Discipline: Are you Focused on your 95%?

Originally posted at www.thebusinessmediator.blogspot.com

I was shocked recently as I read a blog entry on change by Tony Schwartz on the Harvard Business Review Online.  In it, he states that 95% of our behaviors are habitual, and only 5% are consciously self-selected.   How can this be?  Are we so programmed that we literally only choose to do things 5% of the time?  This hit home for me in particular, since I believe so strongly that we must be intentional in our behaviors, our decisions, our choices.  No wonder why companies can so easily stagnate!  Even when leadership teams have hired the right people, formed a high-performing leadership team and articulated a compelling strategy, results can still suffer.  When it comes time to executing our strategy, we can so easily fall back into the habits of disengagement, politics, and stagnation.  What can we do to make sure we don’t fall into the trap of (bad) habits?

First, it is about working to change your bad habits into good ones.  So, you need to identify what are those unintentional behaviors that you want to change.  I suggest you put together that “stop, start, continue” list for your department or organization.  Recognize that you may be doing things just from habit and they no longer may be creating value in the way they once did.  So, stop doing them!  Don’t allow yourself to think “well, we’ve always done that” or “it is tradition” if no positive benefit is coming from what you’re doing.  Start doing things that are necessary to your organization’s success, for example, setting objectives regularly, holding yourself accountable for achieving goals, acting on lessons learned.  And, where you are doing things right, continue to do them intentionally and with purpose. You can enhance those good behaviors by recognizing them and actively working to increase their positive impact.

Second, stay focused and precise relative to what you want to change.  Some clients repeatedly say “my goal is to increase sales”.  Well, we all would like to increase sales, but it is more effective to identify precisely what specific actions you intend to take to help improve the likelihood of that outcome.  For example, set a goal to spend some time as a team developing your value proposition, identifying your key customer segments and selling more to your high-value accounts.  Set one critical goal at a time, work to achieve it and then go on to the next one.  This will help you to identify the change you want to happen and increase the success rate.

Third, as Tony Schwartz observes: “Put simply, the more behaviors are ritualized and routinized — in the form of a deliberate practice — the less energy they require to launch, and the more they recur automatically.”   If your strategy has become “credenza-ware”, you need to make sure you set aside the time to meet with your team and work on your execution together.  Having a routine meeting rhythm will create the opportunity to change the inefficiency of your team members operating in a vacuum, or, worse yet, functioning at cross-purposes to the other groups in the organization.

Finally, take it one step at a time.  These habits didn’t all start the same day and they won’t disappear overnight.  It is all about setting priorities, knowing what makes sense within the culture of your organization, and recognizing that change takes time.  I’m encouraged to start paying attention to my 95% and producing the high value change I’m after!

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