I first learned about “rocks” at a meeting with fellow women CEOs. Rocks are part of the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) Traction method, which I’d heard of before but never pursued because I tend to gravitate toward big picture over structure. But after hearing so many leaders I admire raving about it, I decided to give it a try.
The basic idea is that if you’re filling a tube, you have to put the big rocks in first, and then smaller priorities can fit around them. So with EOS goal setting, you identify three to six quarterly priorities—rocks—that will help you reach your 1-year, 3-year, and even 10-year goals. Another important aspect is actively involving your team to make sure you’re on track with the details of implementation while staying true to the overall vision.
More: The EOS Process and Tips for Writing Smart Rocks
A Purposeful Pilot
In year one, we tried the rocks approach with just our leadership team to make sure the method worked well for us in practice. We kicked off the first quarter with a meeting to create our shared goals and identify the rocks that would get us there. At our weekly leadership team meetings, we reported on the rocks we’d committed to and worked through any logistics and issues together. At the end of the quarter, we gathered again to review our progress, celebrate successes, and set new rocks.
We stayed open to making adjustments where it made sense. For example, although we had originally prioritized developing a new executive coaching offering, we decided to strengthen our business by focusing on continuous improvement for our outsourced HR service instead.
A Successful Rollout
After a year of identifying and executing our rocks as a leadership team, we celebrated a profitable year full of focus. We knew we could demonstrate how well the system works and were ready to roll it out more broadly to the rest of the company.
As a broader team in January, we confirmed our 1, 3 and 10 year goals and established our priorities for our current quarter. We divided up responsibilities to make sure we can accomplish our rocks. Each week we have a call as a group to revisit the rocks and see if we’re on track. If we have the wrong rocks, we’ll adjust, but the outcomes we’re aiming for don’t change. Issues do surface, and that’s a good thing!
One adaptation we made was to create project charters to help organize our thoughts, outline what we need to do, estimate how much time it will take, and state what we can commit to. These have been really helpful when thinking through how and what we’re going to prioritize.
Five Ways Rocks Can Move Your Business Forward
More than a year in, I’m a believer in the rocks method. We’ve made steadier traction against our business goals, as I’d hoped, but our team culture has benefited in some unexpected ways. Here’s what we’ve experienced.
1. A CLEARER ROAD MAP
Establishing rocks with your leadership team is a powerful exercise in assessing the viability of your business goals. I’ve found that many businesses have 3-year and 10-year goals for growth and revenue, but few have a solid plan for getting there.
By planning out your vision in one-year increments and then breaking it down into quarterly milestones, you’re creating a roadmap for your team. The process also forces you to think about whether or not your team has the support needed to succeed and, if not, how you can address that.
2. DEEPER TEAM ENGAGEMENT
With the rocks method, goals are no longer just statements on a piece of paper. There’s clarity and discussion around them, and everyone is invited to collaborate (from their own lens) on how to get to that outcome.
Before, our long-term vision documents existed in a void. Now we have everything on hand and part of the quarterly conversation. It’s been a good grounding mechanism that has helped us stay laser focused. We reference our goals at the beginning of each weekly team meeting to make sure our rocks are still keeping us on track.
3. IMPROVED ACCOUNTABILITY
We operate more holistically as a company now: setting goals, creating processes for accountability, flagging issues, having deeper conversations, and setting and resetting our navigational dashboard. None of us, leadership included, can stray too far from our target. The process gives us all more structure, accountability, and trust.
4. BETTER COLLABORATION AND COMMUNICATION
When leadership sets goals, and then the team is expected to make that happen, it can create an us-versus-them dynamic. With rocks, we’re all collaborating on the same trajectory. We thought our communication lines were open before this experience, but now they are even more so.
And the quality of the conversations we’re having now is different. Everyone is more invested and more knowledgeable. They’re asking great questions and really celebrating each other’s achievements.
5. STRONGER ALIGNMENT
The clearer we are on our goals and priorities, the better we can serve our clients and partners. We can show exactly where we’re headed and how they fit into the picture. We can be more open about how we’re working toward mutual success.
Balancing Structure and Big Picture
By eliminating confusion and getting crystal clear on priorities, you increase everyone’s chance for success, which makes your team feel more invested. There’s a shared feeling of ownership and personal accountability at every level of the organization. Our team members have reported feeling more connected to the totality of what’s going on. I didn’t realize how much more connected I would feel, too. And as excited as I’ve been about these results, I’ve been surprised to find that the structure has actually freed me up to be more creative and big-picture.
What has worked for you to help you reach long-term goals? I’d love to hear your experience in the comments.