Ruby Reads: Mastering the Rockefeller Habits

Reading time:

Ruby was founded in 2003 on little more than a humble SBA loan and a big idea. I remember the day our tiny Portland-based studio “opened” for business, and how we waited nearly three weeks for our first customer. I had no previous experience managing people, let alone starting up and running a business. But what I did possess is creativity and the desire to problem solve. I knew that the service we were offering was valuable to people — the question was how to go about getting it to them. 

I worked tirelessly, and sleeplessly, on this puzzle for the next five years. And somewhere in those early days, a friend recommended Mastering the Rockefeller Habits. As a person who generally prefers to figure things out for herself, I wasn’t particularly interested in picking up a “how-to” business book. Around the same time, my customers and fellow small business owners urged me to join the Entrepreneur’s Organization. To do this, I needed an annual revenue of at least $1 million. So, I strung together 12 months of revenue that amounted to a million and joined Portland’s chapter of EO. 

Again, and with little surprise, Verne Harnish’s work was in my orbit. EO itself was created by Harnish, and my peers had found value in his book. Alas, semi-begrudgingly and with little expectations, I picked up a copy of Mastering the Rockefeller Habits. 

Turns out, I couldn’t have caved at a better time. With 2008’s recession on our heels, this book set Ruby’s success in motion. All of the resting potential energy that had been building since our very first phone call suddenly had a place to go. For the second time in Ruby-history, we were off to the races! 

The Planning Pyramid  

Verne Harnish handed me a blueprint to running a business with The Planning Pyramid. One of the first questions posed by the Pyramid is around purpose. Why do you do what you do? What is your motivation for getting up and coming to work every morning? How can you set goals to lead up to something bigger when you can’t name that overarching theme, that all-encompassing reason? 

For Ruby, our purpose was to create the kind of real, meaningful connections that enable small businesses to flourish. So when the recession hit, we decided that if we were going to go out, we were going to go out swinging. We turned up the volume on being there for our customers to make them feel a little less alone. We started our WOW program, began systematizing what it means for Ruby to go above and beyond…and gosh, we actually started to grow. 

And then, after not only surviving but thriving through an economic downturn, we set targets. Big targets. Verne refers to these as Big Hairy Audacious Goals in his book. We asked ourselves where we wanted to be ten years down the road and what we needed to accomplish within the next 90 days to move the dial. Every day, every week, every quarter we thought about the Planning Pyramid. In fact, a decade later, we still show the Pyramid at our quarterly staff meetings and design our next-steps around it. 

Exceptional customer service has always been table stakes for Ruby, but when we doubled-down on our purpose and developed systems that could support us in our effort to really show up for our customers, we were reminded of how special our mission is. I wanted my team to feel this, to have a set of values that accurately reflect the spirit of what we did every single day. 

Cue the creation of our Core Values. 

Core Values 

Ruby had a set of core values before the impact of Mastering the Rockefeller Habits could be felt within our company, but they were lackluster and, frankly, borrowed. I can’t even remember them now and was hard-pressed to recite them then, but they embodied the same sort of forgettable, generic language that any uninspired work might. 

With a clear purpose, a struggle, and a couple of wins under our belts, we set to work in writing, as Verne puts it, a constitution for our company. We knew who we were, the reason for the work that we did, our goals, and the kind of people-powered culture we were cultivating. In understanding these foundational characteristics of Ruby’s identity, our first four Core Values were born: Foster Happiness, Create Community, Innovate, and Practice WOWism

Since then, we’ve held ourselves accountable to these values. From big business decisions to every-day actions, when in doubt we ask ourselves, “Does this align with who we are?” 

It was an exciting day when we were able to add ‘Grow’ to this list. When our team suddenly sprang to over 300 hundred strong across three different offices and we were in step with our growth goals, the addition felt pretty natural. 

Just last month, I was able to retire (well, “retire”). And when I left, we had over 10,000 customers across the country, over 600 employees, and a self-perpetuating culture that often leaves me at a loss for words. There was a moment when all of this could have failed, when I could have failed. But, in taking a little advice from my friends and cracking open a book, we were able to really open Ruby up. 

What could a book like this do for you? 

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