Small Business | Coaching | Consulting | Positioning Systems | with |Doug Wick

Strategic Discipline Blog

Alcoa’s Key to Safety Success: Communication & Keystone Habit

Posted by Douglas A Wick on Thu, Sep 18, 2014

We’ve discussed Paul O’Neill’s plan for getting to zero injuries previously in One Thing: Are Meeting Rhythms Keystone Habits? And Would You Fire Someone for Violating Your Core Values?  The safety emphasis entailed the most radical realignment in Alcoa’s history. O’Neill believed the key to protecting Alcoa employees, is understanding why injuries happen in the first place.

How do you understand why injuries happen?

You study how the manufacturing process is going wrong.

You bring in people to educate workers about quality control and the more efficient work processes.  Soon they learn it’s easier to do everything right, since correct work is also safer work.

describe the imageO’Neill’s safety plan is modeled on the habit loop. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business notes O’Neill identified a simple cue: an employee injury. He instituted an automatic routine: Any time someone was injured, the unit president had to report it to O’Neill within twenty-four hours and present a plan for making sure the injury never happened again.

And there was a reward: The only people who got promoted were those who embraced the system!

How do you achieve this?

This is in the early 1980s, when large, international networks weren’t usually connected to people’s desktop computers.

Unit presidents are busy people. To contact O’Neill within twenty-four hours of an injury, they need to hear about an accident from their vice presidents as soon as it happens. It means vice presidents need to be in constant communication with floor managers. Floor managers need to get workers to raise warnings as soon as they see a problem and keep a list of suggestions nearby.  When the vice president asks for a plan, there is an idea box already full of possibilities.

To make all of that happen, each unit had to build new communication systems that made it easier for the lowest worker to get an idea to the loftiest executive, as fast as possible. Almost everything about the company’s rigid hierarchy had to change to accommodate O’Neill’s safety program. He is building new corporate habits.

Early on, O’Neill took the unusual step of ordering Alcoa’s offices around the world to link up in an electronic network. O’Neill justified his order by arguing that it was essential to create a real-time safety data system that managers could use to share suggestions. As a result, Alcoa developed one of the first genuinely worldwide corporate email systems.

Pretty soon, everyone was using the system to communicate about everything. “I would send in my accident report, and I knew everyone else read it, so I figured, why not send pricing information, or intelligence on other companies?” one manager told author Charles Duhigg. “It was like we had discovered a secret weapon. The competition couldn’t figure out how we were doing it.”

O’Neill’s keystone habit—worker safety—had created a platform that encouraged another practice—email—years ahead of competitors.

The beauty of this system is it also applies the principle of Pearson’s Law.  You remember Pearson’s Law?  If you don’t recall it I suggest you etch in your memory for whenever you wish to achieve better performance.  “When performance is measured, performance improves.  When performance is measured and reported back, performance improves dramatically.”

Are you seeing in this example the value of communication?  Are you seeing the value of developing keystone habits?  Positioning Systems and the Rockefeller Habits’ Strategic Discipline brings communication, routine, and measurement together.  As we’ve discussed here (Strategic Discipline – Why It Guarantees Success) previously it guarantees you will achieve results.

Developing the habit of meeting daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually achieves a keystone habit.  Furthermore it aligns your organization from top to bottom once the routine is practiced throughout your company.  The focus on metrics, through company, department and individual dashboards, forges your team to perform better through the application of Pearson’s Law. 

The beauty of this is that by shifting one pattern it begins to impact other aspects of your company as well.  That’s what good habits do.

We’ll look at how the practices of safety and its Keystone Habit impacted Alcoa next blog.

Here’s another gentle reminder.  If you’d like to learn more about these best practices and apply them to your business, including the meeting rhythms habit, the impact of One Thing priority, how to do effective annual and quarterly planning, then plan to attend Positioning Systems Mastering the Rockefeller Habits Four Decision Workshop.  Download the Mastering the Rockefeller Habits Four Decision Workshop flyerRegister to attend this event November 12th in Cedar Rapids.

Topics: Pearsons Law, habits, The Power of Habit, routine

Challenges of Scaling Up a Business 







New Call-to-action


New Call-to-action


New Call-to-action

Subscribe to Email Updates

Click below to Schedule a Free 30 Minute Discovery Appointment NOW: 

Positioning Systems Brand Promise

1. Priorities: Determine your #1 Priority. Achieve measurable progress in 90 days.

2. Metrics: Develop measurable Key Performance Indicators. 

3. Meetings: Establish effective meeting rhythms. (Cadence of Accountability)  Compounding the value of your priority and metrics. 

(BRAND PROMISE GUARANTEE): We will refund all compensation if our disciplined coaching and proprietary tools fail to meet your expectations.

Certified Gazelles Coach

Doug Wick, President

Positioning Systems


The Strategic Discipline Blog focuses on midsize business owners with a ravenous appetite to improve his or her leadership skills and business results.

Our 3 disciplines include:

- Priorities
- Metrics
- Meeting Rhythms

Latest Posts

Browse by Tag

see all