4 Ways to Break Organizational Habits
The first Easter a newly married couple was together, they were eager to celebrate a holiday together. She eagerly planned a traditional dinner of ham and all her favorite dishes that she grew up enjoying on this holiday. Just like her mother taught her, she cut the ends off the ham, discarded them, and put the rest in the pan and prepared it for the oven.
Noticing that she had cut the ends off and discarded them, her husband was curious. “Why do you cut the end off?” he asked.
She thought for a moment, “That’s what you do when you cook a ham. My mom always did, and she taught me how to cook.” But now she was curious. A little while later she decided to call her mom and find out. Her mother responded the same. “I am not really sure. My mom always did it that way, and so I did as well. I guess you’ll have to ask her.”
So she called up her grandmother. Surely she would know the reason for cutting the ends off of the ham. “Grandma, I have a question for you. I asked mom, but she didn’t know the answer. Why do you cut the ends off the ham before you cook it?”
Grandma replied, “Oh honey…I do that so it fits in my pan.”
Do you need a bigger pan?
The lesson is clear. Don’t keep doing things the same way simply because that’s the way it has always been done.
When we start asking the “Why?” question, sometimes we find out that the reason it has always been done that way is no longer a factor. In some cases you’ll find you can eliminate something altogether, and in other cases you’ll find you still need to do it, but maybe not the same way it has always been done.
Over time organizations develop their own version of cutting the ends off the ham. We have routines, processes, and systems that sometimes become habits.
Shake up the smaller things.
For small things, this can be relatively painless.
Shake up a recurring meeting a bit. Meet in an unusual spot. Add a random open-ended question to the agenda. Invite one or more promising young leaders to attend.
Do something different at this year’s annual planning retreat. Is it always at the same place with the same basic agenda? Get creative. Don’t just think about a “fun” element to include. Most retreats have that. Conduct your retreat in a different way. Think outside the box.
Take a different approach to the annual report. Condense it to a single infographic. Hire a designer to spruce up the old boring print version. Create it solely as an interactive website.
What about the big things?
Quitting a major habit, on the other hand, is hard! There are industries that have grown up around helping people stop doing something they no longer want to do. Smoking, drinking, gambling, overeating, etc. The reality is that the same basic methods of quitting a habit apply at the organizational level as well.
4 Ways to break organizational habits.
- Cold Turkey: Simply drop the habit. If there is no reason to cut the end off the ham, then don’t. If the habit doesn’t really ripple onto other areas, just stop doing it. If it’s really an unnecessary habit, no one will complain.
- The Patch: Maybe you need an interim step. Dropping completely isn’t feasible, but you don’t have a good long term solution yet. The interim step may include disentangling the habit from other habits you need to keep before you can drop it. Take baby steps if need be. Phase out the habit over time.
- 12 Step Group: Are you having a hard time seeing the way out? As the leader, find a group of other’s in a similar role to yours and pick their brains. What would they do? What do they see? How have they broken habits in their own organization or unit? Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone who has been there, they will most likely enjoy the opportunity to share their experience with others.
- Seek Professional Treatment: Get outside help. Find a consultant or coach that can help you navigate the ins and outs and help you find a solution. Some institutional habits may be unnecessary, but still very integrated into the whole. Untangling the web may require a special skill you don’t have or simply more man power than your team can spare. Find an experienced professional who can walk with you through the challenges ahead.
– What is unnecessary organizational habit have you experienced? How was it handled?