As a 2013 resolution, the Clarus team resolved to invest more time in sharing our collective knowledge, best practices, and expertise with one another. With that in mind, we carved out time for team discussion on a recent read that we frequently share with clients: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg.
Here is a little bit on the book: In his writing, Duhigg characterizes habits and the influence they have on our lives. He explains that our habits are an automatic three-step process. They are loops constructed of a cue, a routine, and then a reward—patterns that allow our brains to conserve energy and enable us to “multi-task.” For example, reversing our cars out of the driveway is actually a complicated task involving a series of actions, yet many of us accomplish it every morning on the way to work without “thinking”.
These habits form, for good or for ill, without much thought on our part. In fact, that is Duhigg thesis. If we can understand how habits form, then we can use that information to construct new and better habits. He states “So unless you deliberately fight a habit—unless you find new routines—the pattern will unfold automatically,” (20). It is in this fighting action that we alter the middle of the habit, the routine, and can switch our behaviors, either personal or company-wide, to be more beneficial.
Here is our take: While Duhigg’s book provides interesting examples of habits ranging from those relate to personal improvement to NFL football teams striving for a Super Bowl win, we were mesmerized by Duhigg’s example of Paul O’Neill’s work at Alcoa.
When he was first named CEO, O’Neill turned the company’s direction to place safety as Alcoa’s top priority. During his official introduction to major shareholders, he spoke of nothing else but worker safety—throwing his shareholders for a dizzying loop with no mention of stock price improvement or ROI. However, to the shareholders’ delight, building support and buy-in around safety at all levels of the company resulted in remarkable success, including, but not limited to, profit. When the entire company rallied behind a common goal, it established a team-oriented culture that produced team members who were committed to the quality of their work and tremendously proud of their role within the company.
A testament to Duhigg’s theories, our team has witnessed similar successes in our work with clients who made a sincere commitment to improvement by radically changing organizational priorities and related habits. After renewing a commitment to the environment, health, and safety, one client emerged from a turbulent period to become a top-performer and a best practice benchmark for not only its own industry but several others too.
Trust us. Transformative change can be achieved. The power of habit makes it possible.
We recommend you check out Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Random House, 2012.