Habits Happen

Jan 25, 2021
Organizational Habits

Knowledge is good, but habits happen! In fact, a recent study out of Duke University tells us that 40% of what we do in a day is done out of habit. Said another way, you don't decide on 40% of what you do in a day. This is why we might know how to eat healthily but find ourselves eating the same old thing day in and day out.

Habits have three parts: a cue, a routine, and a result. Many of us don't eat because we are hungry but we eat out of boredom, loneliness, or sadness. As Jim Gaffigan says to his friend, "What does being hungry have to do with eating a donut!" So our habit goes like this: I feel bored (cue) which triggers my walk to the pantry for some Doritos (that's my favorite, what's yours?) and put those salty, crunchy, triangles of goodness in my mouth (routine), and now my brain feels a little bit better (result).

Okay, so let's say you want some new habits. Research says it's most effective to reprogram a habit. So instead of eating when you feel lonely, message or call a friend. If you do this for about sixty days, on average, that's enough to reprogram the habit.

Understanding habits is helpful in the workplace too. First, you will begin to identify the helpful and unhelpful habits that exist in your culture. For example, you might notice that as a leader anytime you push back on something people quickly come around to your opinion. Why? Well, the tension of disagreeing with you is the cue, the routine is pointing out how you are right, and the result is feeling like the boss is happy. This is helpful if you are always right. It's very unhelpful if your success is dependent on arriving at the best idea.

Often habits like these get developed subtly not intentionally. The good news about identifying the habit you can now reprogram it. How? Build a new meeting routine. Next time you are in a meeting give permission for the team to disagree with you. After one person offers an alternative perspective thank them and ask someone to give a third option. From there you could ask are there any other options, debate the options, and decide. At the end of the meeting tell the team how much you appreciate the varied perspectives and how you believe it is a key to the organization's success. Then follow-up individually with those who offered alternative perspectives after the meeting and affirm them again. Do that for a couple of months and you will build a new team habit.

What you are doing in the above description is reprogramming the routine your employees choose when they have a dissenting or alternative opinion. Before, in order to get the result of their manager being pleased with and praising them, they needed to agree. Now they are receiving that because they are offering a differing opinion. Again, if you know all the right answers this won't be all that helpful 😉.

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