Purpose, values and habits: they're the three pillars of workplace culture. They're what keep your people engaged and connected with their work. Purpose and values exist to inspire and guide your people. But they alone don't determine what your employees do in a given situation. Your people's personal and professional habits are the best indicator of the actions they'll take and the choices they'll make on any given day.

So how can business leaders drive a greater sense of connectedness to our purpose and values? Says Kim Old, Vice President of Corporate Development at eMotiv, "Values become actionable through behaviors. Becoming more values-driven doesn't always mean you have to make huge changes. Focusing on micro-habits or smaller behavioral changes can be more effective."

Indeed, if you want to see big changes in your people's connectedness to purpose, you might be better off to think small.

How Micro-Habits Work

Habits are difficult to change because by definition they are things we do frequently; the more we do a thing, the better we get at it. Yet, our brains are also capable of creating new neural pathways every time we successfully do something new. Focusing on small changes - our micro-habits - strengthens the pathways for repeating desired behavior, and makes larger changes possible.

Let's say you want to get fit and develop a new habit around exercise. You can't just start out by running marathons. But you can decide to make small, positive and incremental changes today and begin working toward that goal. You could start out walking for 15 or 20 minutes a day. Then work up to running a mile a day, three times a week. The next week you could run two miles a day. And so forth until - with some persistence and dedication - you build the endurance to run as far and as fast as you are capable.

That's the power of micro-habits. They're the small changes we make that add up to one big change.

Why Do Micro-Habits Help Us Change?

The micro-habits approach works because of something called "behavioral momentum," or the virtuous cycle. When we make a small, positive change, it motivates us to make other small positive changes. After you go run that mile or two, you're more inclined to go out running again tomorrow.

Of course, there are also vicious cycles, where negative change can be self-reinforcing. If you didn't run last week, it can be more difficult to get back on track. If you're late to work twice a week, what difference does it make to be late a third day? That's why cultivating positive micro-habits is so important. By focusing on making small, positive changes, behavioral momentum helps you make progress toward your goals, and limits the effects of missteps.

How to Leverage Micro-Habits in the Workplace

So how can business leaders harness the concept of micro-habits to create more connection within their people at work? Here are a few ideas.

Encourage New Habits - One way to push out bad habits is to encourage better ones. But to do so, you must first figure out what's causing the habits you don't want, and you'd like to see instead. A recent study by Society of Human Resources Managers (SHRM) found that for more than 77% of workers, fully using their skills and abilities was a major driver of workplace connectedness. It's counter-intuitive, but the cure for lack of motivation may just be more responsibility.

Of course, it takes a leap of faith to trust an employee who's already underperforming. But according to Ross Shott, Human Performance and Systemic Innovation Expert and Vice President at Sofia University in Palo Alto, California, great leaders make that leap. "If you want people to trust you, to feel a real connection with your culture, you have to trust them first," says Shott. "You have to take that risk first, then others will follow. By demonstrating that quality of actually being trusting, others will trust in you."

Develop Mindfulness - According to Dr. Romie Mushtaq, Physician, Mindfulness teacher, and speaker, "The number one cause of outpatient doctor visits are work-related issues like workplace stress and toxicity. There needs to be a shift in healthcare into teaching individuals wellness. We need to shift our paradigm from treating disease and dysfunction, to preventing it through wellness practices like mindfulness and meditation."

Aside from benefits to mental and physical health, how does mindfulness drive connectedness in the workplace? It gives people a chance to align their thoughts and actions with the purpose of the organization. This is a micro-habit that helps people feel happier and more engaged in their work, thus more connected.

Teach Needed Skills - Another challenge might be employees who are frequently late to work. What micro-habits can we encourage that will get them to work on time? Keep in mind that time management is a learned skill, so there may be specific skills we can teach that will help, such as prioritization, time-blocking and time management skills. In a world where technology and other competing priorities challenge even top performers to juggle them all, many workers - especially younger generations - may not have skills to do this successfully in the workplace.

Curt Steinhorst, keynote speaker and expert on workplace distraction and author of the forthcoming book Can I Have Your Attention?. Says Steinhorst, "We are not just losing the moment, we are losing ourselves. We need to rethink our approach to work and where we are putting our attention. As leaders, we have to introduce the framework that our people's attention is too important to have that next email be top priority.

The brilliance of micro-habits is that rather than tackle a broad issue like lack of connection to the workplace, you can set the stage for broad-based change by focusing on specific habits or skills that you'd like to see improved. By taking it one habit and "one day at a time," you can ultimately transform your workplace - and everyone in it - to become truly purpose and values driven.

Published on: Aug 3, 2017