‘Keystone’ Habits Key to Productivity

In our last blog entry (December 27) we talked about how “systems” might improve productivity better than goals because they tackle the goal behind the goal-buying a car, for instance, not just to buy a car but to have transportation. Or, in sales, understanding that the “buying motive” behind a prospect’s interest in your product or service might be a lot more than simply getting the best price.

So, once you settle on a system for your longer term ambitions, how do you set it in motion and keep it in motion? The latest research into how our brains work and influence our everyday behavior suggests that changing one “keystone” habit can do the trick. The reason is that changing one habit affects other, related habits that taken together make a system hum.

An in-depth and practical exploration of this simple yet profound notion can be found in The Power of Habit (2012) by Charles Duhigg. The thinking applies not only to the behavior of individuals but also to the behavior of companies-your company, in fact, if you want it to.

How do we know this is true?

Two main reasons: first, extensive academic research found that “small wins” are behind big wins because they make the next small win more likely. That in turn makes “transformative” change more likely. Second, sophisticated brain scans now enable scientists to see how our brains change as our habits change, much like watching muscles grow as weight training intensifies.

How can your company use keystone habits to be significantly more successful? To get started, read Duhigg’s book. But don’t begin at the beginning. Begin with Chapter 4, which tells the story of Paul O’Neill’s transformation of Alcoa. O’Neill focused on one important but not very exciting aspect of the manufacturing business-worker safety. When he retired, the company’s net revenue was five times what it was when he came on the scene and so was the value of its stock.

Scott Pemberton is a senior consultant at Productive Strategies, Inc., a marketing and management consulting firm specializing in consultative sales training, lead generation and appointment setting, and marketing and marketing communications.  He can be reached at 847-446-0008 and at spemberton@productivestrategies.com.


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