Insight 5

Changing or creating a single habit can have unexpected and wide-reaching effects.

“If you focus on changing or cultivating keystone habits, you can cause widespread shifts…They help other habits to flourish by creating new structures, and they establish cultures where change becomes contagious.”

Peter O’Neil had left a lucrative career in Washington breaking bad bureaucratic habits in the Office of Management and Budget for a more reasonable work-life balance when Alcoa called, asking him to join the company as CEO. The company was riddled with outside criticism of its performance and rife with internal conflict between labor and management. Rather than address either of those, O’Neil identified the common ground of safety as his number one priority.

In order to increase safety, O’Neil implemented a system where unit presidents had to report to O’Neil within 24 hours if an accident had occurred, along with suggestions for preventing it from reoccurring. For this to happen, the entire communication of a unit had to evolve. Communication had to flow between workers and managers effortlessly. Suddenly, rules that had faced opposition from either workers or managers were universally accepted because of their importance to the overall goal of safety. Supervisors now had safety so ingrained in their behavior that they would call out safety violations on other worksites.

Although O’Neil never promised Alcoa increased profits, that’s exactly what happened when they revamped their safety protocols. Habits are contagious, and just changing a few key ones can result in a number of drastic changes.

“As Alcoa’s safety patterns shifted, other aspects of the company started changing with startling speed, as well. Rules that unions had spent decades opposing – such as measuring the productivity of individual workers – were suddenly embraced, because such measurements helped everyone figure out when part of the manufacturing process was getting out of whack, posing a safety risk. Policies that managers had long resisted – such as giving worked autonomy to shut down a production line when the pace became overwhelming – were now welcomed, because that was the best way to stop injuries before they occurred. The company shifted so much that some employees found safety habits spilling into other parts of their lives.”


VIDEO 5: Watch Charles talk about keystone exercise habits that helped study participants start adopting other healthy lifestyle choices.

Click on an Insight to view