The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Organizations

By Katlyn Wilbanks

Katlyn Wilbanks joined Fuel in October 2017. Previously, she worked with Ideen, LLC, which was owned by Fuel's CMO, Dr. Lisa Witzig. Katlyn specializes in strategic planning and communications.

I was fortunate to take a two-day course on The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People from FranklinCovey recently. Although Stephen Covey’s book is focused on personal growth, while taking the course I frequently thought of how the habits could be applied at the organizational level.

If someone asked me to describe effective organizations, on the spot, I would offer these traits:

  • Effective organizations know who they are, where they want to be, and how they think they’ll get there.
  • They are open to adjusting their methods as their environments change.
  • They understand what their resources and strengths are and utilize them effectively.
  • Their processes are sound and continually improving.
  • They make mistakes, but overall they move past them because they are continually learning, growing, and developing.

How well do these general thoughts on organizational effectiveness line up with Mr. Covey’s habits?

It is important to note that Covey’s first three habits are meant to be private, internal victories. The second three habits are public victories and should be a focus after the first three habits have been mastered. The final habit is ongoing and represents continuous improvement.

  1. Be proactive.

“Be proactive” is the first private victory. Focus more on the things within your control rather than things you don’t have much control over. You can’t control all the things that happen to you, but you can control how you respond. How can your organization plan for and mitigate external and environmental risks, threats, and regulations, without losing sight of the positive things you can control? Environmental scanning, competitive analysis, and SWOT analysis are good tools to use — but while learning about the current context, it’s critical to focus on what actions are within the organization’s control.

  1. Begin with the end in mind.

Decide where you want to be in the future to determine what you will do today. Create a personal mission statement. Organizations should make decisions this way. This habit has relevant applications to strategic planning. What are the most important priorities, and what systems, processes, and resources are needed to succeed?

  1. Put first things first.

Spend most of your time on things that are important but not urgent, minimize things that are urgent, and eliminate time spent on not-important and not-urgent tasks. In some organizations, all meetings, phone calls, and emails are urgent, and every issue needs to be addressed immediately. The result is a stressful and frantic environment, where employees eventually lose the ability to discern what is truly urgent and what has been made urgent without much cause. Apply this habit to strategic planning and performance management: Organizations should keep priorities clear, and metrics should be linked to each priority. Putting first things first also has relevant connections to resource planning and finance: What projects will do the most to further the strategic goals of the organization? What projects will bring the greatest return?

  1. Think win-win.

“Think win-win” is the first public victory. Express and stand by your opinions, but do so in a considerate and respectful way. Realize your value and what you offer, but, when you are criticized, respond thoughtfully. Since the internet is always “on” and social media has exploded, opportunities for displaying “Think win-win” have grown — and missteps can have higher consequences. Even stakeholders that seem to have the same general purpose as you will have different priorities. Can you collaboratively and proactively further both of your missions, even when they are different?

  1. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Do not listen autobiographically, taking someone's story and applying your own lens to it. In emotional situations, listen empathically, without trying to fix the problem or applying judgment. This applies to stakeholder feedback. This habit isn’t about hearing what you want to hear, but rather accepting feedback without judgment. How do your customers and employees actually feel? What are their real pain points? How can you make a difference?

  1. Synergize.

Value the differences of people different from you. Look for the good in others. Create a solution that is better for everyone rather than just compromising. Rather than being afraid of differences or ignoring them, it is important to take steps to understand their value. For example, in large organizations, often different work groups become siloed, resulting in little cross-functional collaboration and information sharing, a negative environment, and missed problem-solving opportunities. Are there ways your organization could think less aggressively and act more collaboratively, both internally and externally?

  1. Sharpen the saw.

Take care of yourself physically, spiritually, mentally, and socially. Your organization can improve by determining your current and desired states, analyzing the cause(s) for the discrepancies, and developing improvement initiatives to close the gaps. Another entirely different point within this habit is that organizations are made up of people. What can you do to create a better environment for your employees to sharpen their own saws?

To summarize these habits for effective organizations:

  1. Be intentional and unambiguous.
  2. Create a positive and collaborative environment.
  3. Incorporate continuous improvement into your organization.


These habits sound simple and great, so why aren’t most organizations doing these things? The reality is that many organizations try, but these habits are difficult to implement. Coming soon: Keep an eye out for our white paper, in which we’ll dig deeper and share perspectives from Fuel’s experts.

Disclaimer: These are just my musings and do not represent a book or seminar by the FranklinCovey company.

This post is part of a series of consulting tips brought to you by Fuel’s own consultants. Want more? Peruse our blog, and follow us on Twitter.

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