When “Big Rocks First” Fails

Steven Covey is famous for his “big rocks” analogy, described in his even more famous “Seven Habits” book. And a big part of my work is to get companies to work on their big rocks first as a company. When it fails, it usually fails for one of two reasons:

It’s Not Really Big

Self-deception is at work here. They know they should be working on “it”, whether “it” is a marketing plan or cost controls or whatever the immediate crisis or current business trend is. That’s call an aspirational goal.

Or they don’t have the courage to face the fundamental issues in and among the executive team itself. Maybe not all of them belong on that particular bus. Maybe not all understand or agree where the company needs to go next. Maybe they’re not very good open and honest communication. So they come up with a result, or a fuzzy ill-defined outcome instead of a clear, simple, concise action that everybody understand and knows what they need to do.

Let me say that again: clear, simple, concise action.

A variation of this is what I call a “pounding the desk” goal. For example “We need to increase profit to 15%” (and I’m going to yell and pound the desk until somebody makes it happen.) Who is going to make it happen? What exactly are they going to make happened? Are you going to cut inventory costs by 10%. Or reduce supplier costs? Or increase sales? How are you going to increase sales? What do you need to do

Clear, simple concise.

What are the concrete physical actions that you are going to take?

Lack of Individual Effectiveness

Everybody’s busy. The most effective people are busy on the things they want to be busy on. They have control of their own calendars. There carve out uninterrupted blocks of time planner, journal, or calendar to do that things they need to do. Free from interruption. On purpose. They work on the most important things first by putting them in the jar first. Then they stick to it. Sometimes by hiding in the coffee shop down the street, or in an empty office where nobody can find them . . .

. . . and not surprisingly, they get the most important things done. They may not be the busiest people in your organization, or even get the most done, but they get the most important things done. The stuff that really counts.

Is it simple? Yes. Is it easy? Actually, yes. Once you get past the rush and panic of all the things that are going wrong and only you can fix (makes you feel important, doesn’t it?), and have the integrity to do the things you said you were going to do, it is very easy.

Get over yourself, and start working on on the most important things first.


Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not to do anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with RESULTS.com

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