The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

19 May 2021 7:08 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Habits make up the underlying fabric of our lives. We all have them, and so do organizations. Understanding habits and replacing them with better, more helpful behaviors can provide us with the keys to create the businesses and lives we dream of enjoying. In The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg provides readers with a sound understanding of how habits form and how we can identify them and adapt them to be valuable mechanisms that help us achieve our goals faster and more easily.

We all rely on a sequence of habits that help us through our day. Organizations have also developed habits that dictate how the managers and their teams go about their work. As Duhigg writes – 'there is no organization without habits, only intentional and unintentional habits.' Leaders who can consciously adapt their organization's habits to support their culture and values will gain a competitive edge in their market, build places of work that people want to be a part of, and increase their profits along the way. Helpfully, Duhigg shows readers exactly how to create the ideal environment for building good habits personally, organizationally, and across communities.

From I to all

The book provides three sections that deal with individual habits, organizational habits, and societal habits. The book begins with captivating stories about individual's keystone habits and an intriguing tale of a change in societal habits that led to peace for a small town in Iraq. While seeming unconnected, as the chapters unfold, we learn how habits form and create a foundation that enables widespread change for individuals and large groups of people.

Habits are simply a sequence of actions that we put together to save time and remove the need for constant decision-making. These routines are partly to do with skill-building and also a way for us to conserve energy – and time. Once a habit has been formed – such as brushing teeth – the need for detailed analysis, full attention, and conscious decision making is removed, and we are free to turn our attention to other things.

Interestingly, the habits we form never die. They forever remain in our heads, waiting for the right cues to be sparked into action. The only way to overcome unhelpful habits is to overlay them with new neurological patterns. These effectively overpower the older behaviors and force them into the background. This is as true for individuals as it is for organizations and societies, and the author cleverly illustrates this with multiple stories, scientific studies, and anecdotes throughout his book.

Organizational habits

While individuals have habits, organizations have routines. These routines emerge either consciously through leadership or unconsciously from employees who develop 'workarounds' on the fly to deal with dysfunctional policies and procedures.

Just as surely as individual habits follow the pattern of cue → routine → reward, so do organizational routines. If left unchecked, management can respond to workplace cues with automatic responses. These routines might play out to protect their position, help them gain more status, or deliver some other reward that may not benefit the organization.

Clever leaders identify and build upon keystone habits that encourage the organization's values and intentional cultures to become ingrained. These keystone habits work by encouraging additional supporting structures to be created and newer, better practices to form and flourish around them.

Duhigg provides the example of Alcoa's intentional keystone habit formation of 'safety first.' This focus led to several other supporting processes being put in place. A 'safety first' focus required fast communication of incidents for them to be addressed and repeat incidents avoided. To support this keystone habit, an internal messaging system was needed to enable swift communication. Once in place, this led to transparent leadership and open employee engagement and input. This 'safety first' ethos permeated the entire organization, creating a 'domino effect' for communications, reporting, openness, and learning from mistakes. Everyone benefited, and the keystone habit caused many other behaviors to change for the benefit of all.

Conversely, Duhigg offers the example of a hospital that allowed employees to develop their own organizational habits and workarounds that protected nurses from arrogant physicians, sadly with disastrous results.

Keystone habits are helpful to individuals and organizations partially because they build on 'small wins.' These small wins help create a positive mindset and create an impetus for more significant catalysts for change and more considerable achievements. When done well, organizational routines can make otherwise difficult decisions and choices easier, aligning with core values and culture.

Customer habits

Today, many organizations are turning to studying customer habits and using this knowledge in their sales and marketing campaigns. Habits can be formed without our awareness – which is why leaders must be on the lookout and consciously aware of their organization's routines. From a sales and marketing perspective, this means using behavioral science to tweak and nurture customer relationships and nudge their habits in ways that support organizational goals.

One way to encourage the adoption of new habits and processes is to couch them in the familiar. An organization that wishes to encourage customers to adopt new routines will do well by sandwiching these routines between familiar habits. The YMCA is one organization that successfully used this tactic to attract more people to their gyms. To sell the habit of exercise, they 'wrapped it' in the familiar routine or instinct people have to go to places where it's easy to make friends. This was done by teaching their staff to remember customers' names and greet them with a friendly hello and smile. This simple change helped the gym to retain their new customers and customers to build a new, healthy habit upon their innate drive to socialize.

Understanding and creating good habits

By learning how habits form, we can begin to build the automatic routines we need to achieve the successes we desire. In The Power of Habit, we learn how habits are formed and how to identify habits and then change or tweak them to support our higher intentions.

The author points out that not all habits are created equal. Some are harder to shift and change than others. For example, giving up smoking will require a completely different approach to building the habit of ongoing employee feedback. Rather than attempting to provide the reader with a one-size-fits-all formula for habit formation and adaption, Duhigg gives us a framework that can be applied to individual habit formation just as easily as organizational or societal routine creation.

Readers are invited to begin by identifying the habits they wish to change, then experiment with the rewards these behaviors deliver and isolate the cues that are sparking the habitual process. Once a routine has been identified, a plan can be put in place, and the conditions to create a new habit formed. Whether reading this book to help establish better individual habits or consciously build organizational habits that support a company's success, Duhigg's book provides readers with the necessary tools and understanding to develop better habits at work and home.

About the Talent Transformation Guild

The Talent Transformation Guild provides resources for professionals that are preparing for upskilling being triggered by 4th industrial revolution and accelerated by Covid-19. Members include c-level executives, human resource professionals, consultants, and coaches. As a member-driven organization it promotes best practices via webcasts, webinars, podcasts, articles, white papers, research and conversations to improve and make the best of the talents of individuals for the benefit of themselves and the organisations they work for.

The Guild enable stimulating and meaningful discussions to help professionals prepare for talent transformations at individual, team and organizational levels. The Guild supports the Talent Transformation Pyramid, an open source model, designed specifically to recognize the widest possible range of talent influencers and skills. To date many decision-makers are caught in traditional, linear thinking and immediate concerns to consider this. The Talent Transformation Pyramid enables you to address the challenge by promoting more strategic thinking with a focus on an organization’s readiness to perform.

About the Future of Work

According to the World Economic Forum, new and emerging technologies are affecting our lives in ways that indicate we are at the beginning of a Fourth Industrial Revolution. This new era will build and extend the impact of digitization in new and unimaginable ways. The Fourth Industrial Revolution can be described as the advent of “cyber-physical systems” involving new capabilities for people and machines. This will see new ways for technology to become embedded within societies and even our bodies.

With process automation, robotic automation, the internet of things the nature of work will change. Some analysts predict that more than 40% of tasks currently performed by humans will be delegated to machines. This does not mean that 40% of people will be put out of work but it does mean that most workers will have to upskill. HR experts are predicting this will dramatically change the landscape of our workforce.

About the Guild's Founders

Eric Shepherd an accomplished leader of international businesses and associations focused on talent, assessments, and success. Eric recently stepped away from a CEO role where he worked to build a SaaS company into a multi-million-dollar international assessment software business. Eric has also led industry and standards initiatives to promote best practices for assessments, learning, and interoperability. He currently serves as Chair of the IEEE P1484.20.2 working group developing Recommended Practice for Defining Competencies. Eric has previously served on Boards and working groups for:

  • HR Open Standards that defines interoperability standards for HR technology.
  • Association of Test Publishers and the European Association of Test Publishers that represents providers of tests and assessment tools.
  • The IEEE P1484.20.1 Standard for Learning Technology—Data Model for Reusable Competency Definitions working group.
  • IMS which defines interoperability standards for educational technology. 

Eric was instrumental in developing the IMS QTI interoperability standard and assisted with the US Department of Defense Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) initiative to define the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) and the Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee (AICC) to define launch and track standards for Learning Management Systems.

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