Stephen Covey concludes his bestselling book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ with the habit that makes all other habits possible – sharpening the saw. The name of this habit comes from a story in which we come across a man feverishly and exhaustedly sawing down a tree, which he’s been doing for the last 5 hours. When asked, “Why don’t you take a break and sharpen the saw?”, the man replies, “I don’t have time to sharpen the saw, I’m too busy sawing!”.
My edition of ‘7 Habits’ is the 15th anniversary edition. I now note that the 30th anniversary edition is available! Despite its age a key principle outlined in the book and illustrated by the sawing story feels more relevant today than ever – the P/PC balance.
Production (P) is focussed on what we do. There can be a tendency to suppose that the more we produce and the harder we work, the more effective we will be. The lumberjack in the story thinks this way. We could work all hours and push ourselves to the limit. We could drink even more coffee and sacrifice even more personal time to achieve our target. Would we still be as productive, or might the saw start to get blunt and less effective? The importance of focus not just on the product but on the health and welfare of the producer is highlighted by Covey – the balance between the golden egg (production) and the health and welfare of the goose (production capability). When we sharpen the saw we’re improving production capability. Covey encourages us to do so through the renewal of four dimensions of our nature: the physical; the social/emotional; the spiritual; the mental.
Throughout this period leaders have been required to respond to challenges quickly and decisively, stay calm and productive and modify approaches as appropriate, all while looking out for the wellbeing of their people. Resilience and agility have never been more important.
Leaders can foster resilience by being open about the resilience-building activities they themselves are engaging in and by encouraging others to participate. Resilience building activities are way more than a ‘nice to do’. They are ‘PC’ activities – focused on production capability and an important investment in future productivity.
Lockdown has caused many to stop sawing and some have had the opportunity to sharpen the saw. But as we pick up again should we continue to saw in the same way we always have? leaders can encourage agility by empowering their people to try new and different ways of working and to reflect, adapt and improve their methods based on the evidence and learning. It creates a ‘high challenge, high support’ environment and it makes change far easier for people to handle.
Upskilling is key, as the blend of skills and approaches required is different now from what used to work ‘normally’. Resilience and agility are emerging as the key skills required to deal with the changes and challenges our organisations are facing now, and they apply at every level. We’ve seen that blending Agile, Lean Startup and Design Thinking with Lean and Six Sigma are boosting innovation and significantly accelerating improvement. Covey’s story reminds us of the importance of balancing focus on production and production capability. The power tools of resilience and agility make the lumberjack a force to be reckoned with.