I used to have an employee called Tim, that would dash over to a customer’s site, the moment they had a problem, and fix it for them. Great customer service! Unfortunately it was terrible customer service for the other clients whose site’s he was supposed to be at. Saying “Yes” to the urgent support request was a bad habit that Tim couldn’t seem to break. What we wanted him to do was to refer the support request to our Operations Manager for scheduling. When I spoke to a psychologist friend about how to form new habits, his answer was just “repetition”.
Repetition? “Not good enough” I thought, and have consequently been mulling this over for the last 15 years or so. Interestingly the answers I have come up with so far came from sports coaches, not psychologists. So here are the 5 tips I have so far for deliberately creating new habits:
Do Some Planning
You need to carefully understand what your objective is and break it down into its subcomponents or stages. If you want to ride a bike 200km a week, start off with riding to work every day as the first stage. If you want an employee to refer support requests to someone else for scheduling, perhaps start off with them having learn a standard response to requests.
Provide Feedback plus Carrot & Stick
You need to provide feedback and immediate rewards and or punishments to change the way you see the habit. Having a chart that you tick off accomplishments with a reward is a great thing to do, perhaps a tick for every day you ride your bike and going out for breakfast on Sunday’s if you do it ever day. If you want an employee to refer support calls to someone who schedules the support, make sure its a metric that’s reported on in weekly meetings and offer gift vouchers when certain levels are reached.
Create Physical Solutions
Physical Solutions or “Hard Systems” make it easier to “just do it” than to stay with your bad old ways. If you wanted to ride your bike everyday, you could have your bike situated so it blocks access to your house. You then have to go around the bike if you don’t intend to ride it. For an employee that you wanted to refer support calls, you could have a large reminder on the front of his diary, and perhaps not have his mobile phone number on his business card.
Lie to Yourself
According to my friend the sports coach, its easier to get motivated to do 5 minutes a day on an exercise bike than half an hour. So lie to yourself when you jump on the bike and say you will do just 5 minutes, because dragging out 5 minutes to half an hour on the bike is much easier than going from zero to 30 minutes. For an employee you want to refer calls, get them to put back every support call by at least 24 hours. Going from “I will do it tomorrow” to “I can’t schedule support calls” is much easier than going from saying yes, to saying no.
Have Black and White Rules
Apparently if you have complex rules such as “its ok not to ride to work if I have had a big night”, its easy to feel lousy and convince yourself that you kind of had a big night. Simple, or black and white rules such as “I ride to work every day regardless” are hard to break. In a work environment, “only accept support requests if it a customer emergency” is easy to fudge. You can always rationalise why there is an emergency. However “You are not allowed to schedule support calls full stop” makes those rules much harder to break.
So fifteen years and this is what I have come up with so far. I’d be grateful for any other tips though as I think that its not just my employees that need to develop some better habits.