Breaking Bad Habits

Breaking Bad Habits

Work routines become so ingrained in us, it’s hard to change, but training yourself, and your employees, to instill better habits can create a more robust workforce.

Procrastination, micromanagement, and tardiness are just a few of the bad habits your workforce—and you—might struggle with. Finding ways to reset your routines and then training your managers and executives to set positive examples can help put all employees—including those in the Learning & Development or Training department—on a better track.

Here’s how a few of our Training Top 125 companies are helping their employees—and themselves—kick their bad habits.

Picking and Sticking with Priorities

Time management, including choosing what to focus on, and then devoting the needed time, can be a challenge, says Van Meter Inc. Learning and Development Manager Jenn Bleil. “Like many of us, I get excited about all of the things we can do in Learning and Development to make our people and our companies better. To ensure the programming that is developed is a good fit, time is needed. With the best of intentions, I block time on my calendar for development work,” she says. “However, when business gets busy, a bad habit can be filling that time with meetings and other priorities. Being fierce about scope and priorities, while honoring development time, is a critical component in development success.”

Bleil says training managers to communicate the top work priorities to their team is essential. “With this awareness, managers can help employees focus their time on goal-specific work that will help the company and team move forward,” says Bleil. “Looking at work from a strategic perspective of how it helps, or impacts, the goals and priority initiatives helps people better allocate their time toward work that has impact instead of racing the clock and wishing they had more hours in the day.”

Training activities can be created to help employees learn to prioritize. For example, Bleil had learners complete the four following exercises:

  1. Participants brought a printout of a three-month calendar.

  2. Participants were asked to write down their top 3 to 5 priorities.

  3. Participants were instructed to review their calendar and highlight times that were allocated toward the top 3 to 5 priorities.

  4. Discussion followed. “Many people did not have time allocated, which was a great eye-opener,” Bleil says.

Cultivating Conscientiousness

With workloads increasing at many companies while staff sizes stay the same, or even decrease, it can be tempting for overloaded employees to look for shortcuts in finishing their work. Smart companies can see this potential problem coming, and head it off with training that emphasizes the importance of following a protocol of steps for tasks. “We constantly remind our employees to do every step of service with each guest and transaction,” says Kara Lachance, director of Learning at Wequassett Resort. “Employees can slip into the bad habit of cutting corners when they are feeling busy or rushed in any way. This denigrates the experience for the guest. Managers try to instill routine for each of these interactions. We stress the importance of every detail.”

Lachance says creating procedure sheets for each position helps decrease the chance of employees thinking some steps are optional. “We have step-by-step procedure sheets for each position. We want employees to understand the expectations of their job from the beginning. We have them use their procedure sheet until they are doing it naturally,” Lachance notes. “On a daily basis, we reward employees who are ‘doing it right.’ When a manager witnesses, or hears, about a perfect transaction, he or she gives the employee a ‘star buck card.’ These cards can be turned in for prizes, raffles, and cash rewards. The internal peer pressure created with this reward program pays off in the long run. It creates good work practices and curbs bad habits.”

Instilling the good habit of being conscientious can mean the difference between money generated and money lost. “Employee bad habits can be costly to the resort. If a workforce is careless in the way it operates, the expenses rise,” Lachance says. “For example, in the restaurant operation, if careless chefs don’t pay attention to food portions and food waste, food costs skyrocket. When servers are careless with taking orders and not properly passing information to the culinary team, the orders need to be redone and food is wasted. When bussing tables, careless employees break dishes and glassware. They don’t care if utensils are lost in the trash. This careless behavior can add up to a lot if not managed from the beginning.”

Making Time to Reflect and Plan Ahead

As employees set their minds toward high achievement, and get into the habit of doing a thorough job, it is easy to forget to pause for deep thinking and long-range planning. “Just as I encourage others to carve out dedicated time for professional development and reflection, I need to continue to remind myself that to set the example, I must practice deliberate planning of professional growth opportunities,” says Judy Whitcomb, senior vice president of Human Resources and Organizational Development at Vi. “It’s easy to get wrapped up in one’s day-to-day responsibilities and give up something that can help give you additional insight, engage you in a different line of thinking, or help you become a stronger leader or better business partner.”

To ensure that up-and-comers with full, fast-moving schedules pause to plan their career, Vi includes career planning in its Breakthrough Leadership Program. Participants are required to commit to two to three hours of professional development per week in the form of assignments, study groups, virtual learning, online classes, and other activities. “Given the nature of Vi’s 24-hour operation, it is easy for an individual to fall behind. We strongly encourage individuals to carve out dedicated time on their calendars to ensure they stay on track, don’t get overwhelmed, and are able to maximize their learning experience,” says Whitcomb. “We have taken steps to ensure that participant managers are fully aware of the time commitment, and encourage people to take time to benefit from the program. We monitor progress frequently, and when someone falls behind, we proactively reach out to the individuals to offer support.”

Using time wisely to avoid getting overwhelmed, and enabling long-range planning, begins with the leaders of each work group, says Whitcomb. “Managers set the tone by leading by example. For instance, if a manager expects an employee to be respectful of others’ time, a manager needs to start his or her meetings on time. If a manager expects an employee to demonstrate attentive listening, he or she must demonstrate attentive listening,” says Whitcomb. “Vi’s leadership competencies and core values articulate what we should expect from one another. Vi provides courses and learning resources to help develop these competencies. Employees are measured and rewarded not only for what they do, but how they do it.”

Constructive Criticism and Continual Improvement

Understanding yourself, and the areas where you most need to improve, can be a first step to forming better habits. The trick is being able to critique yourself, and your employees, in a productive way that doesn’t demoralize. “I continuously work to improve myself, which sometimes can lead to self-criticism,” says Matt Rizai, CEO of Workiva. “I combine constructive criticism with my experience and past success to guide strategic decision-making to achieve my goals.”

Understanding needed areas for improvement can be made easier with the use of personality assessments, which Workiva uses as part of its development process. “We utilize the iPat 16PF personality assessment tool. Employees and managers receive the assessment’s results, and managers use the findings to work with employees to determine development needs,” Rizai says.

One initiative at Workiva, “Employee Success Pathing,” defines the different paths an employee can develop to achieve desired skills and competencies for career progression. “When employees come on board, they have the flexibility to create an environment they work best in. If they identify areas of improvement, it is our job to identify the employees’ strengths and provide them with the tools and training they need to succeed,” he says.

Rizai notes that bad workplace habits can poison the work environment. “Bad habits and a lack of professional development can be costly to any organization, not only in dollars, but also in time and a decrease in quality of life,” he stresses. “To avoid this, we encourage our managers and teams to implement a culture of collaboration. This not only fosters an environment of innovation, it also reinforces the idea that teams with a shared purpose and sense of responsibility will be able to work together to improve efficiencies and identify areas of improvement right at the source.”

QUICK TIPS

  • Train managers to clearly communicate the top work priorities to employees, so they can avoid getting sidetracked.

  • Have employees create three-month calendars in which they list their top three to five priorities, including the time they plan to allocate to those priorities. Then check back after those three months to see what was accomplished, and whether the time really ended up getting allocated.

  • Create procedure sheets for each position to instill the importance of being thorough with work and not cut corners.

  • Periodically reward employees with gift cards or other incentives for correctly following procedures.

  • Make long-range career planning a part of leadership development to instill the habit of thinking in the long term.

  • Use personality assessments to identify bad habits, and then make them part of employees' annual reviews to guide them toward improvement.
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