Opinion

The business book club: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

CEO of international safety culture consultancy RMS

Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: powerful lessons in personal change was among the most influential business books of the 20th century, selling more than 20 million copies.

It’s a book about change – changing yourself to become more effective in every area of your life.

The first habit is to be proactive. Covey reminds us we are responsible for our own lives; the most effective people take control and responsibility for their actions. Don’t wait for someone to deliver success to you.

The second is to begin with the end in mind. Covey advises clarity on where you are now and where you want to go. Draw lines in the sand, set benchmarks, and then identify capabilities and goals to drive you forward. In safety, it’s been easy to aim for zero accidents but this goal is not just elusive, it’s binary (either a hit or a miss), hard to define and focused on failing less rather than achieving more. This results in a weak goal that demotivates people.

Habit three is to put first things first. This is about prioritisation. Covey says that, once you’ve set your goals, put them in order – draw a roadmap of what you want to achieve.

the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People , Stephen CoveyHabit four is to think win-win. Your solutions will be more effective and sustainable if they benefit others as well as yourself.

Habit five is to seek first to understand, then to be understood. This is one of my favourites and is the key to effective communication.

What’s your role as an OSH practitioner – do you operate in a policing style, as a lauded technical expert, or as a true business partner?

Covey suggests that usually when we think we’re “listening” we have the tendency to jump in and finish others’ sentences and give advice where it’s not asked for. We listen to reply, rather than to understand. Instead, try listening fully, then repeating back what you’ve understood, or putting it in your own words to check your understanding.

Habit six is to synergise. Synergy comes from the Greek word for working together and the idea draws on Aristotle’s theory of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. An organisation’s culture is created and sustained by the behaviour of many people communicating, learning and working together, not solely by the words of the top leader or the actions of the safety manager. What’s your role as an OSH practitioner – do you operate in a policing style, as a lauded technical expert, or as a true business partner?

The last habit is to “sharpen the saw”. This is about continuous personal improvement. Look for chances to enhance efficiency, effectiveness and engagement with your safety initiatives to make sure you’re always at the cutting edge.

Almost 30 years since it was published, this little book continues to provide a solid framework for self-development. Its seven habits are clearly explained and easily applied to the world of safety and health at work. Find a copy today!

CEO of international safety culture consultancy RMS 

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