At Alcoa, a gigantic company that produces aluminum, a new CEO was faced with turning the company around years ago and decided that improving safety was the answer. Wall Street, ever conservative in its approach to change, reacted to this unconventional approach by punishing the stock.
Can you predict what happened?
CEO Paul O’Neill had decided to change what Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, calls a “keystone habit.” This he defines as a habit that is so important that by changing it, one sets up a chain reaction that affects everything else one is doing. Companies and people both have habits, also called routines.
These things happen without our even thinking about it. Consider your routine when you get to work in the morning—showering, dressing, eating, coffee, driving, checking email, etc.
It can be an hour before you even make a conscious decision.
A small win can lead to big changes
If you struggle to finish tasks, it is probably because you have habits that are not helping you. Such as checking your email every five minutes. What you need is a keystone habit that will give you a small win, Duhigg explains. That little boost will keep paying off in other ways.
Exercise, for example, is a positive keystone habit. At Alcoa, the keystone habit that the CEO wanted to instill was to put safety first.
His goal: Zero accidents. He told his workers that he wanted Alcoa to be “the safest company in America.” Pretty ambitious, but not impossible.
Focusing everyone around this directive worked. It created a ripple effect where other positive changes followed, such as employees and managers working together to redesign processes to ensure worker safety. In a year, the company’s profits rocketed and, when he retired 13 years later O’Neill had raised the company’s income by 400 percent.
Just trying harder is the definition of insanity
How does this relate to getting things done? Most of us are highly distracted and have trouble staying on task. We tell ourselves we just need to try harder, but that doesn’t work.
A more fundamental change is necessary.
The main obstacles to productivity, in my opinion, are:
- The inability to focus
- Not identifying one’s mission and thus getting lost in the weeds
They are related, of course. Many business owners make the mistake of starting too many things and not finishing any. It’s tough to bring ideas to port.
A simple test that can change the way you approach your business
Here’s how to get on the right track. First, identify your mission. Then make a habit of checking everything you do against it:
Is it aligned with my mission?
If not, don’t do it.
Is it mission-critical?
If not, delegate or outsource.
If it meets the test, then: Make a note, but then schedule time to work on it. Ask yourself when you want it done by. Write down the steps and then do them.
Want more mission-critical tips? I tell a story elsewhere on this blog about an Iraq ship commander and how this worked for him. Learn five tips for staying mission-critical.
Do you have trouble distinguishing mission critical tasks and struggle to get things done? CHB can help you overcome these obstacles. Contact Claude today.