When it comes to habits David Mann tells the story of Smokey the Bear's campfire rules. Douse the fire with water, stir the coals and turn them over, then douse again. Not following the rules of Smokey the Bear you risk the fire restarting itself from the live embers that remain. Cultural habits are very much the same way.
Habits define how organizations behave, and therefore changing organizational habits often requires changing the organization’s culture. To increase your chances of success, start by changing your organization’s keystone habits, or the habits that by definition change other habits.
As a leader try to identify the right moment for the organization to introduce change and think about crises as opportunities to break old habits and introduce new ones. In the mist of chaos, people become both increasingly flexible and willing to rethink “the way things get done around here.”
Leaders of business have a powerful influence on the development of the company's culture. You might not be very aware of your culture, or you may just think of it as "the way we do things around here." But your company does have a culture, and it probably reflects your leader’s values for good or bad: People will have adopted the manager’s behaviors and attitudes toward their work.
The culture of a company is the result of the behavior of its leaders. If you change their attitudes, their values, their beliefs, their behaviors, you will change your culture. If you don’t, you will fail. Here are 5 ways leaders can make forming new habits easier for employees and themselves:
1. Start Simple
Don’t try to completely change everything in one day. It is easy to get over-motivated and take on too much. For example, If you wanted to study two hours a day, first make the habit to go for thirty minutes and build on that.
2. Commit to Thirty Days
Three to four weeks is all the time you need to make a habit automatic. If you can make it through the initial conditioning phase, it becomes much easier to sustain. A month is a good block of time to commit to a change since it easily fits in your calendar.
3. Make it Daily
Consistency is critical if you want to make a habit stick. If you want to start exercising, go to the gym every day for your first thirty days. Going a couple times a week will make it harder to form the habit. Activities you do once every few days are trickier to lock in as habits.
4. Run it as an Experiment
Withhold judgment until after a month has past and use it as an experiment in behavior. Experiments can’t fail, they just have different results so it will give you a different perspective on changing your habit.
5. Be Imperfect
Don’t expect all your attempts to change habits to be successful immediately. It took me four independent tries before I started exercising regularly. Now I love it. Try your best, but expect a few bumps along the way.
The culture of an organization is learnt over time. It can be taught to new employees through formal training programs but is more generally absorbed through stories, myths, rituals, and shared behaviors within teams. Organizational culture will impact positively or negatively on everything you try to do whether you want it to or not.
Leaders need to be mindful of their role in creating culture change.