How to Solve Every Business Problem with 7 Habits
Conway Daily Sun, March 24,2009
By Michael Kline
Sometimes the simplest thing in the world hits you as the solution to your biggest problem. I love that! I keep thinking about new applications for Steven Covey’s landmark book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Initially, I thought of it as another self-help manual - good in theory but near impossible in real life. I was young and foolish when I first read it; now that I’m old and foolish, it’s a much more enjoyable read. I’ve studied the book repeatedly, I’ve listened to the audio version repeatedly, I watched the videos and taught the lessons dozens of times. I still find new applications every time I think about the habits. I’m going to share with you some business insights from the 7 habits with the hope that you will want to learn them and create a program to improve your business.
Be forewarned, like learning a philosophy or a religion this is a journey, not a destination. It’s deeply rooted in principles so it remains solid no matter how our situations change. You can apply the habits to your health, family, job, or closest personal relationship, but this is a business column, so that’s where we’re headed today. Lately, I’ve been writing new workshops for small businesses and in my research I’ve been attending seminars like a Power Point slide-show junkie. It’s no wonder so many people think seminars don’t work when they keep teaching manipulative tricks to get people to do what you want. In the process I’m realizing that while you do need to learn the rules of the game, you don’t need personality trait-type “techniques” for sales training, customer service or managing people.
In sales training, there’s a process – some call it 5 steps, others 7 steps, but all agree the most important element of the process is listening to the customer; this is also called a needs analysis, but Covey calls it habit #5 “Seek First to Understand, Then be Understood”. Imagine if that was a habit - how helpful you would be to your customers in the sales process. Imagine in customer service, how surprised and happy a customer would be if seeking to understand them was the norm amongst your employees. The lacking of this habit is the source of so much poor service and indifference we feel at retail stores, restaurants or even so-called service businesses, and don’t even get me started on the customer service call-centers. In a recent seminar on supervisory skills, every situation that students presented could have been addressed using one of the 7 Habits, or prevented entirely by practicing and teaching all the habits in the workplace. On the topics of personal responsibility, surviving a recession, dealing with limitations around you – apply Habit #1 Be Proactive/Take Responsibility”. On goal setting, business planning or project management – Habit #2 “Begin with the end in mind”. Time management –Habit #3 “Putting First Things First”. Dealing with difficult people, or negotiating with suppliers, Habit #4 “Think Win-Win”. Any situation that suggests a compromise – refuse to compromise – that’s where no one gets what they want. Habit #6 “Synergy” in where you work together to find a new, third solution better than either party initially sought. Increase productivity, stop burn-out, improve morale, reduce turn-over and absenteeism – Habit #7 Sharpen the Saw.
Properly implemented, a comprehensive company culture initiative based on the 7 Habits could dramatically change your company and everyone in it. Having worked in a company that did this, I can personally attest to its effectiveness. I’ve never seen the buy-in of any other program like we saw from this initiative, because it values and empowers everyone, builds trust and turns the phrase about people being our best asset from lip-service to reality. Now, if you’re not a fan of singing kum ba yuh and hoping for the best, then you’re wondering how this works in real life. So glad you asked!
To bridge the gap between theory and application, I integrate these habits into my strategic planning and management system. This initiative fits perfectly with the management methodology discussed in my last column. If you missed past columns discussing the mechanical side of the management system, visit my website www.klineseminars.com
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Business Success Takes Rhythm
The Mechanics of Running a Company, Non-profit or Organization
By Michael Kline
When you have this year’s annual-weekly meeting, you will undoubtedly have dozens of things you want to fix in your business. What’s an annual-weekly meeting? That was sarcasm, because so many businesses start having weekly meetings then stop and start over about once a year – like a bad diet. Weather you go to church on Sunday or Weight-Watchers on Wednesday, everything works better with a rhythm; a business needs rhythm too. When meetings happen infrequently, they’re ineffective. Ironically, the ineffectiveness of the meetings is why it’s hard to keep everyone coming in the first place. Why should we even have meetings when we see each other constantly? Let’s talk about that, but first let me intercept complaints from those who may think my methodology is too systems oriented at the expense of people. Everything I am about to suggest works really well in a company where the culture empowers people, builds trust, supports creativity and respects a whole-person approach.
Now about those meetings; to have something worth meeting about, you must identify your company’s top priority. That may be surprisingly hard to do, but an outside analysis of your business might help. You probably have too many priorities to focus; you may need to combine some. For instance, getting cash flow under control is an example of a priority – learn bookkeeping, collect receivables faster, establish a line of credit are all tactics to achieve the priority, but the priority is to fix cash flow. So, once we find your top priority, that’s where you need to focus with passion and execute relentlessly.
Next, whether it’s just you or a hundred employees, you need to align your company around the top priority. Using the cash flow example, you align sales people with training to sell cash deals and try to avoid taking more business on account. Everyone will need alignment to focus on finding ways to manage expenses. You need to walk around repeating your focus until your staff makes fun of you. They need to know you’re serious about this commitment – not just another diet plan. By now, you can see the power of getting company-wide alignment on a single priority. Let’s expand this into a comprehensive management system.
Your plan is written annually, modified quarterly, monitored weekly and pulsed daily. You start with a full-day Strategic Planning Meeting once a year. This is an art in itself; best accomplished with experienced guidance. This event produces an annual plan – in its simplest form, a list goals, strategies and tactics. If done properly, staff “volunteers” to take responsibility for each item on the list, creating their new position contract for the next quarter. If you don’t implement the entire package and see it through, the day will just be another wasted corporate-looking boondoggle that exasperates everyone involved. Goal, commitment, focus and alignment will get you through, but it’s hard to do alone and usually it requires the help of a coach, just like the diet or church analogy.
Now, every week, each person brings their position contract and quickly gives their report on their line items. This keeps everyone on track, and accountable to the group – they won’t try the excuses they might give you in a one-on-one meeting or the group will burst into objection. Weekly meetings invite creativity and new ideas in an orderly fashion. It’s part of your people system! Your company established a best-practices way of doing every little thing (didn’t you?) and you mandate compliance (don’t you?). Test new ideas that come out of the meetings and if appropriate, establish a new system. This method balances your appreciation of creative staff while running an orderly systems-based company.
Monitor the plan weekly, but only make strategic changes quarterly. This should keep the owner from constantly changing focus and making employees crazy. (You know who you are and you know it’s true). Now promote your entire staff. Yes, everyone gets promoted for something every quarter with our fun, line-item job description changes. Anyone can improve their job description every quarter by shifting lines on and off their list. The system allows everyone to flow toward their areas of highest talent and passion. Strengths grow and increase productivity, while weaknesses become irrelevant. Productivity and morale soar and turnover virtually stops except for people you don’t want in your organization.
Finally, we should touch on the daily pulse of your company. According to Verne Harnish, in Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, successfully growing companies have a daily rhythm or a pulse. To make things happen, have a daily huddle. Not a meeting – a huddle. If you call it a meeting, no one will ever agree to it, so it’s a huddle. It happens every morning and lasts for five-fifteen minutes with a very specific agenda. Imagine having total alignment in your business every day! I know it sounds impossible, but as part of the whole package, everyone will love it and you’ll have focus, you’ll find and fix problems as they arise and remove clutter from weekly meetings so they can be more fruitful.
If you think this was too complicated and lengthy for a newspaper article, you are right. Contact me to find out how easily you can have a coach get you through the process. A year from now, your company could be a very different place.