Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Collective Work on New Habits

Here’s a comment I received from CrowbarJoe about last week’s posting on reframing and habits:

Yes, I think it is hard to change ourselves, but not because we don't see or believe in the new vision. 

I think it's hard to let go of the old. Sometimes we feel that letting go is the same as denying. But we can reaffirm the past value, and still move on - kind of like the abhorrent 3/5 compromise that got our forefathers temporarily past a divisive issue and on to creating a nation. (I'm guessing Egypt might benefit from a 3/5-type of compromise right now.)

So here's the script:
"Yes, it was an accomplishment. Yes, we felt good about it. It will always be there, and we can always be proud of it when we remember it. Now, let's figure out how to create this new structure to better leverage our new reality. Here's an idea: instead of starting the day with that first cup of coffee, how about a first glass of orange juice?"

Let's not be afraid to take a next (or first) step on the spiral.

I agree that the issue with changing isn’t that ‘we don’t see or believe in the new vision’.  That’s the most interesting part of it.  We get the importance, but we can’t seem to get over to that new reality that we can clearly see.

Letting go of the past is part of it, yes.  We often need to acknowledge the value of something in the past as we let go of it.  Whenever I attempt to leave my coffee habit behind, I have nostalgic memories of sitting in coffee shops in different parts of the world having great conversations.  I remember the way that felt, and I sigh because I don’t want to give it up.

‘Daily drift’ is another part of changing habits.  We tend to slide into certain behaviors out of habit, especially when we are focusing on something else.  At least, I do.  While I’m  working on something I want to finish and get out, I find that cup of coffee in my hand, even though I might have made the commitment to letting go of coffee.  I have to pay careful attention to some new desired behavior, especially when there is some element of addiction, as with coffee.  I have to practice new behaviors over and over to make new habits.

But, what makes that practice likely to succeed?  What has me keep up the practicing?  My experience is that it I succeed when I am part of a group that is practicing the same or similar new behaviors—I need the “we”.  I believe that we need the support of partners to accompany us along the way.  I have friends in my neighborhood to walk with in the mornings—if they go out of town or are unavailable, I am MUCH less likely to walk.  We have created a container for the practice of walking that supports us.

What does this mean for organizations?

It could mean that organizations have greater ease in acting on new frames and creating new habits. Organizations can set the direction of focus and co-create ways to practice new behaviors—together.

I worked with a wonderful organization a few years ago that wanted to increase engagement and staff satisfaction. The leadership demonstrated support for the project by getting the whole organization involved in our conversations and our reframing of what engagement looked like for different areas of the system.  We all agreed on behaviors that would make a difference, and each area chose an ongoing project of importance to them where they would apply the new behaviors.  This was the ‘practice’ portion.

Some changes occurred, and there was some slight shift in the organizational culture, just by virtue of having focused attention on the topic.  But the practicing of new behaviors never really occurred across the organization, even after the top team, managers and staff had co-created the process and agreed to the terms.  Practicing took too much time, attention and focus.  The project drifted, and when I pointed out the obvious drift, the response of the leadership was just like when we try to shift personal habits: we didn’t have time, I couldn’t focus on it, it was easier to do things the way we had always done them, even though we were not increasing staff engagement….

They weren’t really committed, together.  Commitment is different  from mandating. Mandating doesn’t usually change a company’s culture, but real reframing and commitment to new behaviors will.  Organizations have a tremendous tool at their disposal for making change—the collective—and if the  reframing captures the will of the collective, new practices will pay off.  Group habits will shift.

Here’s a simple way of looking at the move toward new habits:

  • ·      See the desired new [the reframe]
  • ·      COMMIT
  • ·      Acknowledge the old ways
  • ·      Practice
  • ·      Observe how the group is doing
  • ·      Pay attention to the benefits of the new practice
  • ·      Tweak systems and structures to support the new habit
  • ·      Keep supporting  the new habit

 What do you think it takes to move from new sight to new habits?

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