Keystone Habits: What are yours?

Four years ago, I read a book entitled The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. I have since re-read this powerful book four times, and purchased a couple of the books cited by Duhigg in the book itself. It introduces the reader to the concept of Keystone Habits. Keystone Habits can be defined as foundational habits which have the power to transform nearly every facet of your business (and perhaps your life).

As an example of a corporate Keystone Habit, Duhigg details the tenure of Paul O’Neill at the helm of Alcoa (the world’s third largest producer of Aluminum at the time). When Mr. O’Neil joined Alcoa in 1987, the company had suffered through a long period of stagnation, and appeared to be on the patch to succumb to the increasing pressures of global market place. Obviously, this put O’Neill under immense pressure to deliver results.

However, Mr. O’Neill quickly figured out that in order to stimulate growth, profits, and employee morale, he had to find a way to motivate the entire company aside from typical financial incentives. In his first public analyst meeting, instead of focusing on the regular ratios, projections and competitive discussions, Mr. O’Neill decided to focus on something which can now be described as a ‘Keystone Habit’, and that was Worker Safety. He told the group of analysts that instead of focusing his attention on margins, input hedging (and stock price), he intended to transform the company into one of the safest companies in America. The goal – Zero Injuries.

Obviously, the analysts in attendance were skeptical (and puzzled), as was most of Wall Street. In hindsight, many didn’t realize that this focus, had the effect of uniting everyone from the Boardroom to the Factory Floor. The results? During his tenure from 1987 to 1999, Alcoa’s market value rose from $3 billion to $27 billion, while net income rose from $200 million to $1.84 billion. Better yet, Mr. O’Neill successfully transformed the company into one of the safest industrial organizations in the world!

What can we learn from this? When companies go through the process of developing its Mission, Vision, and Values, typically at least one important stakeholder group is left out of the mix (either directly or indirectly). Customers, Employees and Shareholders should all be ‘captured’ in corporate goals and missions. Further, the majority of corporate mission statements are excruciatingly vague, in essence they become placeholder text (in fact, if you google some of them – they are placeholder text). What if your company decided to scrap that vague mission statement and focus on something that is not only going to drive profits, but also employee purpose and customer satisfaction?

In trucking, here are some examples of mission statements from some leading North American Trucking operations:

  • “You’re Safe With Me”
  • “Safety: An Obligation Without Compromise”
  • “Work Safe = Home Safe”
  • “We own it. Every mile. Every job. Every day.”
  • “Delivering On Our Promises”

These are just a few examples I could find. Does your mission need updating? Are your daily, weekly and monthly habits in need of retooling? The start of a brand new year is a great opportunity for that.

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