These last few weeks, I've seen my fair share of quarterly offsites—ones I've run and others I've assisted my coaching colleagues with. One theme that seems to be recurring is the clarity and importance of Rocks or Quarterly Priorities, depending on the language your team uses. For this article, I'll use the term Rocks.
During quarterly planning, everyone in the room is in verbal agreement that the Rocks we've chosen are of high importance and lower urgency, quadrant two of the Eisenhower Matrix. Yet, about halfway through the quarter, teams start to stray. When I talk to my colleagues in Scaling Up or EOS Traction, they quickly say, "it's a people problem." Implying that the team lacks sufficient A-Players. Yet, I don't buy into that. I believe it's incumbent on me as a coach to do everything I can to set my teams up for success. Regarding Rocks, we can do better; here is how.
Everything Strings Together
Rocks have to align with Goals, and Goals have to align with a Theme. Without a Theme or Goals, the Rocks could be subjected to the whims of the quarter, displaced by firefighting and busy work. Tethering the Rock to a Goal gives us a line to grab in the weekly chaos.
Elevating "The Why"
Aside from our quarterly planning session, most team members rarely reflect on the BHAG, Goals, Core Values, Brand Promise, or Purpose. We jump right into the weekly work. We have our heads down, grinding away on busy work. Then halfway through the quarter, we look up at our Rocks and think, "is that Rock really more important than what I'm currently working on?"
We lose context.
To remedy this, I've revised how I think about Monthly Meetings. We're going to review the DNA of the company, ie. BHAG, Goals, Core Values, etc. Doing this will level-set the importance of the Rocks and bring context back into the conversation.
Dropping the 13-Week Race
In Scaling Up, we have a tool called the "13-Week Race". The exercise gets the owner of the Rock thinking about how they would reach success over the quarter. Yet, 13 weeks is a poor default. The template encourages Parkinson's Law, the old saying that "work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion." Not everything needs 13 weeks! If you can get the work done in 6 weeks, do it. Commit to that timeline and show the team you can stick to your commitments. There is zero need to drag work out longer than needed to complete it. A-Players don't act this way.
Altering Rock Updates
The pass/fail approach to weekly Rock reviews is failing us. Sure, if your Rock is "off-track," there is a good chance we'll create an issue and discuss it. "On-track," however, is too low of a bar. I've seen too many team members call a Rock "on-track," only to be late as we near the end of the quarter. From this point forward, we'll take 10 to 15 seconds to share what you did to keep the Rock "on-track." It gives the team a chance to call bullshit on the progress of the Rock and reduces wasted time and missed objectives.
FAST, not SMART
All Rocks have success criteria, a written statement indicating when a Rock successfully completes. Most of our goals need clear success criteria. MIT wrote an excellent article on how poor goal setting leads to sandbagging and loss of alignment. It can hinder agility.
Rather than setting SMART goals, MIT recommends FAST goals: frequently discussed, ambitious, specific, and transparent. We need to do a better job writing FAST goals. In addition, goals will get a priority number to reference in our quarterly Rocks. This number will tie each Rock back to its corresponding Goal so that we can keep context during our Weekly / L10 Meetings.
At the end of each quarter, each Rock owner will take a few minutes to reflect and share what they accomplish on their Rock. Let's take this time to recognize our work and bask (for a few minutes) in the success. In the presentation, I would like us to answer three questions:
- How did the completion of this Rock aid in the attainment of our goals?
- How did you rely on the wider team to complete this Rock?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, is this representative of your best work? Tell us why or why not.
I believe these changes will lead to better conflict, alignment, and output.