Shaping Your Habits for Success
You may not think of habits and continuous improvement (CI) as being intertwined, but they are. The ability to form and sustain good habits is central to perpetuating continuous improvement. Organizing team meetings, coordinating gemba walks, updating dashboards, and putting items in their assigned spots are habits practiced by CI-oriented firms.
Conversely, the inability to be aware of and change bad habits — leaving the workplace a mess, ignoring employee ideas, and not digging into the root cause of problems, for example — makes companies vulnerable to competitors and changing customer requirements.
Good habits are what allow companies to make small improvements on a daily basis. The difference tiny improvements can make over time is astounding. One company scheduled to present a case study at next year’s Continuous Improvement Conference developed a habit of routinely asking employees for improvement ideas. By the time the company received The Shingo Prize for operational excellence, it was implementing an average of over 30 ideas per employee per year. The pace of improvement might have been invisible from the outside, but over several years the compounding effect of those improvements led the company to significant market share gains.
If you want to learn how to build good habits and break bad ones, the recent book Atomic Habits by James Clear should be on your reading list. The book provides readers with Four Laws of Behavior Change: a set of strategies and techniques for starting a positive habit and repeating it until it’s ingrained. The book draws on biology, neuroscience, philosophy, and psychology to make its points.
A core tenet of the book is that to achieve results, individuals and companies should focus less on goals and more on systems that foster good habits. Bad habits repeat themselves, Clear says, not because you are necessarily lacking motivation, but because you have the wrong system for change.
Clear’s Four Laws of Behavior Change for creating a good habit:
While those may sound simple, the book offers detailed instruction and multiple chapters for how to put each law to work. Each of the laws also has an inverse for ridding yourself of bad habits. The first step is making your habits obvious by writing down your daily habits, which is more difficult than it seems since habits are often automatic and out of mind. Then rate each habit as effective, neutral, or ineffective in helping you reach your desired company identity. You have to acknowledge your habits before you can change them. Clear posits that 40% to 50% of everything we do is driven by our habits.
A strategy to ensure that a new habit gets started is to make it attractive to do (second law) by performing the new habit immediately before a pleasurable habit you already engage in. This might translate to reviewing sales figures (an established habit that you look forward to doing) only after walking the production floor and talking with associates (desired habit) … or checking your ESPN app (established habit) only after updating and posting performance metrics. The expectation of a reward is a powerful motivator.
In terms of making habits easy to start, the book promotes the two-second rule — any new habit should take less than two minutes to do. Repetition is far more important that duration at first.
While the book delves into advanced strategies as well, its primary value is in showing readers and companies how to use the four laws to start and maintain habits (Atomic Habits will be sent free to all early-bird registrations of the CI Conference).
2020 Continuous Improvement Conference
The 2020 Continuous Improvement Conference (April 5–8 in Columbus, Ohio) is the only industry event focused on helping printing and converting companies achieve operational excellence and Lean leadership. Attendees directly link reduced costs, lowered waste, and increased profit margins to ideas gained from conference presentations and networking. The conference is presented by PIA and SGIA, with association support from FPA, FTA, and TLMI. To learn more about the event, visit ci.printing.org. Click here to register to attend.
Jim Workman recently retired after a career that spanned 40 years, first with Graphic Arts Technical Foundation, then Printing Industries of America, and most recently, PRINTING United Alliance. He managed the Continuous Improvement Conference for most of its 32-year existence.