The Successful Seven

Organizational change is the order of the day-with increasing global competition, rising customer and employee expectations and incessant demands on company management by their stockholders and stakeholders. The IT industry, of which this author is a part, is one of the key examples of an environment where change is the only constant and the effective management of change becomes a critical success factor for most firm.

To plan and implement change in such an environment, Stephen Covey in his landmark work The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People focused on personal habits and their importance in bringing about organizational change. The attempt in this paper is to relate this to the Indian software industry with examples on how some of the Covey’s concepts can be applied.

The 7 habits-personal dimension
Covey defines the evolution of habits in individuals as a progression on the maturity continuum from dependence to independence to interdependence. In the organizational context, the early days of division of labour and large hierarchies supported the dependent style where bosses were expected to control and command in an autocratic fashion. This moved to a style of setting goals and leaving people alone to achieve them or fail with an attitude of win-lose built into the management process. However, in the modern day context, the interdependent style has become the best and arguably the only way to achieve corporate success. In today’s globally relevant IT Industry, it is essential for leaders to realize that they cannot succeed alone, but will have to tap the potential of technical and marketing professionals to build an organizational capability that far exceeds the sum of individual capabilities.

Covey explains that the effectiveness paradigm is based on a natural principle he calls the P/PC balance, where the production of individual results must be seen as only as important as the preservation of an ongoing production capability. In our industry, the tendency to make heroes out of highly skilled individuals or leaders in organizations often ignores the very clear need to build a capability to install knowledge systems in an organization that would be capable of de-skilling the capabilities into easily replicable results. In the IT industry, brilliant individuals tend to be egoistic by nature and cling on to their individual secrets of success. No amount of non-compete agreements can compensate for the need to build institutional capability and a genuine climate of empowerment and proactive behavior for sustained business or technical successes.

The move from dependence, where all human beings start out to independence involves three personal habits of being proactive, beginning with the end in mind and putting first things first, which are so crucial to the attainment of private victories for individuals. Covey’s Proactive Model is built around every individuals freedom to choose a response to any stimulus, and the choice is guided by the self-awareness, awareness, conscience and free will of every individual. In my own experience, the behavior forces individuals to conform to an expected pattern is always detrimental to the innovative capability of an organization. For an organization, such an approach will foster the development of people who have a wide circle of influence that balances the circle of concern that every thanking individual possesses and ensures that solutions to present and anticipated problems emerge from all levels in the organization.

The second principle is basically the need for a strong personal vision that can then be integrated with the collective vision of the organization. In the IT industry, where many young professionals are sometimes driven more by short-term monetary goals than by long-term career objectives, it becomes necessary for every organization to look for and build people who have a clear sense of their own mission. One that is built on a solid foundation of self-esteem and wisdom and guided by a strong value system and the power to act rather than be acted on by people. Covey advocates a principle-centered approach, which can often ensure that a balance is built between the pressures of work, family, money, pleasure and self.

Probably the most uncommon habit, even amongst senior managers and CEOs, is the first-things-first approach. The importance is often ruled over by the urgent and many individuals tend to be obsessed with crises and project deadlines, which are quite often caused by ignoring preventive actions like planning, relationship building and building production

capabilities rather than obsessively focusing on short-term results. This is never more true than in the IT industry, where management by crisis often becomes the watchword and there is a definite need for proactive individuals powered by their own and the organizational mission toprioritize important organization building activities and build sustainable capabilities.

An important learning here is the need to understand and practice the four dimensions of renewal:
Physical: health, food habits, stress minimisation
Mental: reading, writing, planning
Spiritual: mediation and building a personal value system
Social/Emotional: security, empathy and a capability for synergy.

When many individuals reach this level of independence, the organization can move to the interdependence dimension.

Interdependence paradigms
"You can’t talk your way out of problems you behave yourself into," is one of the most important contributions of Covey in this crucial area of integration of personal habits into the collective capabilities of organizations. The concept of the Emotional Bank Account, where deposits are made through kindness, honesty and sticking to commitments and withdrawals happen by arbitrary behavior, overreacting, disrespectful behavior etc. needs to be understood by every manager, particularly in less mature industries like IT. In the IT industry, it becomes necessary and very easy to resolve situations by quick and genuine apologies and avoiding recurring patterns of negative behavior.

The fourth habit, that of seeking win-win paradigms in all human interactions, follows as a consequence of an understanding of the Emotional Bank Account. In any organization with people of high integrity and maturity, excellent working relationships can be built where high levels of trust exist, results are clearly defined and agreed upon and all resource provision, evaluation methods and rewards/recognition programs are built in an environment of win-win.

The concept of empathic listening, which is the key input of the fifth habit to seek to understand first and then to be understood is fundamental to the success of many organizations in the IT industry since many employees and often managers tend to be very young and need to practice listening and avoid premature evaluation and advice based on their own motives, to develop the desired climate of interdependence. The success of organizations like Infosys Technologies is a vivid present-day case of the effective use of the ethos (credibility), pathos (empathy) and logos (reasoning) continuum to achieve success.

Interdependence really flowers when the sixth habit starts to proliferate, which is the use of synergy-welcoming individual differences and moving away from my way or your way to a third higher way. In the Indian IT industry, the successful organizations like Infosys or Wipro have begun to move up the value chain from respectful subjugation to the overseas customer demands through respectful compromises to agree to specifications to a synergistic win-win within and between organizations. In the context of the force-filed analysis, which involves the driving positive forces and the mitigating retraining forces, the traditional restraining forces for Indian software like poor quality perception, weak project management and over-reliance on the lower cost factory model are being overcome by these synergy creating habits.

The potential applications for this model are enormous but it would be obvious that many Indian companies will have to move away from the existing offshore wage arbitrage paradigm to one of solid product building and SI expertise which will involve revisiting the ways of doing business.

Sharpen the saw
Habits, both personal and organizational, tend to be forgotten if they are not continuously practised in day-to-day operations. Convey has suggested that the four dimensions of renewal that have been mentioned earlier-the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional, can be applied to organizational contexts as effectively as to individuals. The economic imperatives for organizations, which are often self-imposed and sometimes be pursued so single mindedly that other renewal parameters get neglected.

The seventh habit is the sharpening of the saw-keeping all the desirable personal capabilities well-tuned and applying them regularly in the organizational context. A balanced approach would see the mental (building of talent), social (relationship building) and spiritual (organizational integrity and sense of community and social purpose) dimensions becoming as important to the vision and goals of an organization as the need to maximize revenues and profits. Covey recommends the upward spiral of Do, Learn and Commit as a method of institutionalizing the building and dissemination of knowledge in organizations on the path to continuing success.

The IT industry in India and particularly the fast growing software exports segment is maturing fast and has caught the attention of the powers that be in the government as well as Global Investors and Fortune 500 companies. It will need a clear strategic intent and strong commitment to new formulas for success to move the industry to its desired status which involves quantum leaps in business volumes and value over the next decade. The Stephen Covey model has shown some of the challenges involved in developing success habits. This and much more will need to be done to ensure that India takes its place among the global leaders in IT in the coming millennium.

MD, Aptech Ltd, and
Director, Hexaware Group.

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