Our Live of Habits
Every morning I have a routine to start my day. I get up, brush my teeth, floss, rinse with mouthwash, shower and put in my contact lens. If for some reason that routine is disturbed, I might find myself later in the day wondering why I can’t see well. Have you ever found yourself leaving home and going in the wrong direction in your car because you are not going to work that day, but to a different destination. These are two examples of the habits that develop over time into routines
Charles Duhigg, in his book, The Power of Habit, discusses how habits work in individuals, organization and society. He initially discusses how habits work in individuals, but then goes on to discuss habit change in organizations. He discusses how he brought greater efficiency to ALCOA by concentrating on employee safety. A second example is how Starbucks created excellent customer service through pursuing greater willpower in their employees. Finally, he describes the habits that had to broken during the Montgomery bus boycott and the forces that provided for the people non-violent commitment necessary to make change happen.
As a business leader or manager, one of your greatest challenges is to break out of the status-quo and implement change. Notice the word implement, because it goes far beyond just deciding on what change is necessary and announcing it to the group. So what happens when you begin to implement change? You get resistance and some of that resistance is resident in the habits formed in the status-quo.
Recently, I was working with a sales group who were in desperate need of change. Sales had declined to an all time low and there was very little sign of recovery. The service they provided was custom for each customer, so their sales process was relatively long. One could easily observe that there were very few new projects entering the sales pipeline. The company had a history of successful business and produced a list of over 2800 previous customer contacts. The sales force was new and had not yet developed a network of prospective customers. The conclusion reached was that the salespeople should spend a good portion of each day calling previous customer contacts to reestablish a relationship. These were people who knew the company and at some point in time, were interested in the service provided. What a better way to start!!
During the weekly sales meeting, we announced that during the coming weeks, it was expected that at least two hours per day should be spent reestablishing contact with prospects on the customer list. With that announcement, we were trying to upset the habits of the status quo. A week later, at the weekly sales meeting, we asked for results and found that very few calls we made. The urgency of the situation was again stressed and a new approach was taken. Each sales person was handled a blank yellow pad and asked to record each call made during the week. At the following week’s meeting, the pads were empty.
At that point frustration could have set in. There could have been a lot of yelling and screaming along with threats of dismissals. But why did these apparently motivated and intelligent individuals not recognize the seriousness of the situation and do as instructed. In considering the situation, there were several possible causes for the lack of performance:
- They did not believe that making the calls would make a difference.
- They had unproductive routines or habits which absorbed their time, not allowing for them to make the calls.
- The habit of calling strangers was new and not part of a routine with which they were comfortable. We were asking them to get out of their comfort zone in the status quo.
Our conclusion was that they needed to develop the new habit of calling past customers on a priority basis. Developing this new habit required intimate observation of their daily routine and continuous recognition and rewards of the new habit developed. Initially this required constant and intimate supervision which one might call micro-management. After a few weeks however, as the habits formed, success occurred and very little supervision was needed. Although micro-management is usually considered a negative management trait, in this case it worked. It was not used as a continuing methodology, but only a short effort for change.
Changing old organizational habits and creating new more productive habits is a challenging task. Going it on your own can prove frustrating. Business coaching help can make a big difference during this process. What new habits does your organization need?