By: Christine Hollinden 

Let’s face it. People love routine. They love the familiar. Professionals are faced with numerous options from which to choose each day. When interviewed, they’ll consider the vast majority of those to be the result of well-considered decision-making. When we examine the actions and processes, it comes as a surprise that the majority of what we consider decision-making isn’t the result of intentional action, but habits. Though each habit means relatively little on its own, over time, the meals we order, what we say to our coworkers or employees each day, our views of money, how often we exercise, and the way we organize our thoughts and work routines have enormous impacts on our health, productivity, financial security, and, ultimately, our happiness.

Please don’t misunderstand my point, habits are not always a bad thing. In today’s competitive and fast-paced environment, when when you get stuck in a day-to-day routine, creativity and innovation declines. So, how do you transform your organization? Focus on habits that matter. These are the habits that have the power to start a chain reaction, creating reactions and actions as they move throughout an organization. As highlighted in the book, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, these are the “keystone habits” that influence most everything we do. Focusing on a few key priorities allows us to fashion them into powerful levers that alter other patterns within an organization.

By focusing on changing or cultivating keystone habits, you can create widespread shifts. The foundation of professional service firms is their culture. Cultures are a culmination of spoken and unspoken communications, mannerisms, vocabulary, respect, positions, written and unwritten rules, and personalities – all developed or impacted by keystone habits. It’s imperative to ensure that your firm’s cultural habits are the ones that accurately reflect the values, ethics, morals, views, and positioning of your firm. Destructive organization habits can be found within hundreds of industries and at thousands of firms. They are almost always the product of thoughtlessness of leaders who have allowed the culture to develop haphazardly. You must identify these destructive habits and make a change.

Change demands proactive leadership. In order to create a lasting impact within your firm, follow these five simple steps:

  1. Identify Routines. Write down what you see happening within your organization. How communications occur. Who speaks, who doesn’t. How meetings are structured. How ideas are transmitted. Body language. Ask “why do we do it this way?” Then, separate the habits into two categories: good and bad. This step will help identify which habits benefit the organization and which restrict creativity, innovation, and new ideas.

  2. Recognize cues of habitual behavior. When you are observing the organizational habits, identify what prompts those actions. In other words, is the habit or action observed the result of another habit?

  3. Create a plan. Plans create action, and action creates change that last. Work to reduce or remove these activities to avoid falling back into bad habits. Focus on the very first action of the habit. It’s often as simple as inserting new vocabulary into otherwise routine conversations that breathe new life into a firm.

  4. Reward change. Like so many other areas of life, rewarding and recognizing the behavior you’d like to replicate reinforces that behavior. Here’s the key: you must recognize and reward the desired behavior long enough to create a new (desired) behavior.

  5. Practice. Practice. Practice. Repetition creates habits. The more you practice the new behaviors, new systems, and new approaches, the faster they will begin to take hold.

No matter the age of your firm or the people within, it’s never too late to try something new. Behavior impacts the quality of our lives, the quality of our work, and the quality of client service. The industry is filled knowledgeable professionals, the way we serve each other and our clients is the difference between average and excellent.