Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”

By looking for Covey’s seven habits as part of the fact-finding, it’s easier to separate those who are a reasonable fit and those who are exceptional. Here’s a quick summary on how this can be done for each of the seven habits using the most significant accomplishment question (MSA).

Be Proactive. Take the initiative. Don’t wait for things to happen. Make them happen.

As candidates describe their major accomplishments, have them describe where they took the initiative, went the extra mile, exceeded expectations, and did more than required. Patterns emerge revealing the types of work the person finds innately satisfying and motivating. Map this to the performance-based job description to determine best fit.

Begin with the End in Mind. Define the outcomes before you create the process.

When I have a candidate describe a major accomplishment, I always ask how the person developed the plan, how they managed against the plan and if they were successful. The best people always begin any major activity with a thorough plan giving full consideration to all of the various alternatives.

Put First Things First. Prioritize what’s important, not just react to what’s urgent.

Find out how people multi-task, getting specific examples and details for each MSA. As part of this, determine how the candidate prioritized different activities and how the person balanced competing objectives. Collectively this is all part of the decision-making process.

Think Win-Win. Consider the impact on all of the stakeholders; how the person deals with superiors, subordinates and peers; and how the person deals with conflict.

Ignore the generic “I’m a real people person.” Instead dig into how the candidate develops team-based consensus. Get specific examples of when the person persuaded people in other functions, including higher-ranking managers, executives, vendors and customers. Thinking win-win is not about capitulating, but about persuading and convincing others, and being persuaded and convinced.

Seek First to Understand, and Then Be Understood. Don’t offer solutions or assume your approach is the best. Understand the problem first.

One of the core MSA questions is: “Can you describe the biggest problem or challenge you’ve ever handled?” As part of the fact-finding, it’s important to find out how the person figured out the root cause of the problem and the process the person used to put together a solution. To best understand this habit, focus on how the candidate reached out to others, modified his or her approach, and achieved group consensus.

Synergize. This is team skills on steroids: working with, influencing, coaching and developing people.

Rather than focusing on personality traits to assess team skills, it’s better to find out the types of teams the candidate has been assigned to, participate in, and lead. Those who can “synergize” are typically assigned to important cross-functional project teams far more often than their less “synergistic” peers. During the fact-finding, ask who was on the teams, the person’s role, and why the person was assigned to the team. If these teams are growing in size and importance over time, you’ve found someone who can synergize.

Sharpen the Saw. Constant self-improvement is how a person remains current and relevant.

Ask people how they’ve become better. Be very concerned if they have not taken any proactive self-development action. On the other hand, keep a very open mind to someone who has done something exceptional when they were underemployed or unemployed. These are the diamonds that others have failed to recognize or hire.

Job-seekers should own these habits, and interviewers should focus on them. If you’re into the seven habits, you’ll discover I changed the definitions a bit — but you should appreciate the switch especially if you begin with the end in mind, seek first to understand and then be understood, and think win-win. Collectively, that’s how you sharpen your own saw. Quite frankly, that’s why Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is transformational.


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