Harness the power of habit to manage change successfully

N°220a – Synopsis (8p.) – Change Management
Harness the power of habit to manage change successfully
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Many change projects fail because people return to their former behavioral patterns. Yet this is not inevitable: how can one use habit as a supportive—rather than obstructive—change management driver?

Many experts consider the force of habit to be the primary obstacle to change. Indeed, change efforts are more often eroded by habit than by active resistance or opposition. This largely explains why change is so difficult at any scale, from major transformation programs to minor changes on a personal level.

Although “eliminate bad habits” is a watchword for many change management leaders, the outcomes are often disappointing. After the initial push, old habits gradually resurface and too often retake the upper hand.

Thanks to recent advances in behavioral psychology and neuroscience, however, we now have a better understanding of this phenomenon. These findings encourage us to rethink some common assumptions, because habit does not have to be an enemy of change. To the contrary, if used properly, habits can be used to free up the required energy and embed lasting change.

Understanding how habits are formed is particularly valuable to conduct change successfully on an individual or collective level. To this end, the selected publications make three recommendations in particular:

- Be aware of the upside of habit. Habits are formed to meet a need without having to think about it, thus saving energy for other tasks. Before trying to change habits, it is thus important to analyze their utility.

- Modify one habit at a time. Changing deeply-embedded habits takes a lot of energy. To focus these efforts, modest ambitions are preferable, especially since small changes may naturally ripple into further modifications serving the same objective.

- Entrench new behaviors to turn them into habits. So long as a new behavior is not part of the routine, it may easily prove transitory. Some simple tactics can be used to facilitate the habit forming process.

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