This is the second piece of content in our series recontextualising Stephen R Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Successful People”, you can access the first piece here, or check out our blog for a comprehensive list of how to guides, news and industry advice.
I’ve been reading Stephen R. Covey’s masterpiece of self-help and organisational advice, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” which, despite its age (it was originally published in 1989) remains one of the most relevant books published in the space. In today’s piece, we’re going to talk about the second habit that Covey writes about, starting with the end in mind.
A quote from the book that encapsulates this perfectly goes as follows: “If your ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster.” To begin with the end in mind means, according to Covey, “to begin each day, task or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen.”
I can’t stress the amount of times I’ve seen a group of highly effective people throw all their knowledge and resources into a project in an organisation, only for it to turn south, as the project in question wasn’t thought-out well enough. In essence, their lack of starting with the end in mind sabotaged their attempts to make improvements, and actually resulted in the polar opposite for the organisation. While their intentions were noble, the reality of their situation resulted in a massive amount of picking up the pieces, lost time and resources, which was all to the detriment of their customers.
One of the most effective ways to ensure you and your organisation are moving in the right direction – and with the end in mind – is to have a mission statement. It’s staggering just how many organisations are puzzled when I ask what their mission statement is; they either rattle one off the cuff filled with ambiguity and cliches, or they dismiss the idea entirely. Let’s be clear: every organisation needs a mission statement, and to take this further, every organisation needs to be referring back to this mission statement as you go about your daily activities to assure that the organisation is moving pointedly, with the end in mind. Stephen Covey agrees, adding that “it reaffirms who you are, puts your goals in focus, and moves your ideas into the real world. Your mission statement makes you the leader of your own life; you create your own destiny and secure the future you envision.”
There’s also a host of psychological benefits for your staff members if you have an inspiring mission statement. Research suggests that employees are more productive and motivated when they know an organisation’s purpose – other than to make money, of course – and can see their day to day activities, ticking off smaller boxes that contribute to the large, aspirational goals of the organisation.
From here, you use your mission statement and readdress your business plan. I’d argue that you should try to condense your business plan into a single page; this isn’t a university essay that you’re simply trying to fill space on a page. An effective business plan is concise, direct and of course, maintains the end in the mind of those writing it, and therefore those that read it in the future.
Arguably one of the most important times to keep this emphasis on ‘starting with the end in mind’ is in your quarterly meetings, or your management review sessions. In these sessions, your management team should be sorting through your ‘rocks’, or the most important issues facing your organisation. Both areas for improvement and the doubling-down on your strengths need to be tossed up by everyone in the organisation with the end in mind.
Perhaps one proposed solution to a problem will indeed fix it, like an automated service will increase the speed or efficiency of a process, but could run antithetical to what customers value in their transaction with your organisation, which is a helpful staff member at the other end of the phone or a face-to-face interaction. This is when starting with the end in mind becomes visible when you’re tossing up solutions to problems, or the consolidation of your organisation’s strengths in management review sessions.
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See you in the next piece, and thanks again for your time.
Founder of Best Practice Biz