For most of us, the current disruptions have metaphorically thrown the concepts of work and life into a blender. These poorly prepared ingredients are noisily churning, being forced together, perhaps spilling over the top. People are working where they live, living where they work, spaces are blurred, routines are disrupted. Previously well-defined schedules are disrupted and unstable.
One of the hidden costs of this are our habits. The countless, mindless decisions we all make each day that reinforce who we are and what we do. Charles Duhigg’s 2012 book, The Power of Habit, presented the perhaps surprising premise that approximately 85% of our behaviour is driven by habits.
To better understand how this isolation (or any significant disruption to your normal) impacts habits, we need to look a little deeper at how habits actually work.
Charles simply breaks habits down to 3 key components; Cue -> Routine -> Reward.
The cues often go totally unnoticed, but they are critically important. They may be the time of day, regular events, particular people or even emotions. Once triggered, your brain will fast-forward to the expected reward, priming dopamine receptors in your brain for the expected pleasure. This priming motivates you to execute the routine (habit) known to produce that reward.
Many people are surprised by how much their habits are impacted by seemingly small changes to their routines. You can now see how the current, disrupted lifestyles are likely to be messing with the thousands of daily cues that typically trigger the majority of our actions. Without those, we are like unguided missiles…
So, if you’re struggling to maintain some of your desired routines, BJ Fogg has one deceptively simple tip; Identify something that you still manage to regularly do – e.g. shower, brush your teeth, morning coffee – then attach the new habit immediately after it. Now you can rely on a current routine as the cue for the new behaviour. Clever.
Habits are powerful, and yet fragile. Dissecting them can be quite enlightening. When you take the time to look closely at the patterns associated with your habits you might be very surprised by what actually drives some of your behaviours.
If you want to dig deeper into habit there are many great resources out there by authors such as Charles Duhigg, Michelle Segar, and B.J. Fogg.
Most organisations are currently faced with new and difficult pressures, challenges and decisions resulting from the Covid-19 outbreak.
The responses to these pressures could have a dramatic and long-lasting impact upon your organisations culture, impacting its ability to endure and/or recover quickly. Many organisations have stories about that event in their past that is still seen as having been a poorly handled situation.
Organisation culture is heavily dependent upon trust, evidenced in concepts such as psychological safety, a key component of engagement. Environments where perceived threats exist trigger physiological, emotional and cognitive responses associated with personal security. Existing in this state can significantly damage your organisations culture and will likely require much effort to rebuild!
Your staff are looking to you now, more than ever, for messages and actions which demonstrate that you value them, appreciate their individual situation and that their welfare is an organisation priority.
Using the Coronavirus as an excuse to do otherwise will see your reputation and culture plummet. This is a price you cannot afford. It will cost you at every step of your responses and efforts to rebuild.
I have seen the lingering impacts of much simpler crises handled in ways that left staff feeling as though they were expendable or less important than the bottom line, once there was some pressure.
Policy on the fly will be necessary but be very cautious that the implementation shows a real interest in understanding each person’s unique context.
One of the most published and admired responses to a crisis was that of South West Airlines when faced with all airlines being grounded post-9/11. That firm’s commitment to its people is now legendary and the rewards have continued since. Arguably, this is a more complex situation, but any research on culture, engagement and performance supports, wholly the leadership approach of SWA.
There are, of course, numerous other examples cited in business publications. These may make for valuable reading in our current situation.
A message I often reinforce with my clients is what I call Garry’s rule #1: “demonstrate genuine care for your people, at an individual level.”
Your people will have more commitment to the success of your company than you estimate. They will identify creative options to support you, your organisation and their peers.
Involve them. Value them.
Everyone can identify things they would like to achieve; career, study, fitness, finances or perhaps changes to behaviour or habits. Having coached numerous people in support of their personal and/or professional development I am aware of how rarely we take real control of making these things happen. Rather than dwelling on the (perhaps intriguing) topic of why people don’t – let’s look at how people do.
My experience and studies relating to coaching and behaviour change has led me to create a simple formula which increases the likelihood of success:
“1 to 3 for 5”
The ‘1’ refers to “One day”. Vast amounts of research point to the benefits of identifying your goals … the things you want to happen, ‘One Day’. A good example being the work by Locke & Latham (2002). Goals provide direction and guide decision making.
You need to Identify and review goals regularly and across the various domains of your life (health, finance, family, career, hobbies, etc.) Ensure that they take you toward something positive, rather than away from a negative – this is important, as it changes the way your brain functions, allowing you to tap into far greater resources. Here’s a simple example: “Further education would get me out of this dead-end job” (away) vs. “further education would create access to more rewarding work” (toward). For a deeper dive on this look for work by Gray (1970), Carver & White (1994) and Fredrickson (1998)
Next, we need to create a clear vision:
“What it will look like when you succeed?”
It is important to see yourself in that picture and focus on the positive emotions associated with it. Revisit this vision regularly, it is a deceptively powerful tool; it can give you purpose, a useful resource to call upon when lacking in motivation. Clear goals also put your brain on alert, via the reticular activating system, helping you to spot relevant information that you may otherwise have missed.
Having now identified clear goals, you need to brainstorm a list of actions that will take you toward them. This is important for a few reasons. In most instances, your ability to carry out any action will require that you have sufficient willpower to make the decision to do new or more, at some point in time. If those actions appear too hard, having some smaller ‘fall-back’ options will allow you to make some progress, which helps build your self-efficacy – a critical component of self-esteem. This is where the “to” part of my model comes in … “what will I do, today?” For those so inclined, take a look at the willpower work of Baumeister et al (2000), behaviour change, B.J. Fogg and self-efficacy, Bandura (1977)
OK, you now have some clear and positive goals which stir positive emotion, and a list of identified actions which probably range from almost incidental to quite challenging. In my experience, one of the biggest factors has not yet been considered. The question of how those around you can help (or hinder) your efforts. At this point I turn to the Jim Rohn quote:
“we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with”
The Fowler and Christakis book, Connected, shows us the surprising extent of such influences, both positive and negative. More recently, the concept of High Quality Connections (HQC) has also emerged within the field of Positive Psychology (Dutton).
The ‘3’ in my formula prompts you to identify at least three people who could help you to move toward each goal … a strategy rarely used. These people need to be carefully chosen. Some of the possible selection criteria might be: ‘they make me feel good about myself’, ‘they have achieved similar things in the past’, ‘they will hold me accountable’, ‘they help me clarify my thinking’, ‘they have a relevant skill’. Identifying three people with these skills builds a powerful team with resources you can draw upon.
With ‘1 to 3’ completed, what remains? One important step.
Each day, you need to reflect on your completed actions in a positive manner, ‘for 5’ minutes. You may even choose to capture your thoughts in a journal. Ensure your focus stays on the things you did and how those actions take you toward your goals. This acknowledgement reinforces self-esteem, improves mood and sets you up for continued success. This is also an ideal time to plan tomorrows actions.
1 to 3 for 5 may look simple, but it’s not easy. It requires constant effort and attention. With practice, it can create valuable habits.
Where could you try this formula … today?
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love books. I always carry a couple with me when I travel, and I prefer public transport; as (for me) that turns the chore of commuting into the gift of learning. I typically read books written by researchers or people combining the findings of others to present some bigger message. I not only need this information in my work, I want it – personally.
But books require a significant time investment; regardless of whether they are actual physical books or the audio version. Personally, I prefer the real thing – as I like to underline, highlight, make notes and stick tabs on key content. I also like to dive deeper into key parts by reading some of the references cited (* cough … nerd, I know). This leads to a dilemma:
“my curiosity leads me to far more books and articles than I can possibly keep up with”
My house is littered with bundles of books queued up to be read. I sometimes wonder if Book Depository know me by name. So, if you have the same problem, here are a few ‘hacks’ that I have found really valuable:
I hope these tips save you some time and allow you to quench your thirst for knowledge.
Please comment with other hacks that you have found may help people reading this post.
During the recent Human Synergistics conference in Melbourne I heard several great comments and quotes – but one really struck a chord with me:
“Culture will do what culture will do …
If you don’t manage it, it will manage you!”
I experienced one of those powerful moments where the message just continued to unfold, layer by layer, divulging more and more insights. I’m sure I was initially distracted by the Dr. Seuss nature of the wording, but perhaps that was what made it ‘sticky’… Made it hang around my consciousness long enough to process and connect to my own thoughts and experiences.
“… if you don’t manage it, it will manage you”
If you are not consciously aware of culture and its drivers, you run the risk of ‘mindlessly’ reacting to misunderstood signals in ways that only worsen the situation.
In the vast majority of cases, behaviours which appear less than constructive are the result of some form of perceived threat. Without that awareness, it is very easy for leaders to react to in-the-moment situations in ways that reinforce the perception of threat. An evil ‘Catch 22’ scenario.
For example: Suppose you are a senior leader in an organisation subjected to great volatility. You need to be able to rely on your team and their people to be nimble, creative, accountable and resilient. To be able to spot issues, appreciate the bigger picture and come up with effective solutions … but they aren’t doing that. They are constantly shifting responsibility, playing it safe, keeping their heads down and just not delivering. It is intensely frustrating … given the state of play!
Distracted by pressure and driven by emotion, your responses may not be exactly the best version of you, but you are under a lot of pressure.
Unfortunately, you have just demonstrated exactly what those people feared; the perception of a threat has now been validated and performance will suffer further.
Sadly, even the term “working ‘on’ the business, not ‘in’ the business” often still misses what is at the heart of culture. It can easily be seen as upgrading products, services, systems and procedures; often overlooking the need for clear articulation and demonstration of values and meaning. The things that will allow you to manage the culture.
Don’t let your organisation culture just happen – take control of it. Manage it just like any other key project … or it will manage you.
Contact Garry@thestylewisegroup.com to discuss how we can help your organisation manage culture, engagement and performance.