Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish — Review

Chelsea Blacker
Feb 11, 2018 · 6 min read

In Mastering the Rockefellar Habits: What You Must Do to Increase the Value of Your Growing Firm, Verne Harnish lays out three key themes to help business owners handle barriers that stem from growth in order to keep a company on the right track with the team aligned.

These themes are priorities, data, and rhythm.

  • Priorities — Does the organisation have objective Top 5 priorities for the year and the quarter and a clear Top 1 priority. Does everyone in the organisation have their own handful of priorities that align with the company’s priorities?
  • Data — Does the organisation have sufficient data on a daily and weekly basis to provide insight into how the organisation is running and what the market is demanding? Does everyone in the organisation have at least one key daily or weekly metric driving his or her performance towards company KPIs?
  • Rhythm — Does the organisation have an effective rhythm of daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual meetings to maintain alignment and drive accountability?

As a company grows, Harnish suggests an organisation’s

  1. executive team must grow as leaders in their abilities to delegate and predict.
  2. systems and structures required to handle the complexity that comes with growth must be developed
  3. business offering must navigate the increasingly tricky market dynamics that mark arrival in a larger marketplace

I liked what Harnish said about senior teams, he suggests:

  • “strengths or weaknesses exist within the organization can be traced right back to the cohesion of the executive team and their levels of trust, competence, discipline, alignment, and respect”
  • The two most important attributes of effective leaders are their abilities to predict and to delegate.
  • Three basic decisions an executive team must make: 1. Do we have the Right People? 2. Are we doing the Right Things? 3. Are we doing those Things Right?
  • When you have “A” players, it makes all the difference in the world. “A” people tend to surround themselves with “A” people, so go only to your “A” network of friends.

PRIORITIES: My experience

At my company, we laminate our quarterly and annual targets in giant letters and stick them on the wall. Then, below the quarterly targets we place our individual KPIs for the quarter to review during our HR reviews. Harnish says that a clarity of vision and sharing it with the wider team so everyone knows where the organisation is headed, is key.

At BlueGlass, I have to say we could do a better job in making the vision less financial numbers focused, instead focusing on the bigger picture meaning of what we do.


This section reminded me of the Scorecard in Gino Wickman’s Traction which explains the EOS model. I’d suggest Wickman’s done a better job laying out a clear program than Harnish has; Wickman’s developed a “plug & play” approach which he illustrates with great mastery in the business fable Get a Grip. Harnish isn’t quite as formulaic (but maybe that’s good too?).

Harnish talks about smart numbers, the key metrics within the business that you want to measure over an extended period of time. Then he recommends having critical numbers regarding short-term laser focus on an aspect of the business or someone’s job role (everyone needs goals!).

Harnish also encourages measurements be visible to the entire company, he encourages a giant scoreboard to keep everyone on point progressing together towards achieving measurabels targets.


I love this guidance, that a good rhythm is the pulsing beat of a growing company. When know that feeling when you walk into some offices and you think “shit, these people are on the ball.” — that sort of feeling.

Harnish focuses on the meeting rhythm from daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly perspective. For each meeting, whatever metrics/graphs are needed should always be available perhaps on a flip chart/white board which can be easily flipped over when the meeting isn’t taking place.

The faster a company is growing, the faster the meetings should be (this gives me pause for thought about some of the acceleration rates of businesses I’ve worked in/with in my past!).

Meetings should be short and punchy in structure, with specific agendas and time limits. There should be a designated meeting host who is naturally structured and disciplined, who can easily say “take this offline” if a topic is not in accordance with the meeting purpose.

Processes were also celebrated by Harnish, as a growing business must implement “systems and structure as the logical response to complexity, which grows almost exponentially as the company expands.” Otherwise there are miscommunications, costly errors, poor customer service, and greater overall costs (I could write a book on the pain of these!).

A point continually raised which my inner-army-officer-self LOVED is about instilling a culture of discipline. There were a few CEOs interviewed who said “I must have the discipline to find the right tools and implement them” and “Routine sets you free. I don’t love structure. It’s just what I have to do, [if] I want to do all the things that I want to do.” At BlueGlass, we’re really good at this compared to any other business I either worked with or at, but I’m always searching out ways we can be more disciplined to really focus on what matters — our clients!

How I’ve Implemented Learnings From This Book

Eradicate barriers for my team. I shared around a paper printed sheet “What are the top 10 things that make your job a hassle?” and received a 95% response rate from my team of answers on how to improve their work day so they can focus on our delivery. Replies included everything from the air conditioning being too cold (in February! crazy!) to Statements of Work not including fundamental elements required to deliver a project on time and in budget. I’m on the case to implement them!

I was so inspired by this goal to eradicate barriers that I cut a door alarm to the roof of my building that was making a beeping noise (its as very loud and extremely annoying every 20 seconds). After I cut the cable the alarm went off full storm, so I just dislodged the box from the wall and threw it out on the roof. The quiet was wonderful, and allowed my team to work in piece. If my landlord is reading this — @Verun, I’m soooo sorry, but the management company wasn’t doing their job and the sound was like a Guantanamo Bay terror chamber.

Celebrate success! One major change I’ve implemented from the book is to celebrate success. When you hit a target — celebrate! I am terrible at this; every time we hit a new record for our company, I just think “okay, what’s next!?” and keep bull dozing ahead; it’s like when you climb a mountain and you keep seeing false peaks so you just keep climbing.

To celebrate the end of a great January, we held a Very Important Tea Break (VITB) complete with certificates gilded in Crayola glitter glue (still drying!), music from the Oscar’s on YouTube, and a grand prize from the local charity shop for outstanding performance (it’s a ceramic unicorn plate). Our budget was £25, which also had to cover catering costs from the discount shelf at our Sainsbury’s Local.

Eat with my team. Apparently Rockefellar ate lunch with her senior team as must as possible. This is actually the only tip in the whole book that was linked directly back to J D R himself. I have become better at this, instead of b-lining back to my desk to read emails while shoving a sandwich in my mouth.

Share stories to enliven the culture of my company. Right now I’m working on the “creation story” about BlueGlass and how we began. It’s funny, I feel like I’m writing one of those “adoption stories” parents give to their kids to explain how they were adopted. I’m also going to start doing little case studies recorded (maybe on video) where we talk through situations colleagues have had, how they worked through them, and why this story embodies a BlueGlass value.

I was struck by Harnish’s parallels between raining kids and having a company so I’ll end on a few quotes from that:

  • “Having a few rules, repeating yourself a lot, and acting in ways that are consistent with the rules — these are the three keys whether you’re providing your children with a good moral foundation or providing a company with a strong cultural foundation. […] a strong culture driven by a handful of rules (core values) makes leading people much easier, reduces the need for stacks of policies and procedures, gives everyone a foundation from which to make tough decisions, and generally brings simplicity and clarity”
  • “99% percent of the effort goes into keeping these values alive with existing employees and inculcating (bringing into the culture) new employees and acquisitions as they join the firm.”

Chelsea Blacker

Written by

Agency builder & digital marketing expert in Berlin. | | 🧗🏽‍♀️🎿 📚🍳🐕

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