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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Information Professionals, Part 6 – Habit 4: Think Win/Win

  • August 01 2004, 1:00am EDT

Habit 4: Think Win/Win

This is the sixth installment in a series on Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and what they mean for information professionals. Habit 4, "Think Win/Win," is vital to every information professional who seeks enterprise information resource management, value chain optimization or information quality.

Mastery of the first three habits (Be Proactive, Begin with the End in Mind and Put First Things First) gets you to independence - what Covey calls "private victory." This puts us in control of ourselves and enables us to be effective with our inner life. However, we do not live life in a vacuum. We need more to be effective in our interpersonal relationships.

We live in physical, social, spiritual and professional "ecosystems." Ecosystems require the various components to work together effectively to thrive. This requires mastery of the second trilogy of habits (Think Win/Win, Seek First to Understand ... Then to be Understood and Synergize) that leads us to interdependence.

The basis for Habit 4, Think Win/Win, is the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Win/Win is a paradigm of cooperation - not competition. Win/Win is a philosophy of human interaction, not a technique.1

Win/Win is the interaction that leads to everyone operating in a way that increases the value of the overall value chain, not just "my" area. Win/Win is operating in what Peter Block calls stewardship, "the willingness to be accountable for the well-being of the larger organization by operating in service, rather than in control, of those around us."2

By thinking Win/Win, we increase our ability to influence others to cooperate for greater good.

Six Paradigms

Win/Win. This mind-set seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions. Agreements are mutually beneficial and mutually satisfying. "It's not your way or my way; it's a better way, a higher way."3

Example: We will model information requirements and design databases to meet the needs of all information stakeholders, not just the needs of our function.

Here, the stakeholders outside the project being developed win by having their requirements addressed, while the project team wins because consensus of names and definitions increases communication among all.

Win/Win is the essence of Point 9 of information quality (IQ): "Break down barriers between information systems and business areas." Business areas that focus on departmental goals that are in conflict rather than enterprise and customer goals create boundaries that can ruin a company.4 "A fundamental principle of organizational effectiveness is that all parts of the organization work together as a team toward organizational goals for customer satisfaction."5 "A team" is important. All business areas cannot excel if they are operating as separate departmental teams, independent of the others. The only way to operate successfully among different groups is to operate in a Win/Win interaction style.

Win/Lose. This interaction is one of selfish authoritarianism. "It's my way or the highway" is the worldview. People who use position, power, credentials or other leverage to get their way exhibit this style of interaction.

Example: We will only address quality of information as we put it into the data warehouse. To fix IQ problems at the source is 'out of scope.'" Or, "Fixing IQ problems is not my responsibility.

In Win/Lose, the data warehouse customers win - maybe - but the customers of information from the sources are still negatively impacted by nonquality.

Because most information work is about the interdependence of information producers and information consumers requiring cooperation, the Win/Lose mind-set is dysfunctional and harmful to the well-being of the enterprise.

Lose/Win. Lose/Win is a mind-set of acquiescence. People exhibiting this mind-set may say, "Have it your way, I don't want to make waves," or, "I'll do anything just to keep the peace." Seen as capitulation in negotiation, this becomes permissiveness and indulgence in a leadership style. Both Win/Lose and Lose/Win are traits based on personal insecurities.

Example: We cannot change the performance measures for the sales staff to get them to enter all the data correctly. After all, their job is to sell. We'll put in place a quality process to capture and/or correct the data without affecting the sales staff.

In this scenario, the "peacekeeper" has said that poor quality information is okay, preventing an opportunity to solve the problem at its source. Rather, the so-called "quality" process condones a defective process and institutionalizes "information scrap and rework."

In Lose/Win, the capitulator forfeits opportunities that can transform the enterprise. This mind-set maintains the status quo to the point of enterprise threat.

Lose/Lose. This Armageddon outcome happens when two Win/Lose personalities interact. When two determined, stubborn, ego-invested individuals interact, the result will be Lose/Lose. Both will become vindictive and want to "get back" or "get even," blind to the fact that murder is suicide, that revenge is a two-edged sword.

"Some people become so centered on an enemy, so totally obsessed with the behavior of another person that they become blind to everything except their desire for that person to lose, even if it means losing themselves."6

Example: I once entered a partnership to provide consulting to a mutual client that ended in Lose/Lose. My goal was to develop a relationship with the partner because the potential synergy would have been beneficial for both of us. The project started before we were able to work out a partnership agreement. Negotiations broke down between us. Because they were the prime contractor in the project, my "partner" was able to keep me from working effectively with the client.

The end result of this was even greater than Lose/Lose. While the end result was a strong adversarial relationship between both of us, the project work for the client was suboptimized. This project ended in a Lose/Lose/Lose with the customer becoming an unwitting loser as well.

Lose/Lose is the philosophy of adversarial conflict or war. If both parties are not able to craft a mutually acceptable solution, both parties lose.

Win. This is the most common approach to interaction when there is no context of competition. The Win mind-set thinks only in terms of accomplishing one's own goals. Let others look out for themselves.

Example: We will address quality of information as we put it into the data warehouse.

In the Win mind-set, the data warehouse customers win - maybe - but the customers of information from the sources are still negatively impacted by nonquality there. This personality does not even think of those at the source.

This style of interaction has insidious and unintended consequences. This mind-set almost always results in suboptimization, though not as disastrous as Lose/Lose. In this example, all the money was spent on correcting data, but the only beneficiaries were those of the downstream data warehouse.

Win/Win or No Deal. There is a higher paradigm for interaction than Win/Win. It is where we come together and agree that we will have a Win/Win outcome or we will not play the game. This allows both parties to be able to walk away if they are not able to come to a mutually beneficial outcome. This approach, however, is most viable at the beginning of a business relationship or opportunity.

Example: In one of my earliest consulting projects, I had an experienced consultant working with the client because I did not have availability to perform the work. Early in the project, it became clear that we were not going to be able to satisfy the client. A conference call was set to try to resolve the problems. When it became clear that we could not reach a mutually satisfying solution, I offered to withdraw our services, not charging them a penny. They accepted our withdrawal, but offered to pay something, saying they did receive some value from our work. I refused because we were simply not able to meet their objectives.

This was an example of seeking Win/Win, but when it was not possible, we both agreed to the "No Deal" outcome. Since then, I have always operated with a money-back guarantee of our work.

In which style of interaction do predominantly operate?

In the next column we will explore the dynamics involved in getting to Win/Win or No Deal.

What do you think? Let me know at


  1. Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989, p. 206.
  2. Block, Peter. Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self-Interest, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1993.
  3. Covey. op cit, p. 207.
  4. Walton, Mary. The Deming Management Method, New York: Perigee Trade, 1986, p. 75.
  5. English, Larry. Improving Data Warehouse and Business Information Quality, New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1999, p. 376.
  6. Covey. op cit, p. 210.

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