Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
Dr. Stephen Covey presented at Microsoft today. It’s one thing to know the information; it’s another to experience the delivery live.
This post is a bit longer than usual, but hey, it’s not every day that Covey is in the house. Here are some of my highlights from today’s session.
The Lighthouse Story Covey opened with a story of Captain Horatio Hornblower. As the story goes, one night at sea, Horatio awakens to find that a ship is in his sea-lane about 20 miles away and refuses to move. Horatio commands the other ship to move starboard, 20 degrees at once. The other ship refuses and tells Horatio that he should move his ship starboard, 20 degrees at once. Next, Horatio tries to pull rank and size on the other ship, stating that he’s a captain and that he’s on a large battle ship. The other ship replies, and it turns out it’s not actually a ship, but a lighthouse.
The take away from the story is, there are lighthouse principles. You don’t break them. You only break yourself against them. Don’t break yourself against lighthouse principles.
Values and Principles Covey distinguished values from principles:
The key take aways are:
Personal Mission Statement Covey asked us whether we had personal mission statements? Some folks raised their hands. He then asked us how many have them written down. A lot less kept their hands raised. I kept my hand raised because I happen to have my personal mission statement written down. My personal mission statement is, “To find the best way for any person to succeed in any situation.” I tie this back at work, where I try to help customers be as effective as possible, building on the Microsoft platform.
Family Mission Statement Covey then challenged the audience whether we had mission statements for our families? That one made me think. He then challenged, if you asked your loved ones, would they know it? Now there’s a good test!
He challenged us to go home and ask, “What’s the purpose of our family?” He warned us though, that our families will know that we’ve been seminar’ed!
Write and Visualize to Imprint on Your Subconscious Covey reminded us that writing down your mission imprints it in the subconscious mind. He added that visualizing also imprints on the sub-concsious mind.
The take away is that you should write and visualize your mission statements.
Keys to a Mission Statement Covey put it succinctly that a good mission statement is:
Why a Mission Statement Covey told us that the power of a mission statement is that it governs every other decision.
Sean Covey Covey introduced his son, Sean Covey. Sean wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teenagers and The 6 Most Important Decisions You Will Ever Make. When Covey introduced Sean, he also mentioned a 49th grand-child on the way. 49 … WOW! That’s quite the impressive team.
Point to True North Covey had us close our eyes and point to true North. When we opened our eyes, it was obvious there was little consistency. He said he gets similar results when he asks any department, group, or team – “what’s your purpose?” Urgent But Not Important Covey asked us how many struggle with work/life balance. Many hands went up. He then asked us what we think is the percentage of time we spend on things that are urgent, but not important.
He said people often report they feel they spend 50% of their time on urgent, but not important tasks. Why is that? Covey stated it’s because everybody defines purpose differently. Office Politics and Dysfunctional Activities Covey asked us how much time people spend in office politics. By office politics, he meant, reading the tea leaves, dealing with hidden agendas, fighting cross-group conflict, … etc. The data says that 75% of people claim they spend 25% of their time on these things. 25% say that 50% of their time is spent in dysfunctional activities. Urgency replaces important activities.
The key take away is that people feel they spend a lot of time on dysfunctional activities. Six Metastasizing Cancers (Victimism) Covey showed us a slide that listed what he called the Six Metastasizing Cancers:
The take away here is that these are ineffective behaviors and you end up acting like a victim.
Are You Utilized to Your Full Potential Covey asked us whether we can use our full talent and capacity in our organization. He then asked us whether we feel the pressure to produce more for less. The point here was to emphasize how there’s a demand for greater results, but that we’re not necessarily utilized to our full potential.
It’s Not Behavior, It’s Not Attitude … It’s a Bad Map Covey gave us a scenario where somebody gets a map of Seattle. The problem is, the map maker made a mistake. It’s not really a map of Seattle. It’s a map of Oregon. With this map, you can’t even make it out of the airport. There isn’t one corresponding point.
Trying harder isn’t the answer. If you double your speed, now you’re lost twice as fast. Thinking negatively isn’t the problem. Covey said some people might try to use a PMA (Positive Mental Attitude.) Well, that doesn’t help either. Now you’re all psyched up, but really you are just happy and contented in a lost state.
The take away here is that it’s not behavior and it’s not attitude. It’s a bad map.
Self-Educating Covey told us that we need to be self-educating. School taught us how to learn, but we need to continue to learn. He said we need to be willing to pay the price to be self-educating, which includes being systematic and disciplined.
Industrial Age vs. Knowledge Worker Age Covey points out that 20 years ago, it was about goods and services. Today, it’s about knowledge workers.
Expenses and Assets Covey asked us what we are called in spreadsheets. He said that in spreadsheet and financial accounting, people are called expenses and cost centers, while things like microphones, tools, and machines are called assets. He said this is left-over from the industrial age.
Finding Your Voice Covey asked how do you help people find their voice? You ask them what are they good at? What do they love doing? What is your greatest unique contribution?
The key is finding a voice that meets a human need.
Inspiration Over Jackass Theory The Jackass Theory refers to the carrot and the stick. Covey asked us what kind of supervisor do you need when you have a job that you are passionate about and is using your talents and you feel you are appreciated.
People are volunteers. You want them to contribute their greatest, unique contribution.
Keys to Effective Large Team Covey outlined the keys for effective large teams::
One person may represent the group, but accountability is to the team versus the boss. Accountability to the team versus an individual is a knowledge worker concept.
How To Find the Win / Win Performance Agreement Covey suggested an approach for finding the Win/Win for teams and organizations in terms of performance:
When you have that, you have a win-win. The key is to have a win/win performance agreement where it is mutually beneficial between the individual and the organization. The individual should be able to use their full talent and passion (there voice.)
Information is the Knowledge Worker's Disinfectant Covey mentioned that light is the greatest disinfectant in nature. For the knowledge worker, it’s information. For a knowledge worker to be effective in a team, they need information, they need the criteria for success and they need to be accountable to the group.
The Whole Person According to Covey, the whole person includes four parts:
Control-Paradigm to a Whole Person Paradigm Covey reminded us that today’s workforce is about directed autonomy. You manage (things) that can’t choose. You lead people. People have the ability to choose.
Keeping Top Talent Covey told us about how Admirals in the Pacific were losing people to better paying jobs. There was an exception. Covey got to meet the group that kept their top talent. The keys to a committed group included:
Indian Talking Stick Communication Covey shared a technique for improving empathic listening. It’s the Indian Talking Stick:
You don’t need to use an Indian talking stick. You can use any object. The value of the object is that you don’t get it back until the other person feels understood.
Industrial Age Concepts Throughout the session, Covey made reference to some "industrial age concepts":
Lighthouse Principles Throughout the presentation, Covey referred to some lighthouse principles that govern behavior:
Continuum of Communication Covey showed us a continuum of communication that moves from hostility and transaction-based communication to transformation:
Empathic Listening is the No. 1 Communication Skill Covey stated that communication is the number one skill in life. He went on to say that empathic listening is the number one communication skill. Covey explained that empathic listening is listening within the other person’s frame of skills. Listening empathically is listening with the other person’s frame of reference. The key is to listen until the other person feels heard and understood. Empathic Listening Over Telling and Selling A satisfied need, no longer motivates. Covey used the example of air – it’s a satisfied need. When the other person feels heard and understood, it’s more likely they will listen to you and that you can seek a better solution, that’s mutually beneficial. You are no longer telling and selling.
Our Experience is the Lens We Use to Interpret Life Covey showed the audience three pictures. One half of the audience looked at the first picture. Next, the other half of the audience looked at the second picture. Then the full audience looked at a third slide which was a composite of the first two slides. Depending on which of the pictures you saw first, influenced what you saw in this third picture.
The key take away here was that what you saw was influenced by your experience and that rather that impose your view, first understand the other person’s perspective – there’s a good chance, you’re both right! (This is a good case where the Indian Talking Stick could come in handy.) Resolving Conflict By Finding the Third Alternative Covey shared a technique for resolving conflict that works for him in 95% of the cases he runs into around the world. Here’s the key steps:
The key here is to listen to the other person first and listen empathically. The proactive part here is that you can choose to listen to the other person first (seek first to understand, then to be understood.) Listening to Loved Ones One of the audience members asked for advice on counseling a loved one. Covey responded with the following solution:
The key here that Covey mentioned is that most people will not pay the price of listening empathically.
7 Habits of Highly Effective People Covey shared a slide that framed out the seven habits of highly effective people in terms of private victory, public victory, dependence, independence, and interdependence.
Habits 1,2,and 3 are the foundation for private victories and integrity. Habits 4, 5, and 6 are the keys to public victories.
Peace of Conscience Over Peace of Mind Covey made a distinction between peace of mind and peace of conscience. He explained that integrity is more than honesty. Integrity means that if you make a promise, you keep it. If you’re honest, you might have peace of mind, but if you don’t have integrity, then you won’t have peace of conscience. You have peace of conscience by avoiding duplicity.
Loyalty to the Absent Covey made his point very simply – only talk about people as if they are there. You can be critical, but speak as if they were there in front of you. Don’t bad mouth them behind their back and then sweet talk them to their face. This is a lack of integrity and creates deep duplicity inside you. This inhibits your ability to have peace of conscience. Use I Messages Over You Messages Meet with the people you have a problem with directly. Practice the following:
Genuine Happiness Covey said the key to genuine happiness is to develop integrity. The key to developing integrity is the first three habits (your Private Victories):
Greek Philosophy of Influence Covey shared the three parts of the Greek philosophy of influence:
You Are the Creative Force of Your Life Covey challenged us to be a creative force: 1. Get out of victimism – You’re not a victim of your circumstances. 2. You are the creative force of your life.
Empathize first. Grow your circle of influence. Make tremendous impact.
The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Do Covey closed with a powerful message we could take away:
The most important thing you’ll ever do is in the four walls of your own home.
The most important thing you’ll ever do is in the four walls of your own home.
Personally, I want to make more use of the Indian Talking Stick Communication technique, particularly at some of my more vibrant meetings.
JD - that is amazing fact and amazing summary!
Thanks for sharing it in such consumable way!!
I want to work for MS! Can i send you my CV?
Thanks Alik! Covey live was truly an experience, beyond the books.
Just like when you do whiteboard analysis, you only put what's really important, during the live session Covey's inflection, focus and what he shined his spotlight on, gave the information a new shape.
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I think it is "peace of conscience." My wife, who loves your post too, pointed that out. She got it from me because I think it is outstanding. Great principles here and I want to try the Indian Talking Stick too.
I notice I automatically read it as "conscience." I did a little web searching and Covey uses "peace of conscience" elsewhere. "Peace of conscience and peace of mind" are apparently part of Mormon teachings as well.
Right, you are! Fixed. Thanks for finding and I'm glad you enjoyed the post.
Yuk. We were put thru Covey training at a previous job, and I could barely keep my bile down. There's some useful information buried there -- tho nothing ground-breaking, as it all seems quite common-sensical -- but to even get to those nuggets you have to put up with yards and yards of Ordinary Phrases(TM)(R) that Covey seems to think He now Owns. I kept waiting for the pitch to buy a combo blender/vacuum cleaner, or beach-front property in Arizona.
I guess this is attractive to some people -- but it makes me want to OD on heroin.
What training have you found to be effective, or who have you enjoyed learning from?
@JD -- nice -- this is you doing Empathic Listening(TM)!
My dad. He taught me to be rational and skeptical, and especially to question authority, and as a result I question everything all the time. So when people make assertions, especially of the One True Way(TM) variety, I immediately search for counter-examples.
He also taught me to be curious about how things work, and to observe things from different points of view. So a lot of what Covey emphasizes comes seemingly naturally to me; if anything, my problem is that I'm overly empathic -- it's very easy for me to see various peoples' points of view, sometimes to the point of making it difficult to select among them.
The contrarian attitude and endless curiosity are not always appreciated, but they makes me an effective analyst and designer.
Home life is going pretty well without a Personal Mission Statement(R).
All this to say that I guess I don't really have a big problem with Covey's message, but the form really repulses me; it's like eating a huge basket of sickly-sweet cheap candies. I guess this reinforces his point that cynicism is corrosive, but he brings out my inner cynic (never far beneath the surface) in record time.
Just as with religion, I'm glad it works for you, but I don't want any part of it myself. And that's fine as long as you keep it to yourself -- when it's adopted by the Authority (employer, in this case) it becomes a big problem. Do you measure your people by how well they follow the Seven Habits? Does it have any impact on their performance reviews? Is seminar attendance voluntary or mandatory?
@vcohen -- It sounds like we had the same Dad ;)
I think having difficulty choosing among multiple points of view is a good problem to have. (Gary Klien writes about pattern-matching, perspectives, and decision making in Sources of Power)
My approach is basically Bruce Lee style -- draw from the best of the best and "Absorb what is useful" (throw the rest away) The seminar was an opportunity. At Microsoft, there's no one way -- each person has to figure out what works for themsef, but we're given a large buffet of opportunities and learning to choose from. It's Darwin by design, and ultimately the measure is what works. I'm evaluated on my results and impact, whether I draw from Covey, Wooden, or Popeye (who taught me I am what I am.)
@vcohen: I think you missed the fact that in order to be effective in movitating others to be their best, he has to be both informational and inspirational. Obviously the latter is what you are reacting to. Maybe you don't feel the need to be inspired - perhaps you have a strong internal drive - but not everyone is like that.
JD Meier recently posted a blog on Stephen Covey's presentation to Microsoft. The blog post includes:
This was very informative. Thanks for sharing this with is. Stephen Covey is my idol. He is best at what he does.
Thanks Shilpan -- yes, he is the best at what he does and his presence is amazing.
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