First things first – the lesson of rocks, sand, and water

Author Steven R. Covey inspired today’s retelling of a time management classic. Covey’s story starts with a speaker showing a group of business students a large glass jar and a box of large rocks. The speaker pulled rocks from the box and placed them in the jar until no more rocks would fit.

“Is the jug full?” he asked. The students reply “yes,” and the speaker pulls out a bag of sand, pouring it into the jar so it fills the spaces between the rocks. “Is the jug full now?” he asks.

The students are so sure this time. The speaker pulls out a pitcher of water, and pours over a quart of water into the jar. “Now it’s full,” he said. “What’s the most important lesson to be learned from this demonstration?”

One student piped up: “You can always find time to do more things!”

“Wrong lesson,” replied the speaker. “The right lesson is that you can’t fit the rocks in the jar if you’ve filled it with sand and water first.” This is an illustration of the principle of “first things first.”

In strategic planning, your team determines what the “rocks,” or first things are, after visualizing the future they want to reach. These “rocks are the four to six strategic goals that will literally change the company’s status quo, and which must be the company’s focus over the next 12 to 18 months.

Once the goals are set, next comes a set of four to six Key Result Measures (KRMs) for each strategic goal. When these KRMs are achieved, your team will have achieved the company’s strategic goal and changed the status quo.

Finally come the action steps, which are tactical, fluid actions to be completed over the next one to 90 days.

Strategic goals are the rocks. They need to go into the plan’s jar first. Key Result Measures are the sand. They fill out the space around the goals. Action steps are the water. They utilize small blocks of time to implement.

The impulse is for teams is to jump to action steps. Fill a plan with water and sand and there won’t be any room left for the big rocks. Filling a plan with action steps and KRMs without the big strategic goals in place will keep everyone busy but won’t likely change the status quo.

Strategic planning is the best process for determining what the “first things first” should be. If you’re interested in having a facilitated strategic planning meeting that moves you from concept to tangible implementation, check out our service offerings online, contact us by email, or better yet, give us a call at (800) 207-8192 to arrange for a complementary consultation to determine if you are ready for strategic planning and if our program is right for you.

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