Five Tips for Choosing Smarter Rocks

The concept of Rocks is one of the most popular items in the EOS Toolbox™. For newcomers to EOS™, Rocks offer a simple way to organize and prioritize what usually is a big, messy pile of ideas and goals. However, for veterans of the system, structuring big projects with Rocks becomes second nature.

Many organizations running on EOS need some help in their first year or two choosing Rocks that check all the boxes Gino Wickman describes in Traction for getting S.M.A.R.T.:

• Specific
• Measurable
• Attainable
• Realistic
• Timely

Each of these ideas targets a separate, common habit of organizations that don’t have a framework for setting objectives. Relative newcomers to EOS will sometimes fixate on one or two of the S.M.A.R.T. components that caused the most pain before EOS started them on a better path. To be successful, Rocks really need a balance of all of them, in part because they all feed into each other.

In practice, evaluating each Rock using the S.M.A.R.T. framework takes some skill. Here are some ideas I’ve found helpful in guiding clients through each of these ideas:

Specific: Know your goal.

When it comes to Rocks, ambiguity is the enemy. Clearly defining goals is an indispensable step for being smart, not just with Rocks, but with every significant business decision. You’ll never recognize the finish line if you’re not crystal clear about what you’re trying to accomplish. Worse, you’ll start chasing squirrels instead of focusing on a final objective.

Although specific doesn’t necessarily mean simple, I find it’s helpful to reduce a Rock’s description to a short, concrete statement of what somebody’s expectations are. “Improve the project management system” is too vague. “Define and implement a process for deadline management,” is not.

Measurable: Know what it means to be finished.

Reaching the end of a quarter with a bunch of unfinished Rocks is frustrating. Not knowing if a Rock is finished can be flabbergasting.

Check off Rocks with confidence by defining a clear completion point at the start. Take the time to work out what “finished” means for each of your Rocks. Numbers are great if they work: “Add 10 new clients,” versus “Expand sales.” Tying a completion to a concrete event, like a meeting to roll out a new strategy, is also effective.

Attainable and Realistic: Know your limits.

These overlapping components of S.M.A.R.T. often create some confusion. Here’s one way to think about them:

Attainability is about the big picture. A Rock is attainable if the individual and the organization have the necessary capacity to make it happen. Capacity is drawn from many different places: internal staffing, contractor support, technologies, and much more. When setting a Rock, ask if all the pieces are in place for making it happen. If those pieces are missing, building capacity might need to be a milestone Rock before tackling the bigger project.

• Realistic is about the individual who owns the Rock. If you can achieve the Rock with the time and talent available to you, it is realistic. If someone has 5 free hours each week, but a Rock will take at least 10 hours per week to complete, it’s not reasonable. Accurately forecasting time and talent isn’t always easy, and sometimes you’ll miss the mark. That’s okay! The effort is still worth it.

Timely: Be deliberate.

Timeliness has two pieces to it: deadlines and priorities. A Rock needs to have deadlines that make sense. I like to encourage my clients to give themselves plenty of time to get through their Rocks. The end of the next quarter may feel far away, but achieving several complicated goals over three months isn’t always easy. If in doubt, the last day of the next quarter is the proper deadline.

Priorities are just as important. Is the Rock you’re setting really the most important thing to be focusing on for this quarter? If finishing this task in six months or a year is just as good, perhaps there’s something else that’s more urgent.

Don’t get crushed by dumb Rocks.

One more piece of advice: if your Rocks turn out to not be S.M.A.R.T., there’s no reason to lug them through the rest of the quarter, hoping they’ll work themselves out: they won’t. Reviewing everyone’s Rocks at every Level 10 Meeting™ provides an opportunity to confront the faulty Rocks and either push them onto the long-term issues list or break them down into more manageable stones.

What tricks do you find helpful for establishing S.M.A.R.T. Rocks? As a Certified EOS Implementer® I love working with clients to fine-tune their approach, this is a key EOS tool. If you’d like to swap tips or need answers to questions about how Rocks are working for your team, send me an email or give me a call at (818) 649-1103. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!