Business as usual? No thanks.

Bottling the best of crisis behaviour and making it stick.

Many of the leaders we’re speaking to at the moment are thinking about their return to the office: will they, won’t they, what might it look like? The ‘new normal’ is a daily refrain.

Of the CEOs, we heard from in our recent Culture Barometer report (read more here), many felt their teams had fought a ‘good war’ during Covid-19. In fact, many demonstrated the best of crisis behaviours: more decisiveness, greater collaboration, more action-orientation – behaviours they’d previously struggled to show to the same extent in ‘peacetime’. The challenge now: how to keep up the good work?

It’s a truth universally acknowledged (thanks to Ms. Austen for that one) that changing behaviours for the long-term is bloody hard work. Morten Münster articulates it well in ‘I’m Afraid Debbie From Marketing Has Left for the Day’ – you can rationally understand why you might want to change your behaviour, i.e. have the knowledge, and even have the motivation to change, and yet singularly fail to do anything differently.

As Münster puts it: “Why is this? Because we are irrational.”

So what practical steps can leaders take at this critical moment to stand the best chance of helping new behaviours stick? A few thoughts.

Spot the window of opportunity

There is a brief moment when you stand the best chance of changing behaviours, and it can be easy to miss. Consider for a moment: when are you are at your most responsive to trying something new or learning new habits? More often than not, it’s at times when something in your life/or work has been disrupted: perhaps you’ve experienced a big life change, had to alter your daily routine (hello Covid-19) or even just had some feedback you didn’t expect. At times like these, you’re more receptive to newness – you’re looking for new ways to respond and cope in a changed environment. This is what we call the window of opportunity…and it won’t be open for very long

 The relevance? There is a right moment to focus on behavioural change and you mustn’t let it go to waste. The Covid-19 crisis has presented organisations with the perfect opportunity to make the changes they need – but don’t wait too long or you miss your chance. Acknowledge the need for change, make time to reflect and put a conscious plan in place. A fleeting lessons-learnt session won’t cut the mustard here.

Don’t miss the end of the honeymoon period

You’ve set aside the time, acknowledged the behaviours that need to change and set yourselves a plan – great! Job done? Not quite…

Like so many other important life-changing commitments – “I’m going to take up [insert new game-changing hobby] and do it every day!” – it’s making it stick that becomes problematic. You start with great enthusiasm, recommend your new obsession to everyone and tell them they should try it! Then over the weeks and months, your enthusiasm dwindles and before you know it, you let your new hobby slide. Much the same is true of behavioural change. For behaviours to stick, they need to become habits and part of your cultural code (how we do things here). Much like any other change in an organisation, behavioural change needs structure and rigour, you have to manage it, and critically measure it (but that’s a topic for another blog).

So what can you do? Well firstly – anticipate the eventual loss of enthusiasm. Set time in the diary right now for when you and your leadership team are going to check-in on your progress and hold one another to account. Make it part of your new routine.

Location, location, location

Another powerful trigger for behavioural change is location – a critical one if you’re planning your return to the workplace. Put people back in the same seat, the same office and the same meeting – you can pretty much guarantee you’ll get the same result. Consider all the positive changes you’ve managed to make during the crisis when our routines were disrupted – what can you take from that when it comes to going back to the office? Safe to say hot-desking is out the window for now, so what location-based cues can you disrupt to mark the start of new habits? What meetings can you abandon, or do differently? A socially distanced walking meeting perhaps. Or a stand-up where you once sat down. Which of your pre-Covid-19 routines are up for debate?

A quick recap: to retain the best of your crisis behaviours…

  1. Capitalise on the window of opportunity – Don’t miss your moment. Set aside proper time to re-connect, review your lessons learnt, refresh your strategy and recommit to the behaviours you need for the future. It won’t happen by itself.
  2. Watch out for the end of the honeymoon period – design the change you want to see and follow up on it (before you run out of steam…) – give it some structure
  3. Harness the power of location (time and place) – think about the old routines and see which you need to trash, and which you need to treasure in order to trigger new behaviours.

Those are our top three practical tips for bottling the best of your crisis behaviour.

If you found this blog interesting, you may also enjoy reading:

Is it time to move beyond engagement?

If a tree falls in the forest with no-one there to hear it – does it make a noise?

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