Unleashing human potential should be the goal of every HR department, but a
recent survey suggests that employees are either indifferent or demoralised by
their jobs. One way of overcoming this malaise is to revisit The 7 Habits of
Highly Effective People, which having sold more than 10 million copies, sits on
many executive shelves. Author Stephen R Covey outlines why his book should be
back at the top of your reading list
Increasing globalisation, with more people working across more continents
means that management practices are increasingly becoming a worldwide
commodity. But the global spread of people and ideas is not confined to good
practices and positive opinions. And with a recent Gallup poll in the UK
revealing that more than 60 per cent of employees there are demoralised by
their jobs with a further 20 per cent simply not caring about their work,
motivating workforces is clearly something that needs to be urgently addressed.
The situation is not confined to the UK, however. And if you multiply the £48bn
annual cost to the UK economy by the rest of the developed world at least, the
scale of the problem becomes clear.
With such a situation it is important to consider the employee as a whole
person with diverse needs for physical, social/emotional, spiritual and mental
well-being. And this is the challenge for HR professionals, who must consider
themselves as their organisation’s change agent. HR must assess the needs of
employees and concentrate on their main role, which is helping unleash human
potential. It is only when companies focus on this approach – creating a
culture which values each employee for their individuality, their needs,
competencies and potential – that they will they will begin to tackle the
dreaded ‘Monday morning blues’.
The key to increasing morale and motivation can be found in a proven
framework of thinking, which is founded on universal, timeless and self-evident
principles. When I wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (first
published in 1990) – which are simply a framework of principles – I found that "effectiveness",
whether at home or at work, was key to achieving our hopes, dreams and goals.
Effectiveness is simply getting results you want in a way that enables you
to get even greater results in the future. Principles of effectiveness lead to
true success – enduring, sustainable and balanced success. Consider the
principle of trust. Can you have trust without trustworthy behaviour? This is a
natural law, which governs our lives, and if broken there are also natural
The challenge and opportunity for HR professionals is to assess the current
condition of their organisation and then to create principle-centred change.
Today’s workforce is primarily led by the knowledge worker, and to get the
greatest performance and productivity from such a worker, organisations must
recognise the heart, mind and soul of this new breed.
Peak performers, with few exceptions, are highly self-motivated by a deep
and personal sense of mission. Each of us, it seems, has a personal reason for
doing what we do. When HR taps into an individual’s need to fulfill his or her
potential, talents, education, skills and training, then motivation and
leadership become self-directed. This is the key to unleashing human potential
– tapping into people’s personal energy and creativity and allowing them to
work with purpose and meaning. This, of course, cannot come from command and
control systems, which suck out personal energy and prevents true human
Creating a truly empowering and nurturing work environment begins with
principles, which if consistently adhered to, can bring effective, lasting
change, greater performance and higher productivity. I teach the ‘7 Habits’ – a
framework, which embodies principles. You may call them something else, but
principles of effectiveness share the same roots – they are grounded in
behaviour such as, being proactive or taking responsibility and accountability
for self. If followed sequentially and habitually, the seven habits can
significantly improve the way we approach the pressures of work, our
organisation and our colleagues without ignoring our own welfare and the needs
of those closest to us.
The first three habits create the ‘Private Victory’, where individuals learn
to master and create their character; the next three teach the ‘Public
Victory’, where individual responsibly creates interdependence with external
relationships, or at the organisational level. The final habit encourages
revisiting the previous six on a regular basis.
On a global scale, the HR profession must not get bogged down in
administration, relocation, compensation and so forth. It must not forget that
its key role is helping human capital perform.
By living these principles themselves, HR professionals can encourage
employees to do the same and together create a principle-centred culture, which
values each individual’s contribution. By following the seven habits, the
demoralisation suggested by the Gallup poll in the UK will be dramatically
reduced and employees will stop going through the motions and instead see the
work that they do as mutually beneficial and purposeful for both themselves and
The seven habits
1 Be proactive
This means taking the initiative to act positively to influence
a situation. Instead of saying ‘there’s nothing I can do’, say ‘let’s look at
the alternatives’. This should not be confused with arrogance or being pushy.
It is simply the recognition that you can influence what happens and it is your
responsibility to do so. The other six habits all depend on the ability to be
proactive – each puts the responsibility and accountability on us to act, to
2 Begin with an end
All things are created twice – there is a mental creation,
followed by a physical creation. Mental creation is based on the principles of
personal leadership or having a goal – what are the things we want to
accomplish? The physical is achieved by managing a process – how will we best
accomplish these things? But leadership must come first. Management is the
efficiency in climbing the ladder to success, but leadership determines whether
the ladder is leaning against the right wall.
3 Put first things first
This is the step to achieving the physical creation and doing
what matters most. We can manage our time and activities according to what is
urgent/not urgent, important/not important. Effective personal management is
generally achieved by dealing with those activities that are not urgent but are
important, such as planning, preparation, writing a personal mission statement
and building relationships – those things that we need to do but seldom get
around to doing.
In the long term, it benefits nobody if one person’s success is
achieved at the expense, or exclusion from success, of others. Win-win is the belief
that there is another alternative, beyond the two extremes of winning or
losing, resulting in agreements and solutions that are mutually beneficial.
first to understand and then to be understood
This is the key to true communication and relationship building
– by listening empathetically with the intent to understand others, rather than
with the intent to reply or contradict. Seeking to understand takes empathy and
kindness; seeking to be understood takes patience and courage. Effectiveness
lies in balancing the two.
Synergy is the fruit of mutual respect, the sum of all of the
parts and the principle of mutual co-operation and valuing differences. It is
about producing a third alternative – not my way, not your way, but a third way
that is better than either of us would come up with individually.
7 Sharpening the saw
The final element of the cycle increases our capacity to live
all other habits of effectiveness by constantly renewing ourselves in the four
basic areas of life: physical, social/emotional, mental and spiritual.