Making a Change? Try High-Return Practices

I talk about “high-return practices” in my business a lot, usually when I’m working with clients, trying to help them change behaviors that don’t serve them well and can have a negative impact on their success. In fact, practices form a foundational element of a lot of what we do at Ferrazzi Greenlight. But the good thing about high-return practices – they’re not just for business. They can help you outside the office as well.

So what is one?

A high-return practice is basically a simple, targeted task that’s relatively easy to implement and turn into a habit, yet it has a high return on some aspect of your business or life. In business, high-return practices can produce behavior changes that cascade across the company, influencing customer engagement, employee retention or product innovation; in life, they can lead you toward behavior shifts that spark a greater sense of happiness, well-being or better relationships.

I always say that change is hard, whether you’re a company or an individual, and that people’s behavior won’t change until their practices change. When we’re working to transform a company, we talk about process, strategy and tactics. On an individual level, it works much the same, but in a scaled-down way: When someone says, “I want to lose weight,” the process is usually, “I’m going to work out and eat better.” But the next step is behavioral, and the behavioral steps are where we say, “Behaviors don’t happen until they turn into practice.” Practice means doing actual stuff, and doing it consistently.

Want to lose weight? There’s a practice for that

We ask a question of large companies to start the change process: “Which fewest people changing which narrowest set of behaviors and practices will yield significant outcomes?” If you want to make a personal change, you should start asking that question relative to your life.

If I’m going to lose weight, for example, what are the narrowest set of practices that will deliver the highest return? To that end, I guess, technically, starving would be a narrow practice that would deliver a high return, but that’s a bit extreme for anyone to stick to it (and, let’s face it, no one should). In other words, the practices can’t be so unachievable that they’re daunting and make us not want to do them. In the early stages of trying to change behavior, you want to have practices that are meaningful, and have measurable results, but they need to be approachable and also seem joyful in some way.

What I have often done when I’m trying to lose weight to be healthy is I will start with the high-return practice of not putting cream in my coffee because part of that is not only the act itself – which I guess saves a few calories – but, more importantly, it’s a trigger-point at breakfast to make me realize I’m trying to lose weight. And if I’m trying to shed a few pounds then I won’t have the pancakes, which will make me not have the muffin. Instead, I’ll just have some simple eggs, and I won’t get the toast with them – all because it’s triggered by the high-return practice of the cream. One response elicits another: I’ve started with one small, attainable step as I work toward my larger goal.

Another high-return practice? How about instead of having sit-down meetings, I’ll have “coffee walks.” A coffee walk reminds me that, instead of having a meeting where I’m sitting bored, inactive at a table – where I’ll likely go down to the kitchen and pick up a candy bar – I’ve made a commitment to a high-return practice which is to walk to meetings and stay active. It’s another small, repeatable task that you can do every day – and I do.

Identifying practices is easy

High-return practices don’t have to be difficult to identify or apply. People who read my book “Never Eat Alone” tell me from time to time that they’re inspired but overwhelmed because they feel they could never do everything I suggest to build successful relationships.

I tell them to just pick one or two practices from the book that they think would be fun and to focus on them. Those practices, once they do them and see results, will end up being contagious, and people will want to try more practices. And since my book is chock-full of high-return practices – I don’t believe there are any “low-return practices” in it – it’s safe to say, “Pick any of those high-return practices.”

Probably one of the highest-return practices – a lot of people tell me – is “Throw one little dinner party.” But someone will say, “Well, I don’t cook.” That’s fine, try another one: Just think of three people and send a lovely email that’s unsolicited saying how much you miss them and that you’re thinking of them, called “pinging.” Everybody can do that. You’ll build relationships with friends, family and loved ones, and remain close to anyone else important enough in your life.

So put high-return practices into action – you can do that. Sometimes, we hold onto old, familiar behaviors quite tightly even when we know they’re not good for us. But if you pick a goal, identify some practices that are attainable enough that you can do every day and have a high return on some aspect of your life, you’ll be well ahead of the curve. High-return practices don’t just help big companies go through behavior shifts – they support people like you and me to make changes in our lives.


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Keith Ferrazzi

Keith Ferrazzi


New York Times best-selling author, speaker

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