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Small Habits Can Lead to Big Improvements

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This article originally published in APTA's April 24 issue of Passenger Transport Magazine 

JAMES CLEAR’S BESTSELLING BOOK Atomic Habits provides a framework for readers to make small changes that, over time, will lead to big outcomes. Examples include adjustments to daily routines that can help transform individuals into better versions of themselves. The same approach can be applied to managing our public transit systems. Whether it is safety, or organizational management, introducing and reinforcing small organizational behaviors and practices can help further improve systems’ performance over the long term.

A good habit to begin implementing is ‘just culture’ into safety management systems. It is important to learn from incidents to mitigate future risks and avoid the habit of applying blunt disciplinary actions. Let us assume that maintenance employees habitually climb into/ onto equipment without maintaining three points of contact and this leads to a fall and injury. Learning why employees use shortcuts and discovering that learned behavior through workplace culture led to the mistake can be the first step toward the appropriate corrective action or actions.

In certain regions where Keolis operates, teams have implemented systems management programs such as Keolis Industrialized and Harmonized Maintenance (KIHM). KIHM is a lean management system focused on the continuous improvement of maintenance operations for all transit modes. As part of this program’s implementation, managers and front-line employees can provide feedback and even issue five-minute stand-up reports. Providing a forum for middle management to engage in problem-solving or reporting is a good habit for any organization to increase engagement and gain invaluable insight from those closest to service delivery.

Part of what makes Keolis unique is the use of visualization rooms. At each Keolis operation, key performance indicators (KPIs) are displayed and updated regularly in spaces available for all employees to view highlights, alerts and priorities. Weekly sessions allow management teams from all departments the opportunity to provide updates on projects and any outcomes reflected in KPIs. The habit of updating this information and providing readouts from those with the relevant responsibilities is a healthy business exercise that contributes to transparency and accountability, which in turn contributes to operational improvements that benefit our partners, our employees and our passengers.

Organizations do not necessarily need wholesale disruption of existing systems to make improvements. Rather, small commitments today, that are continually reinforced over time and made habitual, can lead to sustained improvements in areas such as safety, mechanical reliability and organizational management.