Our team recently read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear to gain insights into improving individual and team processes and performance. In this book the author makes a compelling argument that you shouldn’t focus on goals, but rather focus on a plan and process to make small improvements to everything you do, every day. You’re probably thinking, just like we did, how can you get results if you’re not focused on a goal? He uses an example from the British Cycling Team who focused on improving hundreds of small details a little at a time, each day, and went from never having won the Tour-De-France to winning multiple times over a 10 year period. So, consider this fact, winners and losers have the exact same goal. Once you’ve processed that, keep reading for a short summary of the book, and a few examples of how you could use it to help make small improvements every day that add up to big results.
There’s a mind-shift that comes early in the book and sets a foundation for everything to build on. It’s around identity and its role in habits and habit change. How does identity play into it? Let’s say you’re trying to quit smoking and someone asks you if you’re a smoker. You have two choices, you can say “Yes, but I’m trying to quit”, or you can say “No, I’m not a smoker”. The difference is that the person who says “No, I’m not a smoker” has embraced the identity of someone who doesn’t smoke, the other person still identifies as a smoker. They haven’t fully committed to it. It’s not who they are. Clear recognizes that it’s a hard thing to take on a new identity, especially when you might even feel like fraud at first. But over time, as you prove to yourself that you’re not going to smoke, it becomes easier and truer for you to identify with it.
Another idea that’s worth mentioning from the book is that of latent potential. How many people do you know who woke up one day, started working on a new project or craft, and instantly became a success? I’m guessing none. They likely started years ago and spent countless hours studying, training, learning… and failing. But, to the outside world who never knew them until they became a huge success, it appears to have happened overnight. This phenomenon is what Clear calls latent potential. You store up knowledge, experiences and skill with little or no measurable results, and then at some point it all comes together and you see the benefits “overnight”. He uses an ice cube as an example. Ice melts at 32º, if it starts at 0º you have to do a lot work to warm it up and up and up, with no visible results, until it finally hits the melting point. Then everything happens at once.
Taking on a new identity, being process focused instead of goal focused, and being patient knowing you're building up latent potential are just a couple of the big ideas we took away from this book and are now using to improve our results. The book spends most of its time outlining a four step approach to how habits work that include a Cue, Craving, Response and Reward system that, when recognized and managed, will make dramatic improvements to your overall outcomes.
So, how can some of these concepts be applied? Let’s say you want to improve your response time on customer orders and you set a goal to confirm them back within 24 hours. Step one is for each member of the team to commit to being the kind of person who does everything in their power to meet the chosen time frame. Once that's established, each person is now empowered to do whatever it takes to make it happen, because it’s who they are. Taking on the new identity isn’t enough, but it’s an important start in forming new habits and one that most people don’t do.
Another example comes from our marketing team. They’ve adopted a process to improve our website a little every week, one page at time. The team meets on Monday, evaluates the data and performance on one page, identifies improvements needed and each person works on their task. Then they meet again at the end of the week, check off everything on the list and launch the new page. In addition, the results of the improvements are tracked over time. Since starting this process, bounce rates, the number of people who leave the site after only seeing one page, have improved by over 15%.
A final example comes from our sales team. Recently they implemented a new process for tracking daily activities to measure their teams performance. Much like the British Cycling team, they’ve identified five habits to improve on, and are going after them each a little at a time. One of the habits is using a defined research process and set of tools to document a strategy for every customer and prospect in our CRM database. It seems like a daunting process, but eventually we’ll have great information and data for the entire company to use. The latent potential of these activities is becoming more and more apparent every day.
I would recommend Atomic Habits to anyone interested in a new approach to tackling and changing the way you and your team work. As we read the book our team was nodding their head to almost all of the ideas and examples, they made a lot of sense, but we’d never thought about them in that way. The hard part is committing to a process and implementing it. It’s a little scary to say you’re not laser focused on goals and are more concerned with improving small, everyday habits. I mean, who says that?