Lean and the 7 Habits: No. 7 “Sharpen the Saw”

This post is part of a series discussing how you can apply lean principles to achieve the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Previously, we discussed the first 6 habits:

1. Be Proactive
2. Begin with the End in Mind
3. Put First Things First
4. Think Win-Win
5. Seek First to Understand and then to be Understood
6. Synergize

This week, we’ll discuss Covey’s 7th habit, Sharpen the Saw

Continuous Improvement involves understanding the importance of maintaining an ongoing effort to improve yourself and your business in order to create a sustainable, long-term, effective lifestyle and a healthy and prosperous business. It is essential to seek “incremental” improvements over time. Moreover, achieving continuous improvement requires you and your business to come full-circle by returning to step one, as improvement never terminates. The Continuous Improvement imperative succeeds only if it continues to evolve and change, fundamentally creating value. In order to effectively obtain the benefits of Continuous Improvement, you must (7.) Sharpen the Saw.

Sharpening the Saw
Sharpening the saw is a definitive way to balance and renew your resources, energy and health to create a sustainable, long-term, effective lifestyle and relationships. It primarily emphasizes exercise for physical renewal and results in mental renewal. This trait also emphasis service to society, and from a business perspective, service to your customers.

Sharpening the saw through continuous improvement goes hand-in-hand with Lean Six Sigma. While Covey’s seven habits focus on self-renewal, Lean Six Sigma looks at self-renewal from the perspective of the value stream and how customers define value. Today’s optimal solution will be tomorrow’s obsolete solution. This approach is cyclical, and starts by looking inward, monitoring progress and setting goals on further improving outward. It is crucial to always be looking to the customer to see where additional value can be added, and then synergizing with team members to devise new solutions for improvement.

Lean practitioners and organizations that become Lean enterprises understand that change never stops. The culture of continuous improvement supports sustainability. There will always be new advancements and practices available that allow room for improvement and innovative thinking.

Series Conclusion
Stephen R. Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” presents a framework for living with fairness, integrity, honesty, and human dignity – principles that help us embrace change and take control of life’s opportunities. Achieving these goals requires an increased capacity for both change and improvement.

Throughout this series, we’ve explored how Lean Six Sigma better prepares individuals and organizations for change by using a proven problem-solving model that is designed to improve quality and eliminate waste in anything you do – a way to do things better. Once the underlying principles of the Lean Six Sigma model are embraced by those that practice lean, these principles expand beyond the application in a business process to the personal habits that are practiced each and every day. These principles go hand-in-hand with Covey’s seven habits. By applying Lean Six Sigma to achieve the 7 Habits, you and your company will inevitably become more productive and proactive.

About the Authors

Mike Sibley and Katie Davis are passionate about creating thorough and sustainable systems to help organizations become Lean Enterprises. In addition to writing and speaking on Lean Six Sigma, Mike and Katie work directly with an organization’s members to evaluate an existing process and identify solutions that eliminate waste, as well as build efficiency and quality into the process. Mike and Katie have applied these approaches for manufacturing, construction, professional services, and governmental entities.


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