If you are the owner or manager of a business, you spend a lot of time in that business. You probably have systems in place to ensure that things are done the way you’d like for them to be done. In a perfect world, you would instruct your staff on how you would like things done. Then, they would go off and do them exactly that way and smile while they did it. I literally laughed as I typed that last sentence because that scenario seldom plays out, at least not in the beginning. Not because you lack good people. In fact, you can have the best people working for you and still have difficulty getting them to perform at a high level.
I have managed several different businesses in several different industries. In each business I encountered the same thing. There were always employees who would do things a certain way regardless of how many times I instructed them otherwise. Early in my career I tried several approaches. Training, rewards and even disciplinary action. None of it worked. There were times I doubted myself, but I knew there had to be a way to create positive change. I knew there must be a way to steer people away from bad habits. But how?
One of the first things you must do is explain why. Let your people know the reason behind the change. Most times, people will go long with change when they know and understand the reason behind it. Let’s say, for the purposes of this article, that you have explained the reason and are still having trouble getting everyone to adapt. Now what?
It would be great if all you had to do was say, “Okay guys, we’re not going to do this anymore, instead we are going to do that.” That almost never works, and there’s a reason why it doesn’t work. We humans are wired in such a way that makes it extremely difficult to simply stop a bad habit. Instead, we must replace the bad habit with another habit. (If you’d like to read a great book on this very topic, I highly recommend you pick up The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. There are many books out there on forming new habits, but this book is definitely one of the best. I cannot recommend it enough.)
The key to replacing a bad habit with a good one is to understand the Golden Rule of habit change, which is to simply introduce a new routine. Here’s what I mean. If you read the book I recommended above, you will be introduced to habit loops. A habit loop has three parts:
1) The cue.
2) The routine
3) The reward.
The cue is what begins the habit loop, which is then followed by the routine, and finally the reward. Here’s an example:
Let’s say you have an employee that consistently fails at handling customer complaints. Every time an upset customer calls the business, and this employee answers the call, it never ends well. The employee becomes nervous and anxiety takes over. The employee gets defensive, which irritates the customer even more, and the whole thing escalates and management gets involved. In this scenario, the phone call from an upset customer is the cue that starts the whole thing off. The employee becoming nervous and riddled by anxiety is the routine. The reward is when the employee no longer as to deal with the situation, because management is involved.
Let’s break it down:
Cue: Phone call from upset customer.
Routine: Nervousness, defensiveness, and anxiety.
Reward: No longer has to deal with the situation.
There is the habit loop. Remember, you can’t just ask the employee to stop doing this habit loop. Humans are not wired that way. A habit cannot be eradicated, it must be replaced. Keep in mind that humans also resist change, especially in large quantities. This is why you don’t ask them to stop this habit loop. All you have to do is introduce a new routine. The cue and the reward remains the same. Instead of the employee executing their routine of nervousness and anxiety, you give them a replacement routine to use instead. You meet with the employee and let them know that they are empowered to make any appropriate decision to ensure a dissatisfied customer is happy. Let them know that they do not have to call in management because you trust in their abilities and will stand behind any decision they make in order to keep a customer. Then role play and practice new verbiage they can use the next time they receive such a call. You just created a new routine. Notice that the Cue, and the Reward does not change.
Cue: Phone call from upset customer.
New Routine: Empathize with the customer. Tell them you understand and would feel the same way. Assure them that no matter what, you will resolve their concern. Make an appropriate decision.
Reward: No longer has to deal with the situation (because they resolved the issue.)
Naturally, there are variables in the example I used, but you get the point. I used this example because I witnessed it firsthand while managing a massage studio. Th result was the employee learned a new way of dealing with the same cue, and the anxiety started diminishing immediately, and eventually was gone altogether. The key is to role play and practice the new routine until it becomes automatic. This works regardless of what the habit loop is about. If you can identify the cue and the reward, you can usually change the routine and began a new habit. However, there is one other thing that is crucial and that is belief. The individual who is trying to create a new habit must believe that they can do it. While you cannot make a person believe, you can create an environment that fosters such a belief. Humans gain assurance and confidence in groups, and if the rest of your team has adapted by creating a new habit, then any individual who may otherwise struggle with belief in themselves will more easily adapt. Yet another reason why the culture of a business is the foundation of its success.
In summary, you don’t have to worry about eradicating bad habits. All you have to do is replace them with good habits. To do that you only have to identify the cue, the routine, and the reward. After that, replace the routine with a new one. Practice it until it becomes automatic and voila! A new habit is born!
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