Habits: A Key to Sustainable Change

Written by: David McClaskey

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As we seek sustainable change, both at home and in the workplace, habits play a key role in making change permanent. Learning the principles behind habits and how habits can be modified to be more beneficial will improve your ability to manage and lead an organization towards operational excellence.

One of the topics that Pal’s BEI teaches in its “Achieving World-Class Results” class (www.palsbei.com) is the key to sustainability, which is: make doing the right things a habit. One of the ways we illustrate this during the class is by describing Pal’s Sudden Service’s training process that results in employees being certified only when they have the habit of doing the job 100% correctly.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, by Charles Duhigg, outlines the scientific research that underlies how habits are formed and how they can be changed.

Two key points from Duhigg’s book related to habits are:

1. The Habit Loop: all habits are made up of three parts: a trigger or cue; a routine (the behavior); and a reward

  1.  The cue is some event that triggers the routine (the habitual behavior).Here is an Approach to help you determine what cue prompts the routine (behavior):Almost all habitual cues fit into one of five categories: location; time; emotional state; other people; and immediately preceding action. To understand which cue is triggering a specific routine, note what was happening at the time the urge to start the routine hits. You can note what was happening in each of the five categories when the urge to do the routine hits. Your analysis will reveal which cue was actually triggering the routine.
  2. The routine is the habitual behavior. This is the most observable part of The Habit Loop.
  3. The reward is what favorable thing the person gets due to performing the routine.

An example of The Habit Loop:

  1. Cue: a customer enters the store
  2. Routine: a cashier provides the brand’s standard greeting to the customer
  3. Reward: the sense of pleasure the employee gets when the customer smiles as a result of the greeting

2. The Golden Rule of Habit Change:

  • The way to modify a habit is to keep the same cue and reward and modify the routine (the behavior) that occurs between the cue and the reward.

Example of managing employee’s habit change, making use of the two key points made above:

  1. Current Habit Loop: The cue is an employee sees a friend at work; the routine is the two employees spend a lot of work time talking to each other about outside activities while doing little to no productive work; the reward is social interaction.
  2. You would like to have the employees spend their work time doing productive work.
  3. Revised Habit Loop: The cue is an employee sees a friend at work; the routine is two employees work productively together on a joint work task; the reward is social interaction.

Habits are key to enacting sustainable change that builds and sustains the work behaviors, which lead to operational excellence.

Try using the principles outlined in this blog. Let me know how it went.