Quality in any chosen field is possible, if we develop the habit, thought Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher. But forming new habits mean changing behaviour and that can be easier said than done.
How long does it take to acquire a new habit, and is it longer if we set ourselves a high goal or have the goal set for us?
Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon in the 1950s and author of “ New Psycho Cybernetics,” observed that it took a patient a minimum of 21 days to get used to seeing themselves after an operation, such as a nose job. He observed the same time period in himself when adjusting to a new behaviour and went on to publish in1960 that:
More recent findings in 2009 by Phillipa Lally, a University of London researcher, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology that:
66 days is a more likely figure for a simple new chosen behaviour, such as drinking water with our lunch, to become automatic.
The key here is ‘chosen behaviour’ because, as we all know, when we feel a change is thrust upon us rather than self selected, the acceptance period can be considerably longer.
In reality, any attitudinal or behavioural change may take longer or shorter than 66 days depending upon the person and the circumstance.
If we look at organisational life change is a constant. Reorganisation of a division or team resulting in redundancy or changes in job role can be experienced as psychological ‘death of identity’ by many that go through them.
This idea is supported by Elizabeth Kubler Ross, a psychiatrist who wrote the ground-breaking book, ‘On death and dying.’ She found that there were definite stages of grief that people typically experienced when coming to terms with emotional loss. Whilst her studies focused on near death and dying experiences, most of us can think of times in our personal or professional life when we have been through change involving heavy emotional upheaval.
We can also probably map our own experiences in life or business against the Transition Curve below.
If we relate this model to the workplace, it is common for emotional upheaval during organisational change initiatives. Increasing Quality means change and that generally creates uncertainty, anxiety and stress. Initiatives frequently take longer than expected or do not achieve the desired outcome. New systems, processes and methods have to be learned, this takes time, and there is usually a learning curve. New processes invariably don’t work perfectly from the outset – snags have to be ironed out and modifications made to achieve performance improvement. Experience shows that managers often underestimate the time it takes to do this things and for people to adjust to change. The requirement for genuine consultation and communication can be overlooked in the drive to make things happen.
Whilst business is competitive and change is inevitable we shouldn’t lose sight of our own or others humanity in the pursuit of a target.
Raising quality standards involves professional and personal growth which are achieved by moving outside of our emotional and psychological ‘comfort zones’. This is to be encouraged but we should also be prepared, as leaders and managers for the emotional reaction that people experience when going through organisational change, allow sufficient time for the transition and offer the appropriate training and support.
This is not simply a set of altruistic ideals. If people are your organisation’s greatest asset, and for most companies salaries are their largest item of expenditure, then to take good care of them is undeniable good business sense. You are also more likely to achieve the commercial outcomes wanted.
Dancing lion training & consultancy offer tailored training programmes in embracing and managing change,leadership, sales and customer service. To find out more please contact:
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