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Most Valuable Work Habits

Which Habits Drive Superior Employee Performance?

In our previous blog, we explored how a company’s destiny is intimately linked to the Pivotal and Work Habits that its employees practice.

Employers have traditionally been inattentive to the design of employee habits, focusing instead on results produced. While this is a reasonable approach, employers have missed the opportunity to create environments that makes it easy for employees to practice both Pivotal and Work habits, which provide a difficult-to-see (and therefore difficult-to-copy) competitive advantage.

Pivotal Habits are the sets of health, happiness and financial security behaviors that prepare us to perform. They are the largest untapped source of increased human performance at work.

Practicing Pivotal Habits maximizes the probability that we show up to work each day full of energy, mental clarity and focus. If these habits are well supported by employers, they leave employees highly engaged with their work and their customers, and inspired to make a difference.

Practicing Pivotal Habits creates performance improvements in all people, irrespective of their roles in the business.

BRATLAB Habit Prescriptions: Which habits matter?

In our research at BRATLAB, we have found 9 collections of Pivotal Habits that consistently produce superior performance results.

Pivotal Habit Collections

Health

Move (exercise, stand and move more)

Nourish (eat for optimal performance, remove toxins like tobacco, moderate consumption of risky substances like caffeine and sugar, supplement as required)

Restore (sleep 7-9 hours, limit device usage, manage stress and adhere to drug regimens whenever required)

Happiness

Savor (savor positive experiences, practice optimism, express gratitude)

Focus (create positive relationships, perform acts of kindness and generosity, practice mindfulness)

Foster (use character strengths, show self-compassion, live purposefully)

Financial Security

Protect (purchase sufficient insurance, protect against identity theft and fraud)

Manage (learn and apply money management skills, reduce debt, create a budget and track spending regularly)

Save (save for retirement, create a short-term savings plan)

You’re probably not surprised by most of the items on this list, however the crucial details of the most effective version or prescription for each Pivotal Habit varies based on the outcomes we desire.

For example, if you’re interested in achieving improved cognitive function, then the current research says the detailed Move Prescription for producing that outcome is to do six minutes of high intensity exercise (like jumping jacks, burpees, high knees and a variety of other exercises that get your heart rate pumping) just before you need your brain to work best, and the effect lasts for the next two hours.

Alternatively, if the outcome you desire is reduced healthcare costs as an employer, then the detailed Move Prescription is doing medium intensity cardiovascular training, mixed with weight training, four to five times per week for 30 minutes at a time.

The devil is in the detail and the details matter to the kind of performance gains employers will see.

For most people and companies, the outcomes we want are “all of the above” and so we have to very carefully design the “lowest common denominator” versions of each Habit Prescription.

This is the work we do at Habits at Work, helping each employer find the Pivotal Habit Prescriptions that optimize employee performance AND that are a fit for those people and that company.

Which Work Habits matter most?

Pivotal Habits prepare every human being to perform better in their roles in life and at work. But this habits thinking extends to the details of our actual jobs as well.

We can ask, “Which behaviors, practiced again and again, will result in us performing our roles optimally, achieving the best possible outcomes in that role and for the customers and businesses we serve?,”

In the previous blog we labeled these our Work Habits and showed how they, together with Pivotal Habits, are the fundamental building blocks of corporate competitive advantage.

Unlike Pivotal Habits, these Work Habits are unique to every distinct role in a company. Defining what these habits are for each role should be a fundamental act of job design.

For salespeople, high performing Work Habits include making cold calls, holding effective sales meeting, making compelling presentations, sending thank you notes, updating sales management software, sending quality proposals, asking for the deal and ensuring contracts get signed.

For accountants, effective Work Habits include balancing the company accounts each month, issuing invoices, collecting outstanding money, paying creditors, producing monthly financial statements and answering emails only in the morning and late afternoon (to ensure uninterrupted times of focus during the day). A very different set of habits than those prescribed for effective selling.

Why do the details of Pivotal AND Work Habits matter?

Simply knowing that you should exercise every day is almost trite and somewhat useless. But knowing that the OPTIMAL type of exercise for performance in your role is short bouts of high intensity exercise, done at your desk regularly throughout the day, consuming even less time than you’d normally spend at the gym and requiring no special clothes, time off, or special facilities, makes a world of difference to:

  • the actual outcomes you get, and
  • your chances of practicing the habit at all.

The art of ensuring that people do what makes a difference to their performance, starts by designing “Habit Prescriptions” that are clear to understand, that are optimized to increase performance (based on research), and that are easy to fit into their already busy lives.

At Habits at Work, we help employers to define these Pivotal and Work Habits, and to optimize them both for ease of completion by employees as well as for their performance impact.

Now, with these insights in mind, let’s define the “design problem” for employers who wish to become High Performance Employers:

How do you effectively design your workplace to make it easy, natural and enjoyable for employees to practice their Pivotal and Work Habits, in a way that not only has them perform optimally, but that leaves them thrilled with the experience, grateful for the support and highly engaged with us as an employer?

That’s the question we’ll answer in the last of this series of three blogs.

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About the Author
Andrew Sykes
For more information, contact Andrew Sykes at Andrew@habitsatwork.com or read more online at www.habitsatwork.com or www.BRATLAB.com

 

 

 

The Role of Work Habits

Employee Habits Are Your Company’s Destiny

High-performance employers enjoy higher than industry average levels of productivity per employee. Measures of this success include revenue generated per head, return on capital employed, speed to market with new products and customer delight. These measures point to what a business and CEO get by BEING a high-performance employer, but they don’t explain what it takes to BECOME one.

The Role of Pivotal Habits

An underappreciated source of employee performance is their health, happiness and financial security – what we collectively describe as thriving.

Many people think that health is a matter of luck or good genes more than lifestyle, that happiness is a right or is related to how many things or experiences they have and that financial security depends almost entirely on how well they are paid.

The reality is quite different: the largest part (well over 50%) of our health, happiness and security is achieved by practicing a relatively small set of habits.

But how does employee health, happiness and security drive employee and company performance?

When employees thrive in life and at work, they can focus their time, minds and energy on building new products, being innovative and agile in their approach, and working with greater clarity and stamina (not necessarily longer hours, but “fuller” hours).

If you’re the kind of employer that supports employees in achieving their most important life goals, your reward is their loyalty, engagement and commitment. This is what shines through when they do their jobs and delight your customers, driving higher growth and return on capital employed. In turn, this creates new opportunities for their career growth, which is an important driver of employee happiness, especially for a younger workforce. This is truly a virtuous cycle that, once turning, plays a role in the enormous success of some of the world’s highest performing employers.

Do employees view thriving as their most important life goal?

It may sound presumptuous for an employer to claim that they understand what it means for each employee to thrive at work, let alone in life. Yet, when we’ve asked thousands of employees the simple question “what does success look like for you and what do you want for your life?,” they universally give answers that fall into the three broadly-defined buckets of health, happiness and security.

The habits that create health, happiness and security are so important in preparing us to perform and sustaining our performance over time that we call them the “Pivotal Habits.”

The Role of Work Habits

Then, there are habits that make up work. They are unique to each person or at least to their role. We prefer to think of our roles in terms of outcomes, but the quality of our performance is really a matter of doing the same or similar things, really well, over and over again. We can, therefore, think about each person’s job as a collection of habits, and we can think of the purpose of our job as a set of outcomes to be achieved by practicing those habits.

We call these habits our “Work Habits.”

Pivotal Habits PREPARE US TO PERFORM by giving us the mental clarity, focus, energy and stamina, and removing stress, financial concerns and health challenges. They allow us to perform our Work Habits with high fidelity, quality and consistency.

Together, they ensure we achieve the outcomes our roles ask of us and more. The beauty of focusing on both types of habits is that we drive higher performance for our companies in a way that leaves employees more engaged. This is what delivers the competitive advantage for high performance employers.

But wait, surely competitive advantage comes from something other than employee habits?

What about strategy, execution, new products, corporate agility, innovation, market timing, and a long list of candidates for the “IT” factor that explains high performance?

Searching online for “corporate competitive advantage” produces nearly four million hits and there are shelves of books and a wealth of high quality research in favor of the importance of strategy (e.g. Porter), capital funding, execution (e.g. Bossidy and Charan), culture (e.g. Drucker), visionary leadership and competent managers as drivers of competitive advantage.

Although each of these factors is important, on closer examination it becomes clear that there is a fundamental or atomic view of what each of these drivers has in common.

The building blocks of developing an effective company strategy are a set of Work Habits for those in strategic development roles. Execution is clearly about the whole workforce doing what they need to do, consistently over time (Work Habits).

Well-funded startups are routinely outperformed by two people in a garage, absent funding but with just the right Work Habits to produce the next big thing. Great leaders are not born; they spend each day doing pretty much the same things: telling stories to people to inspire them to build their vision (storytelling as a Work Habit) and great managers have their own set of high-performance Work Habits.

Therefore, the future of your company, and whether it will be a high performing business or not, depends entirely on the effectiveness of the different Work Habits practiced by your employees (as well as the Pivotal Habits that prepare them for sustained action).

Again, the fundamental unit of corporate competitive advantage is the habits practiced by your employees.

In fact, so strong is the link that we say, for employees and for your company, HABITS ARE YOUR DESTINY.

What makes high performance companies different?

High performance employers recognize the link between employee Pivotal and Work Habits and performance at work. They design their workplaces (the physical space, business processes, social networks and how they tell stories about their business to employees) in such a way that it becomes easy and natural for employees to practice these important habits. Pivotal and Work Habits are like the motor that turns the wheel of corporate performance.

Wheel of Corporate Performance

Why should CEOs care?

Most CEOs and other business leaders miss that:

  • Employee health, happiness and security are strong, yet underappreciated drivers of performance. At our Behavioral Research Laboratory (BRATLAB), we’ve spent the last decade researching just how strongly Pivotal Habits drive performance. Bottom line: Their impact is significant, perhaps greater than any other opportunity for improving employee productivity available to business managers today.
  • It is employee habits (both Pivotal and Work Habits) that are the fundamental unit of competitive advantage for companies, and becoming a master at designing for these habits will provide you with a difficult-to-copy, sustainable competitive advantage. Difficult to copy because few other CEOs recognize the fundamental role of habits, and sustainable because employees will thrive, rather than burn out.

This leaves two big questions: exactly which habits matter most to performance (both Pivotal and Work Habits) and how do we design our companies to make it easy and natural for employees to practice these habits?

These questions will be answered in my next two guest blogs. Check out my second guest blog: Which Habits Drive Superior Employee Performance?

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About the Author

Andrew SykesFor more information contact Andrew Sykes at Andrew@habitsatwork.com or read more online at www.habitsatwork.com or www.BRATLAB.com