For many people, “The 7 habits of highly effective people” is still the most influential self-improvement book on the market and sales can certainly justify this opinion. Although written more than thirty years ago, this wonderful book by Stephen Covey is a masterpiece and a great source of advice that can help startups with PR and marketing in the years ahead.

The book is about the authors’ belief that our perception of the world is precisely how we see the world. In other words, in order to change any given situation, a person must change and in order to change, that person must change their perception.

That’s not to say perception is all that matters. Covey used more than 200 years of literature to identify major factors that enabled humans to achieve success.

In this article, we talk about each of these seven habits and how they can benefit startups wanting to get ahead:

It should be known that Stephen Covey had also identified a change in terms of ethics. In earlier times, success was often based on character ethics such as integrity, humility or patience. Today some people look for a ‘quick fix’.

Most people seem to be interested in how to get things done quickly or efficiently. Covey points out that the quick fix is merely a short-term solution.

Each of the following habits is important. Startups can improve their approach by taking note of this advice from the famous author:

1. Be Proactive

Stephen Covey is quick to highlight the importance of self-awareness. He states that humans have a distinct ability to examine their own character and take control of any given situation. He talks about the power of being proactive and how reactive people are more inclined to lose due to a negative thought process in which people believe things are happening to them as opposed to for them.

Startups need to be proactive in order to be effective and make every effort to avoid taking a reactive approach to decision-making. Reactivity will leave members of the startup feeling like things are out of control, while a proactive culture will develop a sense of responsibility in the organisation.

Takeaway – You are in charge and you write the script for your business in the very same way that you do for your life. You should always focus on what you can control.

2. Begin with the End in Mind

Stephen Covey outlines how a successful person will use their imagination to create a vision of their future success. When they have this vision, the person can then use their conscience to decide what principles and values they will maintain to achieve this success.

Most people work hard for their end goal without having a precise vision of what this objective looks like. For this reason, everything they do along the way is unlikely to be as effective or beneficial if there is no clear objective to move toward. On the other hand, if a person is able to decide on a clear destination, they are much more likely to take meaningful steps in the right direction.

When it comes to a startup, this habit could not be more relevant. After all, managing a startup is all about changing and adapting in order to become more efficient. Every great leader knows that having a strategic vision is what often enables the business to achieve certain goals.

For instance, when you first begin to advertise on Google Adwords or on the Facebook ads platform, what is your end goal? Is it to get enough data about your customers or to measure your campaign results? It is to figure out how to reduce advertising costs while increasing your conversion rates?

Additionally, while looking for press opportunities for your company, do you have a goal in mind? Is there a particular way you want your story to be told? What is the brand image you want for your startup. We work with lots of startups in managing their PR campaigns, SEO, Facebook and Google advertising campaigns and we see just how less often they remember the end goal. 

Takeaway – Startups need to visualize every last detail of what success will look like in the future. What will people say about the business? Where will you advertise? What do you want to say to customers? Thinking about these questions can set priorities and create a clear blueprint for success.

3. Putting First Things First and Getting things Done

Discipline is essential for a startup and day-to-day actions must be prioritized according to what is most urgent or important. The third habit in the book goes on to talk about these priorities and explains the importance of taking action to execute these tasks. However,Stephen Covey also points out how the person (or startup) needs to maintain willpower and remain aware in terms of whether they are still on track towards certain objectives.

Simply put, the startup should be taking action based on values as opposed to impulse or desire and keeping a tight reign on every aspect of management. The management should be as specific as possible and include estimates of time, money and resources needed to get things done.

Takeaway – Startups should have a very clear structure for time management which outlines specific tasks right down to the hours and minutes of every day.

4. Thinking Win-Win

Relationships are crucial to success in life and the very same is true in business.

However, many relationships fail due to lack of understanding and a belief on one side that the relationship is one-way. Stephen Covey explains the foundations of any good relationship and how six paradigms rule over the success or failure of every interaction. Each option is common in business and a startup should always seek to nurture the most effective of the following paradigms:

Win-Win – Both sides of the relationship will benefit and receive just as much satisfaction as the other.

Win-Lose – Startups with this approach are likely to use power or position to get their way.

Lose-Win – Startups with this approach try to please at first but then seek to gain strength over time.

Lose-Lose – Everyone loses. When both sides are in a Win-Lose mindset, the result is loss on both sides.

Win – Startups with a ‘win’ mentality only want to win and this does not necessarily mean that someone else needs to lose.

No Deal – Without an agreement that benefits both sides, there is no deal.

Win-Win is the most ideal approach for a startup and one that should create more long-term relationships. Anything else is likely to have a negative impact on the relationship over time and result in only short term success at the very best.

Takeaway – Prior to communicating on behalf of the startup, it’s best to think ahead and write down a list of what the other party wants or needs. You can then make a list of how you can meet those needs and identify where you might be able to strike a balance between the two sides.

5. Seeking First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

According to Stephen Covey, most people make the mistake of providing advice or solutions without properly listening to the other person. For example, if you told your doctor that you had been experiencing stomach problems and they prescribed you right away, how confident would that make you feel?

The truth is, this lack of empathy or ability to listen is the cause of breakdowns in communication. Whether this refers to communicating with employees, customers or business partners, this also suggests a distinct lack of awareness. It’s the same for startups when facing a problem in that the issue needs to be diagnosed before you can think up a solution.

Takeaway – Take time to deploy empathy and always ensure that you address the other persons concern before trying to put across your own point of view.

6. Making Progress taking the Synergize Approach

When we better understand the perspective of another person, Covey says that we can create synergy which will also uncover endless creative possibilities. In fact, the previous 5 habits will be used to prepare the individual for this step and the same goes for a startup. For example, if you were to plant two trees in proximity to each other, the roots of these trees would eventually intertwine. As a result, the soil becomes richer and the trees are able to grow faster.

In terms of the startup, this synergy will enable the startup to ditch ineffective ideas and come up with new concepts. On the other hand, synergy simply creates a more meaningful environment in which people and ideas can flourish instead of facing obstructions or objections. In many ways, this means that synergy creates a transformation through which everything/everyone involved will benefit.

Takeaway – Synergy can not only help a startup make decisions between ideas but also help create a third idea which would not have been an option without this foresight.

7. Sharpening the Saw

The final habit in “The 7 habits of highly effective people” is arguably the most straightforward. It demonstrates the importance of improvement. According to Covey, people and businesses should also try to renew and strengthen both physically and mentally. As a rule, this final habit encompasses all the other habits and is tasked with creating an irreplaceable asset – your startup.

However, there are four dimensions to this habit – physical, spiritual, mental and emotional. A startup needs to understand that each dimension is just as important for creating an authentic culture within the company. For example, the people in a successful organisation need to eat and sleep well, while a sense of purpose and belonging is crucial for nurturing teamwork.

Takeaway – Startups should have a list of values and core principles that will enable people in the organisation to feel happy and fulfilled. Each dimension should have a clear and concise activity and each one should also be evaluated and updated on a regular basis.

Final Thoughts

It’s a remarkable book and every bit as relevant as thirty years ago but the only way to inject these habits into a startup is by changing things up in the first place. While startups have a lot on their plate from the very beginning, taking a proactive approach to these habits will help nurture a long term blueprint that is much more likely to succeed. These habits have been proven to work and keeping them as part of the company ethos is sure to result in positive results and lasting success.