Create a habit friendly workplace

Shifting habits is hard. Doing different takes energy, especially if you are the boss making it happen. As a leader, you have to do what it takes to lower the resistance, leverage the effort and lift the rewards.  The boon? Your job gets easier over time, not harder. Innovation becomes easier when the barriers are down.

Imagine going to a small convenience store in an out of the way place. You’re hungry and in a hurry. It’s a store selling thirty two types of potato crisps and two types of fruit. You grab what’s easiest and move out the door. Hopefully you paid. Better still, it was the apple and not the junk food you bought. The catch here? The store owner just helped you choose what to buy.

Just like the apple (it was an apple, wasn’t it?), where habits are concerned, we need both the illusion of freedom of choice, and real choice. The art is to be clean and up front about the offer and artful in your approach in selling it.

As managers you get to shape the choices your team makes in the workplace, just like you do for yourself. When I’m on your team, I want to be persuaded, not pushed. For me, hungry does not equal buy the apple. Hungry equals anxious to make a quick choice, not the requirement to make the smartest choice. I’ll only make the smartest choice for both of us when, as a manager, you understand what’s going on in my head. So cue apples and not crisps.

You’re on an internal sales mission as a manager to get your clever people to make clever choices; to do things differently. Here’s where to start:

  • Create attractive choices and justify them. Based on my why, not just yours. Our purpose.
  • Make these choices more visible than the alternatives. Be clean here, not sneaky. No deceitful manipulation, please!
  • Notice the effect. This might be subtle. Look hard, listen harder.
  • Get permission to enroll more of the team to join the campaign. Check that there’s broader agreement that effect is worthwhile.

There’s always a catch. Entropy rules. Science wins. You’ll need to put in more effort (insert your own pain points here - money, time, thinking) before your team will step up to the sales counter with the better choice. It’s only later that you get to put in less effort on this particular sale. By then, the sales game has changed.

Behavioural economists and environmental psychologists have a lot to offer here to you as a team manager. The science of the sale, the thinking behind it will give you an advantage in habit changing moves.

Here are some TED talks and a post to feast on:

Creating a workplace where change for good is the norm will save you effort in the long term. What works for you? Please do tell.