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U-turn starts with identifying, replacing cultural bad habits

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The old adage of “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” has been relegated to the dustbin of business clichés.

As any business leader recognizes, if you’re not looking to continually improve, there is a competitor just waiting to take over your market, customers and products.

In spite of our best efforts at continually improving, we may find that we land in a difficult situation that requires major effort and turnaround activities. The causes vary, and the source could be external or internal factors or a combination.

What can we do when things go south?

There are many techniques and a plethora of management books written on the subject to guide you in turning around adverse situations. Looking deep into your culture and the assumptions that are driving your activities is always a powerful place to begin.

However, depending on the company, many organizations are reluctant to take that plunge. While almost all successful leaders understand the enormous power that culture has on how their business conducts itself, diving into the culture pool may seem like diving into a bottomless abyss of distraction and effort with unknown outcomes and results.

In fact, making large cultural changes can be messy, disruptive and have limited results unless there is a long-term commitment to sustain the work necessary for change.

So, is it possible to wade into the culture pool and get in turnaround mode without wearing a life jacket? The answer is yes.

The forces preventing your company from the desired results may be embedded in the practices being used.

Sometimes, these practices are habits that have become ingrained and accepted and are unchecked.

Just like people, companies develop habits that become standard ways of operating and behaving – and many times have positive consequences.

One example is that many people start their day with a cup of coffee. It’s a routine that has developed over time, and deviation can cause stress.

The reward for this habit is stimulation from caffeine or merely helping you wake up. Plus, it identifies that you’re starting your day.

People and organizations identify with routines. It is a way of making sense for the things we do and how we go about accomplishing what we do.

Many of these habits are extremely positive and are manifest in making us successful. Identifying those habits that don’t contribute to being successful can be a powerful call to action and focus on what needs to change.

Habits that become standards can have negative consequences, including:

In some organizational cultures that stress competition between people and departments, a nasty habit is not listening to one another. Information and data that could be beneficial to the whole is ignored or not heard because people are so busy advocating their own positions.

An easily recognized habit is how people, in many cases leaders, consistently arrive late for meetings. The symbolism of such behavior is not lost on those attending.

Another habit is shared negativity. This can be a bonding behavior for those involved and can contribute to a shared group identity with rarely any positive outcomes.

Fortunately, there are antidotes for bad habits.

First, of course, is identifying the behavior. This can be done at any level of the organization.

A leadership team, work group or department can meet to identify and create a list of positive and negative habits.

Sometimes, habits may cross over departments, but beginning to identify them gives a starting point to take corrective action.

Changing bad habits obviously requires a new habit to be identified.

Replacing one habit with another typically requires a reward for the new behavior. This is where a group can be creative in developing the reward.

As we know, changing habits isn’t always easy. But ignoring the habits holding us back will make turning things around much more difficult.

Marianne Chester is founder and CEO of mEnterprise Solutions LLC, a strategic services consultancy based in Stroudsburg. She can be reached at 570-460-9599 or mchester@menterprisesolutions.com.

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