21 Feb 2022

Changing behaviour – one small step at a time

We’re all obsessed with changing behaviour. Whether it’s at a personal, individual level (e.g. making a New Year’s resolution stick) or at an organisational level (encouraging the right behaviours in our employees). 

Changing behaviour is all about changing habits, according to James Clear, author of bestselling book ‘Atomic Habits‘. 

The habits that we perform on a daily basis could include: flossing our teeth, checking our phone every time we hear a notification, going (or not going) to the gym after work.

Habits account for about 40% of our behaviours on any given day. Our habits play a huge role in determining our success and happiness. 

Focus on habits (not goals)

James Clear believes that we should move our focus away from goals, and take a look instead at our systems (i.e. our habits):  

Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results. The goal in an sport is to finish with the best score, but it would be wrong to spend the whole game staring at the scoreboard. “The score takes care of itself” if you focus on the design of your systems and processes – and look at creating the right habits.

The habits of employees

Employees perform tiny habits – every single moment of every single working day. They make multiple small decisions (usually unconsciously) throughout the day.  These tiny habits (both good and bad) are ones they’ve picked up along the way – something they’ve seen their boss/colleague do, something they’ve brought with us from a previous workplace, something they’re inclined to do because of their personality traits etc.

Each individual habit may seem small, but these ‘atomic’ habits are powerful. They are the building blocks of every person’s ‘system’ – each one contributing to an individual’s overall improvement. And at an organisational level, these individual habits have a huge impact on business performance.

The key message here is: if you’re not getting the results you want from your employees, then start with their habits (and your habits – because your behaviour influences their behaviour). 

Drive organisational performance by focussing on your identity

When it comes to changing habits, most people make the mistake of focussing on what they want to achieve (e.g. run a marathon). But it’s better to focus on the kind of person we wish to be (a runner). 

It’s about adopting the right identity. And your habits are how you embody your identity. The more you repeat a behaviour, the more you reinforce the identity associated with that behaviour.

To apply this at an organisational level, consider: Who do you want your employees to be? What do you want them to stand for? What are their principles and values? 

Let’s imagine a customer-facing team of employees. Instead of focussing on what you want this team to achieve (e.g. increase CSAT scores by X%), think about the kind of people you want them to become (customer-focussed, empathetic, emotionally intelligent etc.).

Once you’ve identified this, the next step is to cultivating the right environment to enable the right habits. And this can be achieved through Clear’s Four Laws of Behaviour Change: 

  1. Make it obvious
  2. Make it attractive
  3. Make it easy
  4. Make it satisfying

In our next blog post we’ll look at how we can apply these four principles in the workplace. We’ll help you create the right conditions to promote the desired behaviours from your employees.

We’d love to hear what you think about your organisation’s challenges when it comes to behaviour change. Get in touch today!