In Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Habit 7 centers around the idea of “sharpening the saw.” This concept is illustrated in an anecdote where a lumberjack is toiling away, trying to fell a tree with a dull saw. A man approaches him in the forest, and upon noticing his struggle, suggests that he sharpen the saw to cut the tree down quicker. The lumberjack barks back that he is too busy cutting to stop and sharpen his saw.
The concept of “sharpening the saw” represents self-care and renewal, maintaining and improving your most important tool — yourself. If you don’t sharpen your saw, you risk burnout and inefficiency.
Covey was originally focused on how individuals could improve themselves. However, organizations and customer-facing teams can attempt to sharpen their organizational saws. Like people, organizations can find ways to improve not only their skills but also their capacity to create great customer experiences through periodic sharpening.
Here are a few quick tips for sharpening your organizational saws:
Most organizations are short on time, and the tendency is to default to large, periodic trainings. Unfortunately, this one-and-done approach is not usually effective. Look for ways to perform smaller, more frequent trainings that will refine and reinforce behaviors on an ongoing basis. In other words, sharpen the saw a little bit each week.
Team members have different work styles. Some will thrive working in short bursts, some in longer marathons. Some will be more effective coming in early, some by staying late. With salaried employees, focus on what they produce, not whether they’re sitting at their desk every minute of the day. While it won’t work in every business model, when possible, give employees the space to be as productive as possible.
Most professionals want to be good at what they do and are willing to make an effort to improve themselves. You can facilitate this improvement by providing resources for professional development, such as external workshops, webinars, and even a company library.
The above tips are just a quick glance at the many opportunities we all have to sharpen our organizational saws. In the 7 Habits, among the many things Covey recommends is maintaining your personal health. When you are looking for ideas for sharpening your organizational saw, the idea of health is a useful framework. What can you do easily and effectively to improve the health of your organization or team?
Like the woodcutter in the story above, the sharper your saw, the more effective your organization will be.
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