Category Archives: Productivity

A Culture of Extraordinary

A star gazer with sights on the milky way

Lightweight steel corporations are the last to come to mind when thinking of exceptional companies. That’s not the case with Alcoa. They revolutionized the industry.

In 1987, Alcoa appointed Paul O’Neill as the new CEO. It was his decisions that led investors to advise shareholders to sell-off stock of the already tumbling Alcoa.

Years later one investor said looking back, “It was literally the worst piece of advice I gave in my entire career.”

Optimizing the workforce is just now starting to be a priority for companies. For the newly appointed CEO of Alcoa to say he was going to solve all of their problems through improving workplace safety, you can see why the investors were skeptical.

What O’Neill knew that most didn’t was that good habits spread to other new habits. He knew he had to transform Alcoa’s culture, and he would focus on one habit – workplace safety. If they can succeed at having zero workplace safety accidents, other positive effects will occur, such as an increase in productivity and less PTO days.

Keystone habits

Workplace safety at Alcoa is what is known as a keystone habit, or a habit that ripples and causes other habits to form. An example at the individual level, making one’s bed in the morning, causes us to be more productive. Every company has their own keystone habits that can be promoted for overall stronger employee engagement. When Alcoa started to promote workplace safety, what was once exceptional, such as cutting their incidents in half, soon became the norm.

When Paul O’Neill retired 13 years later, Alcoa’s net income was five times higher than when he started, because workplace safety habits spread to other good habits that helped the company grow their bottom line.

The cycle of exceptional behavior

Start a culture of exceptional behavior

Coincidently, Recognize is working with companies to improve workplace safety. They have identified specific behaviors that are causing workplace safety incidents. To fix this problem, Recognize is providing the platform to easily reenforce positive habits that prevent incidents. What are habits in your company that need to become the norm? Utilizing an employee recognition program with built-in behavior-changing mechanisms will help.

Observe habits

To determine the success of your new program, begin measuring against your already established KPIs in structured and unstructured data. Structured data is true/false binary survey questions or multiple choice, time on email, time on social networks, number of incidents, and other information that is organized. Unstructured data is email content, recognition content, phone call logs, and other types of freeform text.

Inside Recognize, we provide surveys to collect structured and unstructured feedback from your employees. This helps to determine the outcome of the behavior change program. Correlate this information with data you receive through other channels, such as safety incident records, to connect to tangible results.

Evolve the habits

This is where things get interesting. The effect of creating a culture around exceptional behaviors is they stop being exceptional and start being the norm. At which point, we evolve the behaviors your company is actively promoting towards being even more extraordinary.

By utilizing an employee recognition program that saves this data, company leaders can report on past behavior data even after specific behavioral encouragement is retired. This data helps company leaders look for trends in their human capital’s behavior and make hypotheses to further refine their workforce.

Psychology studies have shown that how we dress effects our performance. When participants are told to put on a lab coat verses a painters jacket, the participants wearing the lab coat performed better. This is symbolic of a behavioral-change framework where attitudes and mindsets are encouraged through direct habits and keystone habits. What is your company’s lab coat?

If you have any questions on how to incorporate these strategies into your company, contact us.

The story of Alcoa came from the book Habit.

Deadlines are dead

Why do projects end on a deadline? Sounds like something died. No project manager would like to think their project is dead. They would say it is something living.

Lines don’t die or end. Lines stretch into infinite. In fact, the etymology of the word “deadline” is from the Civic War where if prisoners crossed a line they were shot dead. And that’s what we are referring to when we complete a project- shooting people!

Steps to creating a deadline in modern business:
1. Realize the idea
2. Execute strategy for idea
3. Gather others to complete idea
4. Estimate or require the finish date
5. Complete project

Introducing Livecircle

If you look at the steps, you’ll see the idea goes full circle from imagination to creation. At Recognize, when we complete a project, we call it a “Livecircle”. It is our word for describing when a project is complete. The reason for the word circle is the final deliverable is a tangible item of the first idea. Clearly, a project doesn’t die on a line, it lives after a full orbit around a workflow.

From now on, let’s agree to stop using the word deadline. It is negative and boring. As we continue to charge into the age of technological enlightenment, it is time to think towards a positive future and use words to back that up. Just as if you force yourself to smile, you’ll begin to naturally smile, let’s use words the describe the present and the future we want to create.

Four ways to stay on track when building projects

Staying on track is a challenge for most people, and can be nearly impossible for people with ADD. Lacking focus at your work, whether from ADD or just generally being too busy and overcommitted, can be crippling to productivity. Here are four tips that will help you stay on track, regardless of why you’re off track in the first place.

1. One big project at a time

As the saying goes, “You can’t hit two balls with one bat.” Your attention becomes diffused when you try to juggle more than one big project at a time. This juggling act will likely cause you to become overloaded. Unless you have a staff of people to delegate tasks to, it’s best to keep to one big project.

I have learned this lesson the hard way after experiencing the distraction and confusion that comes from biting off more than I can chew. More than once, I’ve thought of a cool, fun new project to start before my previous project was complete. I’d get involved developing the new idea and forget about the other project. I did a lot of work, and had nothing to show for it. Why did I do this? Probably because the thrill and novelty of a new idea is always more appealing than the actual hard work that it takes to get an idea off the ground once that novelty has worn off.

By focusing on one project, and being prepared for the romance to wear off with time, you can give it your undivided attention for the long haul. Quality will shine in the details of everything you do. The best part is you will eventually complete that project and be able to start something new.

2. Put it in the stack

When I’m in the middle of a task, and my mind wanders to another thing I need to get done, I say to myself “NO!” I actually yell “no” inside my head. It hurts the ego a bit, but it keeps me from having multiple unfinished tasks. Then, I put that new in idea “in the stack.”

What do I mean by “in the stack”? It’s like the concept of an event loop in computer programming. Essentially, the computer will only start a new event once the current event is done. It can only do one thing at a time. I use this as an analogy for how I should work. If I have a new task I’d like to do, such as browsing Amazon for a lamp, I’m not going to start it until my last task is done. This can work for small tasks like buying lamps to big tasks like starting apps, companies, or art.

Create your stack by utilizing one of the many todo apps out there. Apple and Google both have their own todo apps you can use for free.

3. Question yourself

When deciding to start a new task, carry out a quick but accurate analysis of that task’s ROI. Choose your tasks wisely. This doesn’t mean that you have to go for perfection in task selection and time management. We are not robots, and sometimes you just have to remember that “done is better than perfect,” but if your completed task is useless, then what’s the point?

Here’s an example of a project that wasn’t very useful. Last year I created an application called Dolo. It was a micro-location check-in app. It allowed you to check-in only at Dolores Park in San Francisco. Although this app was really funny, it wasn’t ever going to make me any money or impact anymore than a few thousand people. I built it as a mobile web app entirely from scratch. Instead of using a mobile web framework like jQueryMobile or Sencha, I instead attempted to write my own mobile web framework layer. The Dolo layer and the mobile web framework layer meant that I was actually working on two projects in one. It took me months to build. And no one really uses it due to the rarity of going to Dolores Park. After Dolo I was feeling burnt out. I vowed that moving forward, I was going to focus on one project at time, and only those that had the potential to make a much larger impact.

Make a list of all the tasks you want to start and prioritize them by their usefulness to the world, to yourself, and to your wallet. You’ll find that not all tasks or projects are created equal. Start the task that is most useful first. One exception is if there is a less useful task that is easy to complete. You may want to do that first to warm up to the more challenging tasks.

After you start a task or project, keep questioning it. A common mental fallacy is our inability to go back on decisions. Deciding to change one’s mind after investing time and effort takes a lot of cognitive will, so much so that people will continue on the wrong course because they are unwilling to reevaluate. Question each thing you do, even after you have decided to do it.

If you throw a whole project out, don’t feel guilty. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, starts five projects at once expecting only one or two of them to reach fruition. (Here’s a perfect example of someone who has a staff and can ignore tip #1 above.) You should, however, feel guilty if you are in the middle of five tasks and they are all half done and poorly at that.

4. Stop working so much

Working nonstop is the old world way of doing things. Sure it makes sense when you are a human machine in a factory doing mindless repetitive work, but in the intellectual age we need a lot of breaks. Getting away from work keeps our minds sharp.

I’m a huge fan of the 90 minute rule: After 90 minutes, take a 15 minute break. (You can read more about it) If your office only allows one 15-minute break per day, ignore them and take the break anyway. Just make it 10 minutes and do it discretely. Some people’s attitude toward work is still influenced by the Industrial Revolution. Challenge their archaic mindset by proving that productivity increases when we work less.

Creativity and innovation abound when we are relaxed. If you are searching for a solution to a problem and growing anxious in the process, take a break, and an idea will likely come to you when your body and mind are more relaxed. A great way to do this is with some fresh air and walk. A moving body stimulates the mind.

If you found this useful, or have tricks of your own for staying focused at work, please leave a comment.