Three Habits to Manage and Improve Your Company

Originally titled 'Reviewing the Rockefeller Habits'

Setting priorities, collecting data and establishing a rhythm are three habits that help form a sturdy foundation for any organization. Mastering these habits can help you manage and improve your small company.

I recently read a book by Verne Harnish called “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits.” Although he covers many aspects of managing and improving small companies, what I found most interesting were the three habits credited to the legendary businessman John D. Rockefeller: set priorities, collect data and establish a rhythm for checking how the company is doing. As simple as these habits sound, they are the foundation for successful management of any type of business. Let’s review:
Set Priorities
There are many things to do in any organization, but there simply isn’t enough time to do them
all at once. For this reason, it is essential to establish priorities with different time frames.
A long-term priority focuses on the upcoming year or years, and a short-term priority focuses on the upcoming weeks or possibly days. Assign the highest priority to tasks that have potential to yield the biggest impact on the organization while consuming a manageable amount of effort and cost. (Refer to February’s “Competing Ideas” column or visit to refer to my ICE prioritization tool.)
Once you set your priorities, you have created a road map to manage upcoming activities. Prioritizing enables everyone to be on the same page concerning what is important to the company. It also reduces ambiguity so everyone can concentrate their efforts properly. To say it another way: “Without priorities, everything is important, so nothing is important (or gets done).”
Collect Data
Collecting data requires your organization to have data. Key performance indicators (KPIs) must be identified, and effort needs to be expended to capture this information. KPIs will vary between companies and even within different areas of the same company. Nonetheless, KPIs enable us to measure how we are performing by revealing both areas in which we excel and those in which improvement is needed. As useful as it is to know what we are doing well, the greatest benefit of KPIs is discovering what we are not doing well (or not as well as we thought). Such a discovery presents opportunities to either completely change the way we are doing things or “tweak” current practices to bring forth incremental improvements. There are no best KPIs, nor an optimum quantity to have in place. However, keep in mind that too many KPIs can be burdensome to manage and turn everyone into data crunchers instead of data managers.
Choosing to establish and monitor a set of KPIs is a step toward improving the organization’s performance. Remember, “What gets measured tends to get better.”
Establish a Rhythm
Meetings are certainly one way of establishing a rhythm for checking how things are going. Although many find meetings to be a waste of time, they can actually be a very effective use of everyone’s time if they are properly run. There really is no better way to obtain and share important information than to bring a group together in a meeting (and with today’s technology, it isn’t even necessary to have all attendees in the same place). Brief, daily meetings will help establish a rhythm, as can weekly, monthly and quarterly meetings. The agendas for daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly meetings will be substantially different from one another.
Meetings are useful for describing what is going on in the company, obtaining feedback, getting “real” information (which may not always happen during one-on-one discussions), reviewing KPIs, and identifying problems that prevent things from running smoothly. At times, the collective intelligence of meeting attendees provides a quick solution to some of these problems. Even if problems cannot be resolved immediately, meetings generate awareness and a sense of urgency. They can even provide those all-too-rare opportunities to pat people on the back and “recharge their batteries.”
Of course, when meetings cannot be arranged, emails, phone calls, internal communications and other forms of media can help establish an organizational rhythm.

Sometimes simple concepts can yield great results.