Wednesday, 08 May 2013 00:22

Are The 7 Habits Still Relevant for Business?

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In a recent edition of Leading Company, David James asked the question ‘Do Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits stack up’.

My response, given the vast number of businesses and managers I have worked with is: absolutely!

For those that don’t know, Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has sold more than 25 million copies with its teachings quoted by Managers and corporate trainers (including myself) often.

The 7 HabitsThe 7 Habits that Covey raises are:

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin with the end in mind
  3. Put first things first (prioritising and planning)
  4. Thinking win-win
  5. Seek first to understand then to be understood;
  6. Synergize (combining peoples’ strengths); improving one’s attitude;
  7. “Sharpen the saw”: make sure to renew one’s personal energy and protect one’s health.

David James and several of the people he quotes put forward the argument that many of the things that Covey raises in his 7 Habits have become part of management practice and common sense. My response is that common sense isn’t that common, both at junior, middle and senior management levels.

Habit 2 – Begin With The End in Mind

Let’s start with Habit 2 – Begin with the End in Mind. It has been said that this is now the equivalent of a vision statement. In my opinion, it is much more than that (although I have to ask, how many people either have their own vision statement, or could state what the vision of their business was? Very few I am guessing).  Habit 2 is more than a vision statement – it is about developing a clear picture of what the future state should look like before you start doing it, so that you can create the steps required to get there. It is an opportunity to process re-engineer a problem before it has taken place, and map out the required steps to get there. I know there are many people that might say ‘but isn’t that what a vision statement does?’ In the true, correct use of a vision statement, you would probably be correct. In practice though, very few senior managers and very few businesses make the link between their business vision and what happens day-to-day. Very few staff at lower levels can make the link between the vision and everyday work, because often the people that came up with the vision stopped at that – stating the vision. Part of the cleverness of Covey’s Habit 2 is its use of words – begin with the end in mind, not end with the end in mind. Coming up with the vision or end state is just the start – there is then an expectation that you would work backwards to see what has to be done in stages to achieve that vision.

The other thing I love about Habit 2 is that when introduced to junior Managers, it encourages then to take time out and plan, when often they are expected and encouraged to deal with the hear and now and ‘firefight’. Taking 5 minutes to consider the end state and how to get there can often be a revelation for junior managers, because they have never been encouraged to do it. Good planning and evaluation is one difference between a junior manager and a more senior one (we would hope!) and Covey provides a simple tool to start the process.

Habit 3 – Put First Things First

Habit 3 is all about managing your time effectively, which in my experience, a large amount of Managers do poorly. Wasted time, wasted effort, poor prioritising (if there is any prioritising at all) and a lack of focus – these are the time management skills that are often exhibited by junior and middle managers. Often this isn’t by accident; managers at these levels are expected to deal with urgent issues from their direct reports quickly and effectively – ‘firefighting’ – fixing all the little crises that occur in a business to keep things on track. The problem is that often firefighting becomes a drug for managers; they can fall into the trip of only feeling like they are doing their job if it is urgent, immediate and for their direct reports. Low level and mid-level planning such as training, managing performance and planning go out the window because it isn’t urgent. Covey’s 4-quadrant model of urgency versus importance sounds simple enough, but it still has profound effects on junior and middle Managers. Often when this group takes a short time to analyse what they do in a day, they find they have spent most days focussing on urgent but unimportant tasks (such as emails, firefighting and interruptions) rather than spending a proportion of their time on important tasks such as training, coaching and managing performance. Covey’s Quadrant in Habit 3 provides a sense of assurance for junior Managers in knowing that it is OK to do more than firefight.

Discussing further habits is more than one little blog post can handle! In short, Covey’s 7 Habits are just as relevant today as they were when they were first published. In my opinion, the habits will become irrelevant when senior Managers demonstrate the 7 Habits consistently themselves, with their middle and junior managers copying that behaviour because ‘that is how it is done around here’.

Perhaps the better question to ask would be ‘Why hasn’t the coaching, training and example provided by senior Managers made the teaching of the 7 Habits irrelevant?’

Tuesday, 07 May 2013 04:26

Customer Service is Often Code for Consistency

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Customer Service TickMention customer service in a conversation and I guarantee you will hear comments such as these:

‘Store ## needs better customer service!’ 

‘The people that work at Store ## are so rude / ignorant / self-absorbed, they had no idea how to provide customer service.’

‘The customer service of at store / restaurant / business ## is terrible!’

‘## was so rude on the phone – I will never go back to those guys’

I am sure we have all said something about poor customer service at one stage or another. When you compare the customer service standards in Australia to other countries, we don’t come out to well.

In my opinion, businesses are focussing on the wrong strategies to try and attract and retain customers. While they spend time with sales, promotions, advertisements and more sales, they should be focussing more on consistency.

Why consistency? Because when most people talk about poor customer service, they are actually talking about the service being provided not matching the experience they had before, or the experience they expected. Consistency.

To be more accurate and clear, consistency in business terms is the art and science of providing and doing what you said you would do. It isn’t complicated, but it does take a consistent effort across an entire business to try and achieve it.

When we say the customer service in Store ## is bad, it is often because we have experienced better customer service in that store in the past, and the standard seems to have dropped. If we say restaurant ## is poor, it is often because we have eaten there before and the dining experience was better last time.  Once we have decided that the store or restaurant’s standards have dropped, we aren’t likely to go back. What is worse for the business though is we don’t keep quiet about this experience – we are likely to share it (either verbally or through social media) with a large group of friends, whose buying choice can then be influenced by ours.

iStock 000016450355SmallOne business that doesn’t fail its instore experience is Apple – they have consistency down to a fine art. In direct contrast to most businesses, they are overstaffed – you can always find someone in a blue shirt with an Apple logo quickly. Those staff in the blue apple shirts will know more about the product than you 99% of the time. They can often set up your product right in front of you, and they can all provide POS service – often right in front of you and on the device they are holding. Apple staff are helpful, knowledgeable and on-hand. It is no surprise that the store is almost always full of customers.

As a business – what can you do to improve customer service / consistency?

1.            Test your product. Test it both before it is put in front of a customer and after. Make sure the product is good and the way it is presented / delivered works.

2.            Check it often. Inconsistency in delivery often occurs because the people providing it don’t believe that they are, or have to be, accountable for what they are providing. Mystery shop, make random calls and try the product. When it isn’t what you (or more importantly your customers) expect, fix it quickly

3.            Invest in training. Apple staff being able to fix problems 99% of the time isn’t an accident. They are trained often, both instore and externally, to provide the service that you see. Training should include formal training, instore training from managers and coaching from peers and product / service experts.

4.            Repeat Steps 1-3 Often. The process of testing, checking and training can’t be a one off. I can’t tell you how many businesses I have worked with where the training I have provided is the first that many staff have experienced, either formal or informal. How can your staff provide a consistent service when you have neither taught them or told them what that standard should be, let alone how to provide it?

Consistency in business is not very complicated, nor it is as sexy as a new ad campaign or a 50% off sale. But when it comes to customer service, it is actually what customers are looking for, and it is what they will come back for. Instead of worrying about the next gimmick to get me in the store or restaurant, why not focus on what will keep me there, get me to come back, and make sure I tell my friends. Consistency is the key.

Thursday, 14 February 2013 03:49

Are Your People on the Same Page as You in 2013?

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istock 000006855981medium - blue red green peopleThere is an 80% Chance They Aren’t – Here’s How to Fix It

I love the start of a new year. While I am not big into writing New Year’s resolutions, the opportunity to start a new year, with all of the challenges and opportunities that it brings, excites me.

The start of a new year also provides an opportunity to refocus your attention on long-term goals for your business and your team. Unfortunately, some of the biggest and best ideas that come from this period never come to fruition. One of the reasons for this is that your team, whether you realise it or not, may not be on the same page as you regarding expectations, values, behaviours and performance levels.

In my time in the Air Force, the start of a new calendar year provided other challenges, including staff being posted from other locations. In my last role, the start of a new year resulted in a 50% turnover in staff for 3 of the 5 years I was posted there. With that much experience lost across the Christmas period, we needed to find a simple and effective way in bringing new staff ‘up to speed’ with what was important.

Here is one simple way we found to bring new staff onto the same page as your existing staff. It involves understanding what you love and hate your staff doing and being able to articulate it with your new staff. I have used this on numerous occasions outside the military and taught it to senior Managers of numerous businesses – it is also a great platform for performance management discussions.

To get started, provide honest and open answers to the following questions:

1.      What are the behaviours that you hate your team to exhibit?

What are the things, big or small, that annoy you about your team’s behaviour. What are the things that you wish they would never do? Write as many as you can possibly think of. Whave found that this works incredibly effectively in small groups, as people ‘feed’ off the answers of others and add some of their own when prompted. My pet peeves are:

I hate it when my team.....
 

2.      What are the behaviours that you love your team members to do?

What are things that you thank your team members for doing? What are those little things that are done for you that make your life easier? My favourites are:

I love it when my team....
 

3.      Get specific.

The more specific you can be in what you love and what you hate, the better the list is. Often, the reason why we love or hate a behaviour is based on an experience in the past. Remember that experience and be able to explain it. Why do you love or hate this type of behaviour so much? People turning up late to a meeting frustrates me so much because of one particular Manager that wasted everyone’s time. We would arrive on time for a meeting, but he would regularly turn up 10 minutes late, then expect to be briefed on what had taken place prior to his arrival. I not only found this rude and disrespectful to others, but also a huge waste of time for everyone concerned. I vowed that I would always turn up to meetings on time, and that my meetings would run on schedule.

4.      Compare your list with what your team knows.

Once you have written down the behaviours that you love and that you hate, you need to check if your team has the same understanding. Have a look at your list and consider this question: If I asked a member of your team what behaviours you loved and hated, how many would they be able to provide me?

Have a look at your list and pick up a highlighter pen (or circle your answers). If you think your team already knows the behaviour you love or hate, highlight or circle it. If you think they don’t leave it blank. Go through your entire list, considering whether your team knows what you love and what you don’t.

When I undertake this activity with management groups, most participants have about 50% of their list highlighted, and 50% unmarked. What this means for most people is that half the time your team doesn’t know if the behaviour they are demonstrating is loved or hated by you.

Does that make sense? You could have team members doing a task in a way that you love, but because they don’t know it, they change it or perform it inconsistently. Worse, your team members could continue to do something that you hate because they have no idea that you don’t like it.

5.      Brief your team on your likes and dislikes.

Every team and every Manager we work with has different likes and dislikes – what one Manager loved another might hate. If we don’t tell our team the specifics of what we prefer, they will fly completely blind and be forced to guess, wasting both of your time when they could be doing something more productive.

It would be much easier if we were robots – we could print our optimum operating instructions on our foreheads for everyone to see – ‘How to get the best out of me – Step 1’ etc. Thankfully our teams and Managers aren’t robots, but because of this they do not instinctively know our likes, our dislikes and the best way to get the best out of us – we have to tell them.

6.      Advanced Step – Ask the same of your team.

Now your team knows how to get the best out of you (be doing more of what you like and less of what you don’t), do you know how to get the best out of your team? What are their preferences?

For your team to work efficiently and effectively, you all have to be on the same page. While the steps outlined above might be simple, experience has shown us that 60% of Managers haven’t thought of the question (or its importance) and 85% have items that they love (or hate) that their teams didn’t know about.

Does your team know what you love and hate them doing?

Kameleons – Developing Leaders can help with this and many other practices to get your team to work more efficiently and cohesively together. Call us on 0409627270 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to start the discussion today.

Monday, 04 February 2013 05:21

Leadership Quote 25: Margaret Thatcher

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Leadership Quote 25

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