How understanding habits can improve safety, increase revenue

A company's institutional habits influence how workers communicate.

Understanding your company’s institutional habits can help you implement positive change.

In his best-selling book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” Charles Duhigg explores the ways that we form and break habits and how those habits influence outcomes. According to Duhigg, understanding habits can transform our lives and businesses for the better, while ignoring them can set us up for repeated failure. He says that each habit is a behavior loop involving three parts:

  • Cue: A trigger that catalyzes the habit loop. This might be a time of day, a sound or a feeling.
  • Routine: The habitual behavior itself.
  • Reward: The motivation for engaging in the habit, which may exert a stronger pull on behavior the more often a behavior is repeated.

Through employee training, you can eliminate, change and create habits to improve safety, profit and work environment. Duhigg provides the example of aluminum production company Alcoa, which when CEO Paul O’Neill took over as CEO, was struggling with internal political conflict and poor production performance.

“When he first got hired, everyone expected him to come in and say, ‘I’m going to concentrate on profits and efficiency and making people work harder.'” Duhigg tells NPR. “But instead what he said was, ‘My No. 1 priority is transforming worker safety habits within this company, so that we have zero injuries’ — which is a big deal in a company where all of your employees handle molten metals.”

O’Neill overhauled Alcoa within just one year — making it one of the safest work environments in the world, while also leading it to record profits. When he retired 13 years later, the company’s net income had increased five-fold. It all started with what Duhigg calls a “keystone habit,” or one that influences an organization’s larger culture. In this case, just by focusing on safety, Alcoa’s new CEO was able to implement radical change across the board.

Specifically, O’Neill insisted that any accident (the habit cue) trigger an immediate, critical and thorough incident review (the habit routine), with the promise that this would make Alcoa a safer place to work (the habit reward). He encouraged workers to call his home phone number if they reported a safety concern to their manager that was ignored. Soon, O’Neill was also getting employee suggestions that helped streamline production processes and increase profits. These changes made the company less dangerous while also encouraging a culture of innovation, communication and problem-solving.

Of course, changing a keystone habit is easier said than done. It requires concentrated effort, a strategic approach and dedicated employee training. That’s why Mastery Technologies offers a variety of online courses to help you improve your business. Whether you are interested in implementing safer on-the-job routines or improving in-office communication, we have learning resources to meet your needs.

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