In years past, most newspaper executives would have had an idea of where they wanted their company to be in two or three years time. They knew their circulation numbers, and they knew where they wanted them to be.

However, they also knew a rise of the subscription price would lead to growing revenues and everything should work out for the next two or three years.

Well, in most parts of the world that worked – at least for the last two decades.

Today, our industry’s business is mostly digital and the game has changed. Today a new app, tomorrow a new competitor, and next week a new technology that questions your product.

You probably will agree that there’s nothing like a five-year plan. It didn’t work in the Soviet Union; why should it work for your business?

The Rockefeller habits

John D. Rockefeller, co-founder of Standard Oil (Exxon), business legend, and the richest man in history, had very clear principles to lead his company. And author Verne Harnish distilled them some years ago in the easy-to-read book, “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits.”

Those four Rockefeller habits helped me shape the company I run:

1. 90 days or 10 years: One of the most important habits Harnish described in his book is planning. What a mistake to fall in love with one- to three-year plans! There are only two timeframes that matter: 90 days and 10 years.

If you’re planning 90 days ahead, you have to be data driven, you have to lead your team tightly, and you have to concentrate on goals. And as for 10 years? Those are for your vision, where you want your company to be in the long term.

So if you’re confident with the direction you’re going, focus on the next 90 days – the next quarter. This focus on the very near future brings your company in growth mode and motivates everybody to achieve the goals.

2. Priorities: Write down five top priorities for 2015 and, of those, make one of them the top priority for each quarter. Does everybody in your company have their priorities in mind during an average week? 

There are great tools out there to keep your team focused. The one we at Russmedia use is the weekly feedback tool 15five. It has a number of great features, but it forces your team members to name priorities. It takes them 15 minutes to write about their plans for this week and next week, and you should invest five minutes to review and comment on that report.

3. Rhythm patterns: How often do you meet with your key employees to discuss the next steps? Yearly? Quarterly? Monthly? Weekly? Well, based on the Rockefeller habits, sometimes it could be on a daily basis, if only for five minutes. 

4. Data: What are the key metrics that drive success? Does everybody in your team have access to reports on how they are doing with their KPIs? And do you have real-time metrics, or at least daily and weekly updates on how your company is running?

Having this insight on your smartphone makes it even easier to keep track of how you’re doing and it helps you to predict the near future.

Harnish wrote that book about the Rockefeller habits with a gazelle type of company in mind: small and extremely agile, and optimised for maximum growth. Perfect for most digital ventures of legacy media companies.

Or, as Rockefeller put it initially: “Don’t be afraid to give up the good for the great.”