Five Habits of Highly Successful Organizations


Back in 1988, the late Dr. Steven Covey wrote The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, a self-help/business book that quickly became required reading at many companies and organizations. It’s a good one, and even though it’s now thirty years old, the lessons are timeless. Dr. Covey identified that to be effective, we must first manage ourselves before leading others and unleashing the potential we all possess.

In great detail, Dr. Covey laid out seven habits related to: choices, vision, integrity/execution, mutual benefit, understanding, cooperation and how successful people approach renewal. Not a bad line-up. But because I’m not a fan of plagiarism, I’ve come up with my own list of habits successful organizations exhibit. Successful organizations aren’t that way by accident. Here are five reasons why.

They’re realists.

Let’s get the tough one out first. Animal welfare stories don’t always start happy and they surely all don’t have happy endings. Things we do in animal welfare aren’t always viewed positively. But here’s the thing: Associations like SAWA arm leaders in animal welfare to come to the best conclusions possible. Real solutions only come after we fully understand the real issues. By opening ourselves to what can be an unpleasant reality, we can find solutions to make that reality the best it can possibly be. We truly are one.

They plan for all kinds of things.

When faced with situations that could go either way, a former business partner used to ask me, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” By acknowledging the reality of the worst that could happen, you’re arming yourself to make the reality somehow better. Imagine if the smart animal welfare people in Houston or South Florida began disaster planning only after The Weather Channel folks showed us those spinning clouds far off in the ocean. Disaster followed by another disaster. Successful organizations create scenarios, they solve for them, and they document the steps necessary to succeed. For most of my managerial career, I’ve told my staffs “The world is unpredictable and things happen … it’s the recovery plan that matters.” Do you know what your recovery plan is

They work hard to be part of their communities.

Years ago, animal shelters were often considered an unfortunate responsibility, something governments required to keep communities from running amok. That perception, along with a hundred more, is not the reality anymore. Animal welfare contributions have changed the perception from “responsibility” to “asset.” Communities are proud of successful animal welfare agencies. They notice statistics. They use services. They support their shelters through volunteering and event participation, as well as providing funds. Successful organizations are part of our community fabric, intertwined and involved with its people and fellow organizations.

They get people on board.

I conducted a job interview for a young woman who had once worked for a racing yacht. Curious beyond description, I asked about her role as an administrative assistant for the racing team. “I made the boat go faster,” she said. She explained that, by taking administrative duties off everyone else’s plate, the team had more time to make the boat go faster. I hired her on the spot. Someone who embraced their connection to the mission needed to be on my team. So how about your “boat”? Is everyone making your boat go faster? Successful organizations make sure everyone in the building knows what the mission is and how their contributions — no matter what it is they do — connects to and helps achieve that mission. People are happier when they know how they are contributing, and there’s something magical about everyone working towards the same goal.

They have a rhythm and a vibe.

It may have started as a book, but Dr. Steven Covey’s “Seven Habits” quickly morphed into a video series and some very nifty (and pricey) Franklin day planner calendar tools. Covey was a marketer who understood the concept of line extensions (adding related products to capture additional dollars), but he understood even better that people need tools to create action. By supplying tools to help prioritize (and accomplish) tasks, he created a rhythm to getting things done. Just like music, no rhythm has to be the same; it simply needs to exist and be followed. Covey also had a “vibe” — people spoke his language and used his words. Successful organizations have a predictable rhythm about them, and they emit a certain vibe. Visitors see a team working in cohesion and the spirit of the organization is something felt and experienced.

The interesting thing about habits is they soon become behaviors, things you don’t even have to think about after a while. In animal welfare, we know all about the necessity and benefits of behavior training. Maybe we need to develop behavior training for our organizations, too. Start with the five habits … just make sure the training treats are good.

The Association is the only international society of leaders actively leading and managing community animal shelters/animal control agencies.

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