I realized a long time ago that every company had its own unique culture. I wanted to have a special company, where people enjoyed working, and treated each other with respect and dignity, where excellence and above-average commitment and dedication were the norm. I knew that such a culture did not happen by accident but I wasn’t quite sure how to go about creating it. I had no blueprint, I’d never been fortunate enough to work in such a place. I had a vision, but only the vaguest idea of how to make it happen.

I am an avid reader, I devour books by the dozen. Books on business, psychology, occasionally history books, self-help books. They all helped, but nothing totally clicked.

Then one day, back in 1991, my fiancee put down the phone after a troubled call with her mother and walked across the living room muttering to herself, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

I went, “Huh? What are you talking about?” She answered by handing me a copy of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen R. Covey. I read it and was enthralled. “7 Habits” was the best written, most organized, most comprehensive book I’d read. “7 Habits” was based on principles whose application are universally seamless, covering both the personal and professional. I had my eureka moment. I decided these were the principles and this was the book I would make foundational to my company’s culture.

Today when we interview prospective team members, when we get ready to make an offer of employment, we hand each of them a copy of “7 Habits” and ask them to look it over, explaining that if they are not happy with the principles contained therein, they will not be happy at The Collier Companies.

We tell them they will be asked to read the book during their first 90 days with us and to write a short reaction paper covering their thoughts, what they might have learned, and if the book impacted them in any way. This is strictly voluntary; however, it is a requirement for any future raise, promotion, or bonus.

Occasionally I get a paper that protests that “7 Habits” is just common sense. I reply with a resounding yes, and the observation that it is 1. the best organized common sense I’ve ever read, and 2. what a great world this would be if common sense were common practice.