Posted by Cathy Reilly

Winston Churchill said, “We shape our buildings and thereafter they shape us.” 

The same applies to habits. Form a habit, and it begins to form you, for better or for worse.

Habits are where our lives and careers and bodies are made. If you want to change, change your habits.

What is a habit? It’s doing one thing consistently and repeatedly until it changes your behavior. Crash diets don’t work because they don’t change habits. No, the way to get in shape is to go to the gym every single day. Do that for a month and you will start doing something that might begin to change your life. “Exercise spills over,” said James Prochaska, a University of Rhode Island researcher. “There’s something about it that makes other habits easier.” One shift in a daily habit might mean a reinvention of how you see yourself. 

What’s true for people is true for organizations. You build a good organization with good habits. If an organization wants to change its employee’s habits, it must first change its own.

The Power of One Good Habit

One good habit can start a chain reaction that changes other habits. Charles Duhigg calls these keystone habits. In his book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Duhigg identifies a keystone habit that Paul O’Neil established at Alcoa. (I mentioned it in my last post.)

“If I could start disrupting habits around one thing, it would spread throughout the entire company,” O’Neil said. That one thing was safety in the workplace, with an audacious goal of zero injuries. That keystone habit led to a remarkable transformation at Alcoa. Because safety mattered more than anything else, it started to change other habits, and created an atmosphere in which other behaviors emerged.

For example, O’Neil believed that it was essential to create a real-time safety data system that managers could use to share suggestions. So he ordered Alcoa’s offices around the world to link up to an electronic network, (the first genuinely worldwide corporate e-mail system). Everyone logged on every morning to discuss safety issues. Once the e-mail habit became more engrained, managers started posting information on all kinds of other topics. Everyone used the system to communicate about everything. It became a forum for change in the workplace. Alcoa’s profits increased because its managers knew things globally before their competitors did.

And it also changed the employees. Empowered to communicate safety concerns to their managers, they were also emboldened to express their ideas, some of which would save the company millions of dollars.

Change starts with you. It’s true not only for individuals but for companies. If you want to transform the workforce, transform the workplace. Habits make it happen one good habit at a time.

Stay tuned for my next post on how to build your coaching habit.  

Topics: Management

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