Organizations, like individuals, have habits and routines that capture the knowledge that they have created over time and translates that into action in an efficient way that conserves energy and resources.

When driving a successful culture change effort, leaders choose the “keystone habits” that can have the biggest impact on the organization. A keystone habit is a single habit that can have a profound set of cascading effects that benefit the organization. How can leaders successfully target keystone habits as high impact areas of action?

  • The diagnostic process should differentiate keystone habits from ordinary habits by looking for impact (the organization’s effectiveness) and interconnectedness (that they are tightly interwoven with other habits, routines, and processes in the organization). This means that intervening on keystone habits is likely to have a cascading effect, so that change started in one place leads to many other changes in many other places.
  • Keep the scope of the intervention small by tapping into the right habit(s) and affecting scalability through the repetition of this habit. The best interventions will stay focused and tap into the right habits rather than attempting to “boil the ocean.”
  • Use storytelling and celebration to “ritualize” the performance of keystone habits. Finding ways to reinforce keystone habits and make their performance rituals within the organization is an important part of the solution., so that the desired behaviors take on greater symbolic and psychological meaning over time. The meaning of rituals is often created and reinforced through storytelling.

Keystone habits can serve as powerful leverage points for leaders seeking to embed culture work deep within their organizations. A great place to start are small habits, as they can have big implications and can ensure that the change does far more than scratch the surface.


The information in this blog post was taken directly from “Habits as Change Levers,” an article found in HR People & Strategy written by Denison;s Chairman and Founding Partner, Daniel Denison, and Levi Nieminen, Director of Research and Development at Denison Consulting.

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