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In October 1987, the new CEO of the Aluminum Company of America — or Alcoa — took the stage at a very important stock holders meeting. The swanky hotel ballroom was filled with prominent Wall Street investors and stock analysts who were there to meet the new leader of the company that manufactured everything from Hershey’s Kisses foil wrappers to the bolts that hold satellites together.
Instead of addressing profit margins or new market strategies, Paul O’Neill talked about the importance of worker safety.
Confused and annoyed, several of the investors left the meeting and sold their stock immediately only to realize a year later that was the worst decision they could’ve made. Under O’Neill’s reign, the company’s annual net income grew five-times larger, and Alcoa became one of the safest companies in the world.
“The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” by Charles Duhigg, is a powerful story about the transformation process that takes place when just one habit is altered. Coined a “Keystone Habit,” Duhigg has watched as people, companies and organizations have attacked one habit and watched a domino effect of positive changes.
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Duhigg looks at the science of habit formation and records how just one alteration can bring about lasting results. In Alcoa’s case, O’Neill addressed one issue that, when changed, started a chain reaction throughout the company. The CEO encouraged, planned for and taught worker safety and personally gave out his contact information for all employees to call him if regulations weren’t being followed.
He opened up the line of communication, and in turn workers started sharing not only safety suggestions but other great ideas with him and their general managers. The company not only grew safer, but saw a sudden increase in efficiency and profits grew exponentially.
In this case and others, proactive and improved communication prevented work-related injury, led to more worker effectiveness and possibly even avoided scenarios that could have led to lawsuits. In the case of the Sevenson environmental lawsuit, a lack of effective employee and company communication led to much more serious allegations. Often, when addressing the “Keystone Habit,” these situations can be resolved.
In order to increase employees’ efficiency, and in turn, their loyalty and commitment to a company, authors Pamela Bilbrey and Brian Jones said employees need to feel a sense of organization ownership. On Reliableplant.com, the pair said employees are more likely to cut unnecessary company spending, work harder and share their creative ideas when they feel understood and needed.
“Creating a sense of ownership increases the energy, enthusiasm and commitment of your workforce and drives results,” Jones said on the site.
Plus, employees are generally the ones to know the fine details, clients and everyday problems a company faces. Because of that, they know what changes need to be made and where improvements are needed.
“The most successful organizations are the ones that have figured out that employee ownership is the magic ingredient that can propel an organization to success,” Bilbrey said on the site. “Every member of your organization should have a vested interest in the success of your company.”