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Changing habits

In the 60s Paul O’Neill completely turned around Alcoa, the world’s largest aluminum producer by changing one single thing: he made worker’s safety the number one priority in the entire company. In his first speach to as CEO to the shareholders he didn’t mention revenue, profits and losses, stock value or market share. The only thing he spoke about was worker’s safety and that he planned to go for zero injuries in the entire company. And he kept his focus. After a fatal accident which lead to the death of a newly hired worker the company’s topmanagers had to sit in a painstaking meeting until they had identified the root cause and countermeasures. A senior excecutive who failed to report a minor safety incident to him got fired. Employees were encouraged to report accidents to the top level and in the 80s the company built an intranet to create transparency and fast reporting on safety.

By focusing on safety Paul O’Neill created a keystone habit which penetrated the whole company. The habit to report on safety issues up to the highest management level and to empower workers to take action on potential safety issues changed other habits in the company as well. Soon workers would start calling the CEO with suggestions on improving the production and the intranet would be used to report on economic changes. An entire new culture developed around one single habit: make sure to have zero injuries.

Make listening to customers your company keystone habit for all employees – not just for the frontline. Listening to customers is everyones responsibility.

Stop speaking to your customers and start listening.

7. April 2015

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