7 Steps for Improving Organizational Habits

7 Steps for Improving Organizational Habits

Detroit:  “You mentioned a book about developing habits during your last Webinar Wednesday and I understand habits on an individual level,” stated Warren, then after a long pause continued into his question with “It’s just that habits are so hard to break, much less to develop good ones.  How do you go about developing habits within a team that is really just a group of individuals?

Warren asked a great question.  The book I’d mentioned that he was referencing is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and the entire  second part of the book is devoted to answering Warren’s question.  In this issue I’m going to walk you through the abbreviated version of Duhigg’s message that I shared with Warren.  I borrowed the title he’d used to label the second section of his book, keystone habit,  and explained in my words what it meant  I then asked him to think about it and attempt to apply it to his team.

I explained that a keystone habit in an organization is essentially a simple directive, that everyone understands, everyone commits to,  and will have a positive impact on everything else.  It becomes an organizational habit.

Alcoa / Paul O’Neil Case Study:  One case study Duhigg used in describing the broad impact of keystone habits that I found quite informative was Aloca and, at the time, new CEO Paul O’Neil’s directive.  Upon being introduced as the new CEO, Mr. O’Neil issued a directive making “employee safety” the organization’s top priority.  Everywhere he went he repeated this directive, employees bought-in, and contributions towards improving safety occurred throughout the enterprise.  As a result, accidents decreased, manufacturing became more efficient, and the product improved. Within a year of O’Neil’s directive, Alcoa had record profits. 

As Warren listened to the Alcoa / O’Neil story, he was already thinking of his directive.  When I’d finished, the first words out of his mouth were “We are going to wow our clients.”He’d just taken the first step in using the keystone habit concept for developing an organizational habit within his team.  From there I used our elite team model as a template for integrating his directive into his team.   Whether you’re on a team or share an assistant, you can do the same by adapting the following 7 Steps to Developing Organizational Habits -- let them serve as your guide:

7 Steps for Developing Organizational Habits

Step1:        Define your directive (keystone habit).  Whether it’s improving client service, eliminating mistakes, strengthening client relationships, acquiring new affluent clients – this is your call.  The secret is to focus on one key initiative that will, over time, have a positive impact on every aspect of your team’s performance.

Step 2:       Use our Elite Team Model to guide you in developing specific actions within each component that will have a direct impact on your directive.  If you’re not on a team, these components still apply to your practice.  The following are the components of our elite team model: leadership, client loyalty, business development, practice management, and wealth management.  Think of how Warren’s directive will touch each component.

Step 3:       Meet with your team (support personnel) and communicate your directive.  Yes, you will want buy-in from everyone involved, but this isn’t a debate.  In Warren’s case, he’d already been thinking about the importance of strengthening relationships with his top clients.  He understood the symbiotic nature of relationship management and relationship marketing.  He knew that by truly wowing his affluent clients, the team’s business development initiative would accelerate.

That said, your directive must be explained thoroughly, discussed thoughtfully, and then bought-into completely.  This third step is sort of a hybrid between a group exercise and a command performance.

Step 4:       Ask everyone to identify one or two actions they could take that would directly impact the keystone habit.  This step will provide you with a better understanding of buy-in.  It is important that each action is doable and linked to your directive.  This might take a bit of sorting out, but it’s important that each action is very specific and can be measured.   Now you’re able to hold each individual accountable.

Step 5:       Empower decision making linked to your directive.  The idea is to have everyone focused on ongoing improvement in the keystone area.  When people within their respective areas of responsibility begin to come up with new ideas, new actions that can be taken, they’ve taken ownership.  This ownership signals that your organizational habits are taking hold within your team.

Step 6:       Follow-up, cheerlead, and reinforce.  This involves inspecting what you expect and personal accountability within each component of the elite team model.  But it also requires ongoing communication and reinforcement. 

Successes, no matter how small, need to be communicated and celebrated.  The cause and effect of these new organizational habits must be understood by all.

Step 7:  Reward your overall success.  This requires creating metrics associated with your directive.  For instance, Warren’s metrics  included: top client loyalty, referrals and introductions from affluent clients, referrals from CPAs, new assets from existing clients, and assets from new clients.

Rewards can take the form of a bonus pool, extra vacation time, a team weekend in Vegas, or some combination of the aforementioned.

As I explained to Warren, developing constructive organizational habits requires time, energy, and attention to details associated with your directive.  But the rewards are everlasting. 

Apply these steps and let your directive become your 2013 mantra.  You will be developing organizational habits, one built upon the other, that will impact every aspect of your practice.

Matt Oechsli [5]is the author of The Art of Selling to the Affluent.  His firm, The Oechsli Institute [6]does ongoing research [7]and coaching [8]for nearly every major financial services firm in the US.  To take the first step towards coaching, complete the pre-coaching business profile [9]for a complimentary consultation.