Ready to go down the Habit hole?

by Rici van Schalkwyk | May 3, 2022

The first quarter of the year is done and dusted. You are well on your way to reach the resolutions and goals you set for your business at the beginning of the year. Or, is one of the following statements more accurate?:

  • You started immediately on your resolutions, full of willpower and then ran out of steam after a few days or weeks.
  • You realised after two days of furiously applying your resolutions that the target was just too big, and you stopped, feeling like a failure.
  • You implemented your resolutions, succeeded for weeks and then urgent matters took over your time.

As business leaders we understand that while setting goals is very important, goals alone do not guarantee success. Reaching your goals has a higher success rate when you build habits to support them.

“Habit is the intersection of knowledge (what to do), skill (how to do), and desire (want to do).”

— Stephen Covey

Vision, goals, and habits

Every successful business and leader has a clear vision of their destination. The vision provides the purpose, passion, and inspiration that drives them.

Goals are the steppingstones we need to get to that vision. Goals alone do not inspire us to keep going and to keep improving. The vision ties the goals together.

To support your goals, you need habits that work for you. Daily habits that support learning and improvement in the direction of the goals. Habits provide the consistent performance and thus higher productivity.

Willpower is what gets us started, but it is like a muscle. It gets tired and when we are stressed, we overuse and deplete it. Willpower can be exercised and those that have strong willpower will find it easier to establish new habits. But willpower alone will not keep you going in the long run.

Keystone Habits

Many books and articles have been written on the importance of habits in performance and success. In his book “The Power of Habit”, Charles Duhigg1 introduced the idea of a keystone habit. But what is a keystone habit?

A keystone is the wedge-shaped stone in the centre of an arch locking all the stones together. A keystone habit is therefore a subconscious routine behaviour that sets off a chain reaction, locking in other behaviours. A keystone habit creates a domino effect when implemented effectively.

The best part of a habit is that it is involuntary, thus requiring less thinking and provides faster action. Applying this to your business, good habits will allow success for both you and your team.

Habit forming

To implement keystone habits in your business, you need to understand how a habit is formed.

Charles Duhigg2 describes it as a Habit Loop with three elements:

  1. The cue serves as a trigger that something familiar is happening.
  2. The routine is the action or behaviour we take. It can be physical, emotional, or mental.
  3. The reward is the feeling of success making it memorable and worth doing again.

In his book “Atomic Habits”, James Clear3 describes habit forming in a process of four steps:

  1. The cue triggers the brain to initiate a behaviour.
  2. The craving is the motivational force behind the habit.
  3. The response is the actual thought or action performed.
  4. The reward is the satisfying of the craving.
Keep these elements of habit forming in mind when you start the process of habit forming or changing of habits in your business.

Identify the business’s habits

The descriptions of habit forming also allow insight to identify and change organisational habits.

Given the nature of habits, these typically are the repeated processes and procedures the employees perform to get the job done. Anything from leading meetings to approving payments.

How employees in the organisation interact with one-another indicates behavioural habits. Any established pattern in decision making, implementation and strategies form part of the business’s habits.

Record the habits as they are identified for a structured evaluation.

Evaluate the business’s habits

After identifying the business’s habits, evaluate whether the habits (processes, procedures, behaviours) support the business goals and provide daily learning and improvement.

The realisation might hit that some of the habits are bad or just don’t serve a purpose anymore. Bad behavioural habits will influence not only the interactions of the employees, but also the performance of the business.

Habits are created to support goals and as the goals and the environment change, habits must change.

New goals might not be sufficiently supported by current habits. Or inadvertently the habits can work against the new goals.

Align the habits with the goals and implement the changes necessary.

New habits or changing old habits

To implement a new keystone habit or change a keystone habit, identify the emotion that drives that habit. Connect the habit with a business value. Identify what must improve for employees to feel something. For example, improved company morale and work-life balance.

The habits of a business and the identity of the business are directly linked. The identity of the business is influenced by the values displayed in repeated behaviours. Thus, to implement a successful behaviour change, it must align with the company values. (See Values and Company Culture)

Ensure that the policies, procedures, rewards, and environment of the organisation align in the change. Or at the least does not work against the change you are implementing.

Create the new habit with the habit loop and process in mind. Make the change obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying.

For instance, offer a gym membership to employees to promote work-life balance. Provide tools to track attendance and a reward for commitment to the membership. It must be adopted by all employees. The domino effect will be an increase in productivity and employee engagement.

Practise the new habits

The most effective keystone habits are adopted throughout the business, can be easily repeated, and have a daily action and result.

Use the business environment to ensure that the change is obvious. Remove all reminders of the old and place the new front and centre (physical or online). Leaders must practice the new habit first. Employees will follow. By nature, we want to belong and earn respect.

Habits form based on the frequency of action, not the timespan involved to complete it. It is the consistency that allows success. To achieve the consistency it must be easy. James Clear calls it the Two-Minute Rule4. To start a new habit, it should not take more than two minutes to perform.

Delayed rewards do not motivate change today. The new habit should have a visible immediate reward. Even if it is a small reward like ringing a winning bell.

Strengths, Habits, and Goals

How long it will take to form a habit differs from person to person due to our uniqueness. This impacts how long it will take for a business habit to be effectively adopted company wide.

Gallup Strengths5 can be used as a lens to reframe goals and habits for each employee. Teams can reframe goals and habits through the lens of the teams’ strengths.

Thinking about goals and habits with strengths in mind makes it possible to connect with each employee on an individual level.

For instance, if the business wants to implement a priority hour at the beginning of each day to encourage the daily completion of top 5 priority tasks; it will look something like this through strengths lens:

Analytical6 need a chart to track metrics like percentage of completion in that hour.
Relator7 need to perform this with close friends to reach their goal.
Strategic8 need to plan and block out this hour in their calendar.
Achiever9 need a tool on which to make and track a list of the priority tasks.
Futuristic10 need to see the big picture of the goal this habit supports.
Competition11 need leader boards or charts to compare their performance to that of others.
Activator12 need the implementation actions to start as soon as possible.

Just to name a few examples.

Reframing the goals and habits with the strengths of each employee, ensures engagement in the forming and adopting of the habits.

Final thoughts

Getting excited and energised by their goals, leaders want to implement big changes as fast as possible. This creates added pressure after a while and when stressed we revert to known actions that we do instinctively.

The key to successful habits is small changes performed consistently.

Changing direction by just 0.5 degrees at the start, completely changes the long-term destination you will reach. Performing the same routine consistently thickens the neuro pathways the same way you exercise a muscle.

Start with small but continuous actions by the leaders. The results will wau you.

At wauperform we believe in connecting business goals and habits to the strengths of each employee. We will gladly assist you with the process. Contact Dale Petersen on 021 819 7802 or 066 165 9019 to find out more about how we can assist.


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