There are many great operational excellence programs out there. They share many common traits such as the need to align operations with company goals and objectives, the need to develop and use measurement and metrics and the need to report and use those metrics to drive innovation and performance. What many don't have though is the missing link that pulls it all together - behavior.
The Habit of Excellence
Once of my favorite quotes concerning excellence is from Aristotle. “We are what we do repeatedly. Excellence then, is not an act but a habit.” I find this to be a very true statement. Habits are powerful sets or sequences of behavior that either inhibit or enhance performance. Our habits inform so much of our daily living that we often do them without even the smallest thought. We see that played out when we seek to go outside of our daily routine. If, for instance, I need to do an errand that requires me to drive somewhere other than my regular route to work I find from time to time that I have taken my work route instead of the new route simply out of habit.
If Aristotle is right, and I believe he is, then as leaders we need to examine what our staff do in terms of habits that impact performance. What that means is we need to break down what they do into that series of behaviors that, altogether, produce the action or product we are looking for. These can include what we used to refer to as "intangibles" (they really are not) such as things like team work or work ethic or they can include very specific actions that relate to production such as work on a production line or in a plant.
Cues and Reinforcement
These habits and the behaviors that make them up revolve around a "cue" and a "result" or "reinforcement." The cue prompts the habit and the result or reinforcement ensure that the habit will happen again. In his excellent book "The Power of Habit" Charles Duhigg outlined how Tony Dungy one of the most successful NFL coaches created Super Bowl winning teams through the development of key habits and the behaviors that went with them. He identified the "cues" that he wanted his linemen to key on, the behaviors that followed the "cue" and how that would lead to the result he wanted. He wanted these habits so ingrained that much like the way we don't think about the route we take going to work his players wouldn't "think" about what to do when a "cue" happened they would just "do" the behavior they needed to do. In a game where mili-seconds matter that approach gave his team a decided edge and produced spectacular results.
This approach is commonly used for folks involved in high risk activities such as the military, first responders, pilots and safety personnel. If you saw the recent movie "Sully" you would have witnessed how actions in the cockpit are governed by habits and the behaviors they drive that are so ingrained that even in a dire emergency (in fact "because" of the emergency - a cue) habits kick into gear and they quickly go through a long list of things to do. Folks involved in the world of Safety and Accident Prevention are now using this technique through what they call Behavior Based Safety.
What Behavior Do You Want?
The research is becoming more and more interesting and extensive around the use of habits and behaviors to drive performance. When I walk leaders and their crews through the process it does not take them long to pick up on the key components they need to master. They need to answer the question; What are the behaviors that I am looking for with my crew, team or staff? What are the current behaviors along with their "cues" and "results?" And if I need to, how can I replace those "cues" with new ones that will produce the behavior I want? It may sound daunting at first but it really is not.
Let me provide a quick example. "Shelly" wants to see more cooperation among her staff. She sits down and breaks the concept of cooperation into behaviors that she can see. Someone lending a hand, someone offering needed information without being asked, or simply contributing at meetings. She decides each day that she is going to look for one of these behaviors and recognize it (result or reinforcement). Every time she observes someone participating in a meeting she makes a point of thanking them afterward. Soon participation levels go up and so on.
Behavior The Missing Link
Now to be fair there are a few other things to consider and I am going to explore them over the next few blogs. For the most part though, it really is as simple as what I just described. You want a high performing team? What sort of behavior does that require? What are the cues and what are the results? Driving the right behavior really is the missing link to driving performance. Performance Leadership - Think About It!