Workplace Relationships
Productivity through people
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Successful Habits Of A Workplace

One of my new habits this year has been to read more. I decided to pull back on social media, mainly due to the effects it appears to have on mental health. I must confirm, I do feel better for less screen time and have been able to spend the 'newfound time' on reading books. Maybe it's just the superior virtuousness that I feel for getting through a book a week that has created my sense of well being rather than the lack of gossip??? Whatever the case... I was recently devouring a book on habits.

We've all been bombarded with information about morning routines and setting up the habits for productivity and a 'day on your terms'. I've been fascinated by this since I read Mel Robbin's book "The 5 Second Rule" a few years ago whilst travelling in the US. I fell in love with Mel's particular take as she has the no BS stance and gives the science behind it all.

Anyway, this week I finished 'ThePower of Habit' by Charles Duhigg.

And one of the things he said about great workplaces was about having just one Keystone habit. This habit then becomes integral to everything else to build off.

For example, when Paul O'Neill was appointed CEO of the Aluminium Company of America, better known as Alcoa and created the keystone habit of 'safety'. This habit became the total focus of the company. By having every employee central to achieving safety, he changed the way all work was done by having standards that everyone could see, implement and question.

So, this got me thinking about what are the keystone habits in a workplace? How is it different from the values we have in a workplace?

If the Keystone habit is ‘customer satisfaction’ or ‘exceptional customer service’, how would everything else come from that?

It would be seen in the language you use, how everything is assessed against how satisfied where the customers' were. There maybe metrics on the speed of service or from customer feedback. Strategic decisions would be taken with a focus on maintaining or improving customer service. If it were thought to be detrimental to customer service - that action wouldn't be accepted!

How about the Keystone habit of Creativity? In order to achieve this, there are so many other things you have to have first.

  • You would need to have psychological safety;

  • you would require people to be able to take risks;

  • you would need to be embracing and accepting of failure.

Not every workplace may feel ready for this!

Google has long encouraged its employees to devote 20 per cent of their time to side projects, which is one reason why it remains one of the most innovative companies in the world.

For companies that invest in side project initiatives, the outcomes can be incredible: Gmail, Google Maps, Twitter, Slack, and Groupon all started as side projects.

Maybe a keystone habit of productivity is what you crave. What implications would that have? Longer shifts? 24 hour operations? Or perhaps something different and contrary to what you might first think. Like the workplaces that have tried working a four day week with the same pay. They reported not only getting the same amount of work done but often actually more work!

At workplace relationships, our keystone habit is definitely 'people at the heart; people at the centre'. This doesn't mean that people will like everything that happens. But it means that everything is measured against the effect on and benefit for people.

If your Keystone habit is profit - 'profit at whatever cost'. It's pretty obvious that everything is going to be measured against the ROI.

'What's the profit?' 'What are we getting out of this in monetary terms?' - Irrespective of the damage to the environment and regardless of the cost to employee health and safety! We know this has happened in the past, the Royal Commission has highlighted some shocking instances of this attitude. And I'm sure you too know people who worked in that environment and were appalled to be associated with it. The long term cost for our banking system is the lack of trust they have nurtured. In the changing economy, this is going to cost them dearly. Let me be clear though - money is not evil, or the 'bad guy', but the ethics employed to get it are what have been called to account!

So, with the Keystone habit, you probably want it to be inspirational...

  • 'Creating Value for our Customer'

  • 'The best place to work.'

  • 'Developing products for every home.'

  • 'Continuous Improvement'

I have coached clients who have decided for them, after years of putting their business or career first that they needed the keystone habit of 'Family First.'

This has meant saying no to jobs that required a lot of travel. Balancing whether the extra responsibility from a promotion is going to impact family life negatively. The 'impact on family life' is the measure for everything with this Keystone habit. Of course, new opportunities may arise with a keystone habit like this! You may brave saying yes to the promotion with the condition of flexible working hours/location so that family life standards can be maintained or even improved, i.e. 'I never miss a swimming lesson'.

Relationships may have the habit of 'Equality' The equality of decision making or equality in the division of tasks and labour at home.

The habits and the routines that we have, the things we do unthinkingly, are the things that set the culture of a workplace. They are the things that create the norms and are a reflection of our true values - not just the ones printed on your website!

What I learnt was that the value is our standard, but by making it a 'Keystone Habit', you are establishing automated incorporation of that value into every action by every employee. I've always struggled with the fact that very few companies totally display the values they have. I've always thought of values as minimum standards, not aspirations. As habits don't need to be thought about, they just exist, I think this helps to explain how values should be used in a company - as a habit!

So pick a keystone habit that inspires and becomes the absolute centre for how your workplace operates.

Jo O’Donovan is the founder of Workplace Relationships, based in Melbourne. She works with companies to increase their productivity through focusing on their culture, people and relationships. Jo has a particular passion for improving the mental health of employees through developing the human connections within organisations and her new online course on Mental Health In The Workplace can be accessed here.

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Jo O'Donovan