Business Keystone Habits

Keystone Habits provide everyone in your company a simple, basic message that creates purpose, direction and energy. So what is it and why is it so effective?

First, let’s take a look at Claude Hopkins. Hopkins, a famous ad man from the early 1900s, had a problem. A friend of his came to him about a product called toothpaste. Claude wasn’t too excited about it because there was no existing demand for it. Rotten teeth were the norm.

But his friend persisted and Claude decided he’d look into it. He got some dental books, started researching and learned about mucin plaque, that film on your teeth. He thought if he could get people to focus on having a beautiful smile by getting rid of that film, maybe they will buy this toothpaste. Five years later, toothpaste is in demand and Pepsodent has become a huge success.

So what happened here? How was Claude able to convince people?

As Charles Duhigg observes in his book The Power of Habit, Claude used a basic habit-creating process. First he identified a cue to remind you to brush (the film you feel on your teeth) and then created a craving (a beautiful smile). A cue triggers an action, resulting in a reward. Repeat it over and over; you have a habit.

Cue     –>     Routine     –>      Reward

Film on Your Teeth  –>    Brush Your Teeth   –>     Beautiful Smile

But what does this mean for creating great results at your company?

Skip ahead to 1987 and Paul O’Neill, the new CEO of Alcoa. Paul decided to focus on a Keystone Habit, which is one habit around which everyone in an organization can focus on. Out of this Keystone Habit come routines. From prior experiences at International Paper and in the federal government, O’Neill found that routines in organizations were like good habits for people.

His first action as CEO was to identify and establish Alcoa’s Keystone Habit, O’Neill’s keystone habit for transforming large, stodgy, heavily-unionized Alcoa? Worker Safety.

After announcing worker safety as the top priority, O’Neill’s next step was to require unit presidents to report to him directly within 24 hours any worker safety violations. This was not an easy task. To accomplish this, managers had to come up with new ways of communication, new ways of getting information from workers up to foremen up to managers and then to the unit presidents. While worker safety was the goal, it also drove more efficient, better communication in all areas.

Second, Alcoa had productivity issues, something the unions had been fighting. But with worker safety, Paul was able to focus them on issues like molten metal splashing on workers, obviously injuring them and at the same time wasting raw material. The union took this up, coming up with a new pouring system as well as new processes and systems that reduced worker injury and at the same time greater productivity and improved operations.

Bottom line: Rallying around a singular keystone issue – worker safety – Alcoa hit record profits one year later. By 2000, someone who had invested in Alcoa when O’Neill began there would have had all of her money returned in dividends while her stock would be worth five times as much.

So when you look at your business, what’s your core, Keystone Habit? It could be something like “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight” Or “Delivery in 30 minutes hot and fresh, or your pizza is free.”

In your business, what is it that you can focus your staff and employees around. What is that one core area or discipline that everyone can rally around, resulting in a better, smoother, more improved business? The point here is to make it simple and clear.

At Coyle Financial Counsel, that is our goal: to make a complex world simple and clear for our clients. If you want to make things simple and clear in your world, think about coming to our seminar, Taking Charge of Your Wealth. We’ll show you how clarity can happen for you.

Sign up today at Or call us toll free at 800-480-7913 to arrange a free consultation.

So until next time, enjoy.

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