Book Summary & Insights: Scaling Up by Verne Harnish

One of the things executives struggle most with is turning their strategy into execution. In his book Scaling Up, Verne Harnish identifies the key elements needed for flawless strategy, which include establishing an effective meeting rhythm and incorporating metrics into your goal setting methods. These two concepts are at the heart of what we do here at Atiim by providing tools to help busy managers and executives execute aggressive goals using the powerful approach of Objectives and Key Results. We’ll take a closer look at some of these concepts in our book summary and insights, below. When you have the time, we also encourage you to read Scaling Up in full, as it has many valuable lessons to offer.

Build Your Team of A-Players

Harnish explains that one great A-player can replace three good team members. These elite performers are at the top 10% of your talent, but their performance depends on your ability to clarify their role. Clarity of expectations is important not only in defining your teams’ roles, but also for their goals. This is why having a clear, measurable goal setting method in place is integral to achieving execution – even if your team primarily comprises A-players.

Moreover, Harnish also notes that working with B- and C-players can be frustrating to A-players. We recommend ensuring progress on goals is visible by all teams to enforce a higher level of accountability, which is essential to effectively executing on strategy. Visibility into goal progress gives A-players the assurance of knowing their progress is being monitored and that any underperformers will be held accountable for failing to contribute their best efforts.

Develop a Strong Strategy

As an executive, your role is to make strategic decisions, but you can also recruit other individuals you trust to assist you. Build your strategy around your core values, and make sure they’re ingrained in your company culture by reinforcing them daily.

Keep your strategic plan to just one page, using your vision, purpose, and values to guide you. Get clarity on each of these elements, and consider factors such how your company measures success, what your brand promise is, and ultimately, which BHAG (“big, hairy audacious goal) is your biggest priority right now.

Achieve Execution by Following a Meeting Rhythm

After you’ve established your BHAGs, Harnish recommends using a 90-day interval to achieve it. We, too, recommend this timeline for the following reason: using quarterly OKRs gives your teams a one- to two-week grace period to become familiar with Objectives and Key Results, then a 10-week period during which 10% of each Objective should be accomplished weekly.

Cascade the BHAG down into department, team, and individual levels throughout your organization, encouraging managers to collaborate with their direct reports so some goals are also set bottoms-up to achieve buy-in. Ultimately, however, all goals should support the most critical company priority.

More importantly, whenever possible goals should also be measurable. Harnish’s book reinforces Peter Drucker’s idea about goals, that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

After goals have been set, it’s the manager’s responsibility to hold weekly one-on-one meetings with each of their direct reports to review progress on goals. This is called the most important management tactic of all time because it’s the key to execution. Without checking in to review progress, teams lose focus on what’s most important. They also need managers to clarify expectations weekly to review priorities and keep them at the top of their minds.

In addition to these meetings, managers can also hold monthly management sessions to collaborate and address key issues, as well as quarterly and annual planning meetings to put the strategy in place for the quarter or year. Varnish also recommends having daily huddles to exchange brief updates and address any tactical issues.

One-on-one meetings, however, continue to be the most influential tool in executing on strategy. They support a two-way feedback loop through which managers outline their needs and expectations, while the direct report also receives undivided attention to relay progress and get clear direction. These aspects are all essential to successful execution. To take it a step further, some managers also implement pulse surveys, an even more convenient outlet for discussing progress, exchanging feedback, and maintaining clarity. They can be used as a tool through which managers can continuously communicate the strategy to their teams, and they can also deliver an actionable weekly report so managers can make sure everyone is on track to execute their goals. Managers can then step in and course correct proactively, instead of simply waiting until the end of the quarter to see whether goals were actually executed or not. This ultimately ensures timely achievement of goals and allows the organization as a whole to execute on its strategy to achieve better results.

What else? What were some other insights you gathered from Scaling Up?

Do you manage a company or teams (either as a CEO, a senior executive, a middle manager or even a front-line manager)? Do you set and track objectives? Does aligning employee performance to business goals matter, and are you responsible for driving results? If so, please check out a live demo of Atiim OKR & Goals Management Software and we’d love to hear what you think about it. Thank you!


Image Credit: Steven Lelham on Unsplash







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