For those of you interested in leadership and continuous improvement: 

I recently found this hand-written artifact in my father’s workpapers.  Hard to define a lifetime of work and someone’s legacy into a handful of words but to me these two pages are just that for Dad.  Most importantly, these two pages are a gift to all of us.  He told the “Habitual Excellence” story thousands of times with the hope that others could use this framework to guide organizations and their people to reach their fullest potential.  He often tried to distill into as few pages and words as possible – this is one of those attempts.  Obviously, Dad used this framework to produce profound results as CEO at ALCOA and as the US Treasury Secretary and in other areas including healthcare.   


Some of you will need a little more context on some of his points, and some of his examples are shorthand.   

 For these two pages, it helps to know that: 

“The Three Questions” refers to Dad’s three questions that for an organization with even the potential for greatness, every employee has to be able to say yes to every day.  

“The theoretical limit” refers to Dad’s aspirational, hopeful conviction that if god doesn’t prevent us from doing something via the laws of physics then people can accomplish it, and that perfect should be the aspirational, positive goal. 

On the second page, Dad refers to a number of boldly successful examples of leading with these ideas, including  

  • He announced on his first day as CEO of ALCOA that zero workplace injuries would be a pre-conditional goal not to be traded off against any other.  
  • Insisting on the desegregation of the corporate country club in Pittsburgh, also on his first day as CEO 
  • Gave out his home phone number to workers at an important Tennessee plant asking workers to call if leaders were not working to solve any safety risk or event within 24 hours 
  • Challenging his Comptroller Ernie Edwards to galvanize the finance staff around the goal of closing their books around the world in the fastest possible time each quarter, to free up time for value-added work, to tie everyone in the organization into the quest for habitual excellence using common principles 

Personally leading the investigation into the first death of an employee at ALCOA once he became CEO, an 18-year-old newlywed in Arizona with a baby on the way.  

  • Medical leaders achieving “zero harm” in the ICUs at Allegheny General Hospital 
  • Driving the central line-associated bloodstream infection rate (CLABSI) down by more than 2/3 through the Pittsburgh Regional Healthcare Initiative 

P1 Document pg 1

P1 Document pg 2

Two wonderful resources to see these ideas and proofs more fully laid out in Dad’s own words are a speech he gave to the Tennessee Hospital Association called “The Irreducible Components of Leadership Needed to Achieve Continuous Learning and Continuous Improvement.” Another is the volume A Playbook for Habitual Excellence in which Mark Graban captured Dad’s key principles and execution framework, in his own words.    

For those interested in exploring these ideas in more depth, especially as they apply to your own leadership, intended legacy, and organization, please reach out to the Value Capture team using the form below. 


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