If you want people to change, make it a habit | EEF

If you want people to change, make it a habit

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Managers seek, instil and sometimes demand change from their team members. Achieving change means adopting new and useful habits.


Heavy is the head that wears the crown, or so the saying goes. The responsibilities, pressures targets and teams all make management a challenge. One of the things that managers across all industries and businesses seek to do is change. Change processes, change performance, change environments and change people.

People are the hardest thing to change. Benjamin Franklin said that you should “consider how hard it is to change yourself and you’ll understand what little chance you have in trying to change others”. If you’re a little pessimistic, then that makes change seem close to impossible, while I read that and think: “At least there’s a chance”.

People change their behaviour because they want to change. No matter how pressing, urgent or essential you, as a manager believe that change to be, if your team don’t want to change you are going to find it very difficult to make them. How resistant or open to change each member of a team is depends entirely upon them.  Managers have to create a workplace where people understand the need for flexibility and the want for change.

This underlines the need for strong leadership and management. Teams should understand what is expected, why it is important and how they will be supported to do their job. If change is required communication and involvement must take place appropriately and at the right time – and before the informal communication networks get busy!

Change must be a habit

Change is threatening. Bringing your team along with you requires that you are prepared to change yourself. Be a change role model and make sure that other managers do the same.Tweet this "Do as I say and not as I do" has never been the best way of approaching organisational management and it’s especially inappropriate when you’re trying to get people to change. By showing the people you manage that you are willing and able to change, you become a model for the right behaviour. 

When embracing and embodying change is a habit for you, it’ll be easier for everyone around you to make it a habit too.


Habits are hard to change

Habitual behaviour that has become the norm takes time to change. In fact, some things might even be the cultural norm in the organisation. To change a habit there needs to be a change to the trigger for the unhelpful behaviour. So if you have someone who is constantly late for meetings, that individual should put a reminder in his/her diary and when it is activated use that as a reminder to start the journey to the meeting to arrive on time.

Good habits form by paying attention to the trigger or reminder for the behaviour or action, then ensuring the right behaviour which people feel have a positive benefit. The benefit of people getting to meetings at the scheduled start is that it saves everyone time because they can plan their diaries knowing that they have to be in a specific meeting room at a specific time.

Get on top

Helping people change their behaviour is easier once the individual realises that making the change is important and that there are benefits. Many people forget that their behaviour impacts on others, so, for example, if they are late then others have to cover for them.

Effective and timely feedback helps individuals understand that there is a problem and change is required. If they don’t know there is a problem they cannot fix it! Positive feedback that reinforces good behaviour is very important but is often forgotten in a busy workplace because everything is going well. Often team briefs or progress meetings concentrate more on shortfall with relatively little praise or mention of successes. Positive feedback that describes the behaviour, giving clear examples and the impact of the behaviour on others, helps establish good habits. It helps people reflect on the impact of their behaviour and be more self-aware when making decisions about their behaviour. Timely intervention is essential – managers who ignore poor behaviour condone it and should not be surprised when it becomes the team norm - for example minor breaches of rules such as inconsistent use of PPE or a relaxed approach to time keeping.Tweet this

Leadership not management

When it comes to implementing change at any level, leadership is needed rather than traditional workplace management.  By engaging with your team as a leader and showing that you change habits and as a habit, then you will bring them with you. 

EEF offer a range of training courses designed to support and increase the skills and knowledge of your managers. The accredited CMI level 5 award in management and leadership has been designed to improve the abilities of middle managers across the board, but with a particular focus on change.


This person has now left EEF. Please contact us on 0808 168 1874 or email us at enquiries@eef.org.uk if you have any questions.

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