The 1989 leadership training book, ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, has sold more than 25 million copies since its first publication. In August 2011, Time even listed Seven Habits as one of “The 25 Most Influential Business Management Books”. So with the recent passing of the books renowned author, Stephen R. Covey, I felt an interesting way to honor his legacy would be to apply his principles to the professional investigation profession.
As a professional investigator you are likely wearing many ‘hats’ during the day. Many investigators struggle to keep up with their caseloads, billing, marketing and the hundreds of other tasks it takes to run a small business every day. I was not and am not immune to this struggle. Over the last several years, in a constant effort to stay abreast to the latest developments in the professional investigation profession I have made notes of several business practices that I felt were effective and wanted to emulate.
While these notes and observations were helpful, I was never able to organize them into anything tangible. However, when you apply the Seven Habits that Covey outlines, we can identify positive habits for our profession. The habits are quite simple, universal, and can be applied to many different situations in your personal and professional life. Below we summarize and examine each of the Seven Habits and how they apply to the professional investigator.
Habit 1: Be Proactive
Make progress every day. If you don’t have a case one day, then make some cold calls to attorneys in your area or work on your website. Mr. Covey stresses that you must realize that your decisions are the primary determining factor for effectiveness in your life. You must take responsibility for your actions and hold yourself accountable for your time. Remember time is money.
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Create a mission statement for your business. This will guide the actions of the organization and keep you focused on your purpose or goal. Declare specific goals at the beginning of each month and be accountable. Write down the goal or objective of each case when you open it. Always go into a case or situation with an exit plan. Having specific goals in mind at all times will help you execute and perform at a high level.
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Simply put; prioritize, plan, and execute. This can be done each morning or before the week starts. Mr. Covey suggests taking on tasks based on importance rather than urgency. Evaluate your efforts for effectiveness and consider the goals you outlined at the beginning.
Habit 4: Think Win-Win
Effective professional investigators should genuinely strive for mutually beneficial solutions in their business relationships. Valuing and respecting your client is a great strategy to develop customer loyalty and long-term growth. If you please your clients, you will get more referrals.
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
Listen to your client needs. Retaining an investigative company is hard for many people. Use empathic listening to compel people to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to your suggestions. This creates an environment for understanding, respect, and positive problem solving. By demonstrating that you understand your client’s goal; it will make the client appreciative of your efforts.
Habit 6: Synergize
Teamwork and networking is a key to success. Create a strong network of trustworthy professionals you can call on. Most investigators have a niche, but sometimes it’s ‘who you know rather than what you know.’ Offering your clients multiple investigative options even if it is something outside your specialty is good business. Creating a team that combines the strengths of others expands your capabilities and allows you to take larger and more complex cases.
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
Balance your personal and professional life. If you don’t ‘log off’ mentally sometimes your will burn out and get in a rut. You may end up lacking the energy or creativity to do something really great. It’s important to recharge your battery and take time off once in a while.
Stephen Covey believed that the Seven Habits are a simple set of rules that all highly effective people have used to sustain success in their life. Covey also said that the seven habits are ‘common knowledge’ but are not ‘common practice’. Striving to be more self-aware, being accountable for your actions, and taking charge of your life will make you more capable and effective professional investigator.
**Originally published in P.I. Magazine (Nov. 2012)