Hello and welcome to part two of my blog on how Dr. Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Successful People can be translated into the behaviours associated with successful lean transformations.
This blog will cover Habits 4 to 7, which focus particularly on ‘interdependence’ – effectively working with others, and ‘continuous improvement’ – which shouldn’t be much of an intellectual leap to see how this habit fits into a lean culture!
So, here we go.
4. Think Win-Win.
In this habit, Covey challenges the traditional, adversarial paradigm, of only being able to win, if the other party loses. He also adds real power to this alternative approach by suggesting that if you can’t get to a ‘win-win’ position that both parties find acceptable, then there’s ‘no deal’. In other words, we are not taking anything forward that isn’t a ‘win-win’, so we have to continue to find a solution that is acceptable to all, if we want to resolve the problem.
I think that this particular habit is probably the most powerful one when applied to lean organisations. And, in my experience it is also the habit that is practised the least. Most organisations embark on their lean journey pursuing a ‘win-lose’ approach, not always consciously – but they do.
‘How can I get quick wins’ or ‘I need to get cost (i.e. People) out of the business’.
Are often the starting points to an organisation’s first forays into using lean. This implies that while the business will get a short term win, there will be some losers too – some people are going to lose their jobs! This is hardly the basis for the long-term, sustainable shift in culture that is required if lean is to succeed. Far too many organisations still see lean as a ‘cost out’ activity, by which they mean reducing head-count. This narrow adoption of a few tools to generate a short-term benefit is, in my opinion, probably the most common mistake in lean deployment.
How about truly adopting the Toyota principles behind the theory? That allied to solving problems and eliminating waste (and cost reduction too) are the principles of investing and growing your people, and creating the right conditions for the organisation to grow.
It would be those principles that are most aligned to a ‘win-win’ approach. Yet after about 40 years of trying to understand the secret to Toyota’s success, these principles are still missing in far too many programmes.
5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
In this next habit, Dr. Covey focuses on the skill of empathetic listening. Too often leaders, he argues, listen only in preparation for giving an answer or instruction. They seldom take the time to truly understand the issue or problem before rushing to offer a solution. Even then, what they think may have said, isn’t necessarily what the recipient has heard. The opportunity for misinterpretation, confusion and frustration is immense.
Successful leaders argues Covey, listen properly to a person’s problem or viewpoint – checking and confirming along the way that they have understood the issue. Once they have fully understood the situation they then offer a response, again checking that the recipient has clearly understood the message, or course of action.
Another lean parallel to this habit comes through the way in which teams use PPS, or Practical Problem – solving; a cornerstone of any successful lean programme. It’s vital when trying to solve problems, that we seek to fully understand what it is that caused the problem (the root cause), before we attempt to develop and implement a solution.
Once the countermeasures have been implemented however, new standards are rolled-out, with the clear expectations that people follow the new process.
The explanation of this habit is in successful leader’s ability to combine the strengths of people through teamwork. In other words the result is much greater than the sum of the individual parts. Covey shows that there are many examples of teams achieving goals which are far beyond their (or anybody else’s) expectations.
For me, this feels like the power of ‘Kaizen’, when lead by a leader who practices ‘Servant leadership’. The leader ensures that the conditions are right for the team to succeed; and that improvement is part of everybody’s job.
At a more tactical level, Kaizen is usually at its most powerful and effective when teams work together to make improvement – whether that be through blitz activity or the steady, incremental application of improvements in a team’s area.
7. Sharpen the Saw
Covey uses the final habit to encourage leaders to find ways to renew their energy levels and motivation by ensuring that they create a sustainable, long-term, effective lifestyle. He endorses exercise and relaxation techniques for physical renewal, good reading materials for mental renewal and service to society for spiritual renewal.
So, how do successful lean leaders ensure that they ‘sharpen their saw’? The parallel here, I believe, is to ensure that leaders ‘go to gemba’ often, and practice what they preach in terms of following a structured problem-solving methodology or following leader standard work.
This ensures that the mental (and physical) skills employed on early Kaizen improvements are kept in good condition, and not left to fall into disrepair, through lack of use.
Of course, good lean leadership is also about taking time to keep abreast of the latest thinking on lean through books and articles. Taking an interest in the subject and being challenged to apply lean thinking in different ways is part of becoming a more capable and mature lean expert – so that one can pass this knowledge on to others.
So, there you go – we have now covered all 7 of Stephen Covey’s Habits for Successful Leaders from a lean leader& lean organisation perspective. I truly believe that there is strong affinity between the habits and behaviours that Covey describes, and successful lean leadership. And, whilst some habits have had stronger and more obvious links to great lean behaviours, it’s been great fun having a go at utilising the 7 Habits in this way.
Stephen Covey was clearly a remarkable man, who tragically died in a cycling accident in 2012. If you’ve never read (or listened to – as he was a mesmerizing speaker) anything by Dr. Covey – I commend his legacy of work to you!
Enjoy the sunshine if it’s summer where you are. Use your holiday time to recharge energy levels and refresh your enthusiasm for continuous improvement. Until next time, stay lean!