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Your Organizational Habits: Friend or Foe?

We all have habits. Some good and some not so good. It's the same for our organizations. Some foster organizational progress and some detract from it. Are the ingrained habits at your organization working to benefit the company or are they aiding and abetting the competition?

Old habits die hard. That's why they are called habits. But when habits prevent fresh thinking, become out of date routine patterns, or become mindless repetition, habits can become disruptive.

A specialty manufacturer asked me to evaluate a model it had been using for 40 years. At one time, the model's concepts were cutting edge, but they had grown obsolete as manufacturing changed over the years.

The company had evolved from a labor-intensive to a capital-intensive operation, and this had major implications for the underlying allocation assumptions in the old model. However, despite convincing information about the model's shortcomings, the management team held on to it. Their emotional attachment to a piece of company history was more powerful than the facts - a problem that could undermine the company's productivity and bottom line. The habit of the "old model" became a threat to the future of the company.

Take pause and reflect:

It's a good idea to occasionally review the habits that become part of every organization. Some possible inquiries for such a Habit Audit might be:

  • What are your organizational habits? Do you know what they are? Can you compile a list of them? Are there any "unspoken habits" that are not generally acknowledged?
  • Is the habit supportive of your culture, vision, mission, strategies or objectives? Or does it detract in some fundamental way?
  • What drove the formation of the initial habit? Does it continue to make sense?
  • Does the habit give you a competitive advantage or does it put you at a serious disadvantage? Times change and sometimes our habits need to adjust. Dynamic organizations are always evolving.
  • What behaviors are driven by the habit? Do they move your organization in the desired direction?
  • Are the benefits of the habit greater than the cost? What resources does the habit consume and does it contribute to organizational growth?

Is your organization habitual in the things that matter? Be sure to acknowledge and evaluate the habits that permeate your organization. It's a healthy check-up process and "a good habit" to boot.