In other words, identify the negative implications of not forming this new habit and then identify the positive implications for forming the habit you are focused on. Once you have reviewed the implications, create an accountability link by asking someone to help you develop your new habit and report your progress to this person on a regular basis. Remember, it takes approximately 28 days to break an old habit and create a new one.
Organizations on the other hand, also have specific routines that are really nothing more than unconscious habits. These so-called routines or habits are essentially what create organizational culture or in other words, “the way we do things around here.” They are also tactics for creating and maintaining a sense of consistency in how work is done and how employees behave. And, just as with individuals, the strength of the dominant habits and routines can ruin an organization and/or take it forward to outstanding success.
If fact, James L. Heskett, university professor and author of The Culture Cycle, suggests that an effective organization culture can account for up to half of the differential in profit performance between organizations in the same business. In his view, the reason for this is that engaged leaders and employees are more likely to stay with an organization. This in turn creates higher productivity per employee, reduces overall talent management costs and ensures a stronger and more loyal customer base.
Most organizational habits and routines typically reflect the beliefs and behaviours of earlier leaders and/ or corporate founders and therefore changing these habits and behaviours requires significant leadership effort. In many cases, new executive leadership is required in order to start the shift toward new ways of doing things.
At the same time, changing organizational habits, routines and culture is far more complicated than changing an individual habit. In other words, 28 days just won’t do it. New organizational leaders especially need to engage in a systematic diagnosis of their current situation in order to both confirm the need for change and the organization’s capability to change its habits and routines. Whereas long-term employees are often resistant to change, the leader must also engage in an in-depth review of organizational dynamics, employee tenures, skills, attitudes and their ability and desire to change and grow.
Once a future vision for the organization has been created, the leader must work with key stakeholders — including employees — to communicate and inspire others to support the vision for change, be it creating a new routine and/or making wholesale change. People need to know how the change will benefit them personally and how it will benefit the organization. They also want to know details such as where, when, how and who is involved. In many cases, extensive educational programming and training is needed to upgrade skills and organizational capabilities.
Leaders need to expect some form of discomfort and inconsistency as employees begin to change behaviour. Watch for open resentment, denial, repeated questioning, and/or malicious compliance. In these cases, offer employee counselling to those individuals who are significantly challenged by your changes. With extreme cases, leaders may need to graciously move those employees who no longer fit with the vision out of the organization.
No matter what, new behaviours need to be incorporated into everyday organizational processes and old behaviours and routines need to be replaced. New reward systems need to be developed to support the new ways of doing things. And finally, leaders must continue to reinforce and measure the organizational and employee behaviour changes. Heskett suggests that leaders start by tracking what he calls the four Rs — employee retention, returns to labour (productivity), relationship with customers, and referrals as well as the rate of innovation.
It is also well known that many change-management efforts fail, causing significant financial burdens as well as the loss of time and productivity. One key reason for failed change programs is the lack of commitment by senior executives. Secondly, just as with individuals, if an organization attempts to make too many changes to employee behaviour at the same time, the result will be confusion and diluted commitment.
It’s a common social truism that individual behaviour change will require at the very minimum 28 days but in reality to sustain the change, much more time is required. Organizational change on the other hand will require anywhere from three to five years. However, the behaviour change process is much the same; examining the current status, addressing the potential loss and/or lost opportunity by not changing routines, then setting your goal, putting steps in place to make it happen and establishing rewards that will reinforce the new behaviour.
Source: Habit Forming, Identify and reinforce actions that inspire your business, Kathryn Tyler, HR Magazine, November 2012, The Profit Power of Corporate Culture, Sean Silverthorne, September 2011