are not necessarily trying to grow your organization, but simply trying to lead it well so that it constantly improves, you can still find a lot of great help in the book. Some of the ideas are not so easily applied because I am not trying to grow my organization, but the principles are still legitimate and valuable, and I believe will certainly make any organization – including my own – better, if I will implement them. After the fact, I am glad I purchased the book, and have a number of excellent take-aways that I have already begun to use. No surprise, then, that I would also recommend this one for you.   Harnish, V. (2014). Scaling Up: How a few companies make it . . . and why the rest don’t. Gazelles, Inc.: Ashburn, VA.