What We're Reading: The Power of Habit

What We're Reading: The Power of Habit
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What We're Reading: The Power of Habit
By Lyndsey Scofield

One of the things our team views as essential in furthering our knowledge and developing professionally is maintaining a habit of reading. That's why we've made it a quarterly organizational habit to pick a book that the whole team reads and discusses at our quarterly meetings. Our most recent read was Charles Duhigg's "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business." We thought it'd be fun to share some of our favorite takeaways and insights from the book, and how it may be applied to your life and organization.

The core of the book is about mastering the "Habit Loop," the distinct pattern of cues, routines, and rewards that science tells us drives our habits. While much of this happens subconsciously, the good news is that learning to observe and manipulate cues and rewards can help us change our routines.

What I especially loved about the book is that it made a distinction between personal habits and those of an entire organization. This is exemplified through one of my favorite anecdotes in the book about the manufacturing company, Alcoa -- perhaps because it's easy to see the parallel in transit agencies. The story details the remarkable transformation and performance achievements that were made possible by the new CEO's focus on safety above all else. While it initially spooked board members, investors, and longtime employees, Alcoa's CEO knew that success would be achieved "because the individuals at this company have agreed to become part of something important: They've devoted themselves to creating a habit of excellence. Safety will be an indicator that we're making progress in changing our habits across the entire institution. That's how we should be judged."

Safety cut across every division and required everyone's participation. It drove efficiency because having high standards for how work was completed also helped make work safer. In order to escalate issues and concerns around safety in a timely manner, it was necessary to re-tool internal communication systems so that feedback from the lowliest employee could make it to the loftiest executive. Before long, all kinds of innovative ideas were bubbling up from the ranks and making Alcoa a better overall company. Safety was a keystone habit that set in motion a multitude of small changes, made day after day, that added up to big change.

Some key organizational habits we recommend public sector agencies embrace to enhance their efficiency and effectiveness: