Most of the decisions we make every day—what to eat, what to wear, which route we take to work—turn into habits pretty quickly, and then we stop thinking about whether or not they’re the best decisions. Problems occur, however, when we adopt too many bad habits and our lives begin to spiral out of control. The same thing can happen to a business.
In his book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg, a New York Times investigative reporter, explores how habits are formed, and how to wield that knowledge to develop more good ones. As a business owner, focusing on your own habits and the habits of your employees can have a huge impact on the ultimate success of your company. Duhigg claims that introducing just one good habit in the workplace can actually help weed out bad ones, and he offers practical advice on how to begin the transformation.
Don’t create new habits, change old ones: As the adage goes, old habits die hard. Actually, they may be impossible to stamp out entirely. Duhigg identifies the formation of a habit as a three-step cycle: a cue, a routine and a reward. The trick to changing a habit is to keep the same cue and reward, but shift the routine. Just as a smoker needs to replace the activity of smoking when a craving arises, Duhigg maintains, good habits can be instilled by finding a healthier activity that satisfies the same desire.
Identify keystone habits: Anyone who has ever tried to kick a bad habit knows the process can be daunting. The good news is tackling just one or two keystone habits can make a big difference, writes Duhigg. Paul O’Neill, former CEO of aluminum manufacturing giant Alcoa, boosted that company’s profits significantly simply by striving to eradicate bad habits in one key area—workplace safety. Improved workplace safety led to fewer lost-time injuries, more efficient workers, a better product and, ultimately, increased profits.
Strive for “small wins”: Achieving success can be a simple matter of getting there little by little. Duhigg reasons that people generally feel more empowered to go above and beyond when they feel a sense of accomplishment. One small win leads to another and another.
Focus on willpower: The phrase “exercise your willpower” is actually quite accurate. Like a muscle, willpower requires habitual use and strengthening. Duhigg asserts that it’s also “the single most important keystone habit for individual success.” By encouraging employees to exercise their willpower, Starbucks has fostered a work ethic that has resulted in increased profits and growth. Starbucks’ training program teaches employees how to control their emotions so that they can be consistent ambassadors for the brand, and many Starbucks employees credit the program with inspiring positive changes in their personal lives.