Lean and the 7 Habits: No. 5 “Seek First to Understand…”

Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
Covey’s fifth habit falls under the Interdependence imperative. As a reminder, Interdependence demonstrates the ability to cooperatively function in a proactive manner with clients, team members, and individuals associated with your personal life.

Most people seek first to be understood and then to understand. It’s human nature to want to get our point across first. But in doing so, we fail to hear what the other person is saying and ultimately miss their meaning, or hear only select words. How many times have you listened while forming a response, instead of listening to understand? Covey teaches us to use empathetic listening to ensure feelings of others are being considered during a conversation. This will compel each individual to reciprocate the listening and take an open-minded approach to being influenced by one another. This creates an atmosphere of caring, and positive problem solving.

Listen to the Voice of Your Customer
Lean practitioners listen to the voice of their customer, both external and internal, to determine what is valued and what processes are non-value added. Adopting this mindset allows you to provide the right service at the right time to the right person, while minimizing waste and being flexible and open to change and improvement. Anything in the process that is non-value added is waste and should be eliminated.

At James Moore, we regularly listen to the voice of our customers through face-to-face meetings to gather information about what our customers value, what are their pains, where their industry is going, and what we can do to help. We use these meetings as opportunities to listen to the needs of our customers, and we take the information and share it across the firm’s various teams to brainstorm how we can best serve our customers, individually and overall, to continue improving the service we provide. We use this information daily as a result of the process improvement projects we have already implemented. Each of our employees has been trained to ask themselves:

(1) Does what I’m doing provide value to the client?
(2) Does what I’m doing provide value to James Moore?
(3) Does what I’m doing meet the requirements of a regulatory standard? If the answer to all three questions is “no”, then our employees, from administrative staff on up to partner, are instructed to not perform the task because it is considered non-value added.

Talk to your customers and ask them what they value. Build relationships with your customers, and show them what you have to offer that perhaps your competitors cannot. Prove that you can add value. By applying lean methodologies to achieve the fifth habit, you and your company will inevitably become more productive and proactive. In our next blog post, we’ll discuss Covey’s sixth habit, which is also represented by the Interdependence imperative.

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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