Scaling Up – How a Few Companies Make it…and Why the Rest Don’t
(Mastering the Rockefeller Habits 2.0)

Verne Harnish and the team at Gazelles

Scaling Up - Verne HarnishThis book was first published in 2014, and as the title suggests, is an update and refresh of Verne’s first book published in 2002, called Mastering the Rockefeller Habits. In case you don’t know, the Rockefeller being referred to is John D Rockefeller, who lived from 1839 to 1937 and was an American business legend who founded the Standard Oil Company. It dominated the oil industry for many years and evolved to include Exxon, Mobil and Chevron. He is often said to be the wealthiest American of all time. Verne studied what was written about him and arrived at what he called the Rockefeller Habits – the habits that drive business success.

Verne opens the overview by stating that the key to scaling the business growth curve is:

  1. Attracting and keep the right people
  2. Creating a truly differentiated strategy
  3. Driving flawless execution
  4. Having plenty of cash to weather the storms

These four highlighted words represent four fundamentals of business to be mastered and Verne presents some great ideas in respect of each of these.

Verne also notes that scaling a business is like climbing Mt Everest – you need a plan and stepped approach, specifically:

  • Be guided by a core set of values and a purpose
  • Choose a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG as made famous by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras) to achieve in the next 10 to 25 years
  • Set a series of 3 to 5 year targets divided into annual goals
  • Break down these goals into actionable steps the business takes over the next few weeks of months, adjusting tactics as market conditions dictate.

Verne and his team have developed a number of tools (documents) over the years to support their ideas and these are referred to throughout the book and available for free from his website. These include the One Page Strategic Plan which I have seen being used in quite a few businesses.

He includes in the book what he calls the Rockefeller Habits Checklist and I have reproduced that below as in some ways it represents the essence of this book.

Rockefeller Habits Checklist – the 10 fundamental habits that support successful execution of your strategy.

  1. The executive team is healthy and aligned – there is trust that permits true debate and constructive conflict
  2. Everyone is aligned with the #1 thing that needs to be accomplished this quarter to move the company forward
  3. Communication rhythm is established and information moves through the organisation accurately and quickly.
    The key is effective daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual rhythm of meetings.
  4. Every facet of the organisation has a person assigned with accountability for ensuring goals are met.
  5. Ongoing employee input is collected to identify obstacles and opportunities.
    Have each senior leader formally ask one employee each wee what should we start, stop and keep doing?
  6. Reporting and analysis of customer feedback data is as frequent and accurate as financial data.
  7. Core values and purpose are alive in the organisation
  8. Employees can articulate key components of the organisation’s strategy accurately
    So they need to know the BHAG, customers, 3 brand promises and what the company does and be able to explain using an elevator pitch.
  9. All employees can answer quantitively whether they had a good day or week.
  10. The company’s plans and performance are visible to everyone.


Each of these items is expanded on in the book and Verne extensively references a range of business thinkers and writers and their ideas. He is a master of grabbing key ideas of others and weaving them into his philosophy and approach. You will find yourself wanting to read a lot of other books and articles as you go through – he references plenty!

For many people, Verne Harnish is probably best associated with the notion of the rhythm of meetings that go on in a business daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually to support growth. I know many accounting firms who employ daily huddles as Verne suggests, as the foundation for workflow management and broader business management.

If I had to summarise his advice in a sentence or two I’d say it is this. As a business be guided by your values and purpose, get really clear on what you are aiming to achieve and the build killer strategies to deliver. Break that down into steps and maintain a fanatical focus on what your priorities are and measure progress daily. Hire great people and give them the space and support to get on with it and keep your eye on managing the cash.

Should you read this book?

Yes, is the short answer. It’s relatively easy to read and contains a lot of very good ideas. I’ve worked in businesses that have applied much of Verne’s thinking and talked to quite a few business owners who have done the same and believe when implemented well it is very effective.

See it on Amazon / Kindle here