Scaling Up: Rockefeller Habits for the 21st Century

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Scaling Up" by Verne Harnish. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How do Scaling Up and the Rockefeller Habits compare? How do they address 21st-century business realities?

Author Verne Harnish presents the ideas in his book Scaling Up as a “2.0” version of the Rockefeller Habits—the business principles that guided the career of John D. Rockefeller. Both frameworks provide insights for successfully growing your business, with Scaling Up modernizing the Rockefeller Habits for our time.

Read more to learn about Scaling Up and the Rockefeller Habits.

Scaling Up: Rockefeller Habits for Today

Expanding your business is always going to present significant challenges. In Scaling Up, Verne Harnish explores what it takes to lead a company through the growth process. 

Often, growth entails entering an entirely new market space, expanding a firm’s physical footprint, achieving new market share, and multiplying many times over the number of employees on payroll. All successful scaling up efforts, Harnish writes, are guided by an ultimate vision of where the company needs to go and a multi-year strategy that outlines the processes, people, and benchmarks it will take to get there. 

Harnish is the founder and CEO of Scaling Up, a global executive education and coaching company with a presence across six continents. Through educational seminars and executive summits he hosts all over the world, he has taught thousands of executives how to lead and grow successful companies for over three decades.

This guide explores Harnish’s main ideas about how to successfully guide your company through the growth process. We’ve consolidated and streamlined some of Harnish’s arguments and put them into more easy-to-understand language (the original book has a tendency to veer into business jargon and/or specific proprietary terms used by Harnish’s company that can be hard to understand). We’ve also supplemented his ideas with outside commentary and more up-to-date information.

Overview of Scaling Up

Harnish argues that there are several crucial elements to successfully guiding your business as it grows from a small company or sole proprietorship into a leading firm in your industry:

  • Articulating a clear vision of where you want your company to be at the end of the growth process—guided by values that clearly signal to employees and customers who your company is and what it does
  • Crafting the right long-term, multiyear strategy that can bring that vision to life, set the company on a path to profitability, and keep your team focused through the short-term growing pains
  • Building the right structure and oversight to promote accountability and follow through—while maintaining flexibility to ensure that your growth strategy can adapt to changing market conditions
  • Putting the right people in place, hiring and promoting based on accomplishments (not just longevity) and seeking out people who fit in with your culture of growth and change
  • Guiding implementation by establishing key performance indicators (KPIs), accountability measures, and processes to ensure a healthy cash flow

Comparing Scaling Up and the Rockefeller Habits

Harnish’s steps in Scaling Up are based on an earlier framework called the Rockefeller Habits, which he’d also championed in previous works. Harnish presents the ideas in Scaling Up as a “2.0” version of the Rockefeller Habits, with additional practical and updated advice to deal with 21st-century business growth challenges—for instance, attracting talent in the modern era.

The Rockefeller Habits are based on the business principles that guided the career of John D. Rockefeller, the Standard Oil business magnate who is widely considered to be the wealthiest private individual in recorded history.

The Rockefeller Habits and Scaling Up both emphasize first and foremost alignment of the executive team toward an ultimate goal (which others have termed the “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” or “BHAG). From there, they stress effective communication between the members of the executive team that filters down to the rest of the company; clear assignment of responsibilities and functions to specific individuals; universal understanding and implementation of the company’s values and strategy at all levels; and continuous solicitation of feedback from employees and customers to refine the strategy over time and enable it to respond to new situations. However, Harnish notes, Scaling Up examines these points in more depth.

Scaling Up brings the Rockefeller Habits into today’s business environment so that leaders can face today’s challenges more effectively.

Scaling Up: Rockefeller Habits for the 21st Century

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Verne Harnish's "Scaling Up" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Scaling Up summary:

  • Advice on how to guide your company as it grows from a small company to a large firm
  • Why founders need to eventually give up some of their input and power
  • How to build an all-star team—from senior leadership to rank-and-file

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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