The definition of a habit is something that is done repeatedly, often to the point where it may become subconscious. Habits are something you do without thinking once they are established. Aristotle said that "We are what we repeatedly do: Excellence therefore is not an act but a habit." The best people - and the best companies - don't just do the right things once in a while, they make them habits by doing them every day.
The problem with habits, though, is that they can be either good or bad. Some habits, like listening and communication are positive, while others, like procrastination or clock-watching are not. As leaders we want to establish and strengthen the habits that are beneficial and positive, while eliminating those that are not. That means our habits must align with the values we want to promote, both at an individual and organizational level. Habits, after all, are how you walk your talk.
What kinds of habits should you be trying to establish? Here are six ideas.
Give Employees Space To Express Themselves
One of the biggest challenges organizations face when it comes to living their values through their habits is conflict between employee values and those of the company. This underscores the importance of culture; however, when you hire the right people, living your values may be as simple as allowing employees to express themselves.
"One habit we practice every day is that we over-communicate," says Jeff Smith, Co-Founder and CEO of San Francisco based Smule, developer of some of the most popular mobile music applications such as Sing! Karaoke and Magic Piano. "For us, communication is not just about talking, but being expressive. Most of our employees are musicians. We have instruments around the office, weekly jam sessions. People come by and talk to me or play instruments in my office all day. It's part of our culture. Expression through talking, playing and exploring are habits that help us create something great."
Connect Strategy to Purpose With Transparency
Many employees don't understand how the work they do or the strategies of the business relate to the purpose the company exists to fulfill. It's important for leaders to help connect those dots, particularly in complex industries such as high tech. The smarter your people and the more complex your business, the greater the need of your employees to understand their place in it.
"One habit we've tried to establish is transparency, helping people understand the connection between our corporate goals, growth strategy, and what they do every day," says Ashish Gupta, EVP and Chief Marketing Officer of Infoblox, a high tech firm that helps organizations gather actionable intelligence about network security to support better decision making.
Gupta says transparency means placing a high value on sharing information openly and managing with emotional intelligence, supporting personal growth and differential learning. "Not everyone learns or retains information in the same way or has the same driving motivation," he says. "To win in the marketplace, you have to be a moving target. That means getting the most out of your people with mentorship, training and company-driven learning experiences. A culture of transparency is the connective tissue that allows employees to feel aligned with the company's priorities and bring their energy to make a stronger contribution."
Empower People to Put Values in Action
Culture fit happens when company values and those of your people align, but alignment alone isn't enough. People need to feel empowered to act on those values. Says Ingrid E. Newkirk, CEO of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), "At PETA, we believe animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any way. We empower people to live these values through making sure our offices are vegan and dog-friendly. It's enjoyable for us but the dogs benefit the most because they aren't left home alone all day."
Indeed, Newkirk believes kindness is power, and that kindness isn't just reserved for animals. "Maybe we can't change everything, but we can change the things we do in our own homes, offices and communities. Your choices can inspire others and that is how we change the world. We are all extremely powerful, as people, neighbors, consumers, friends and coworkers."
Be the Best Version of You
Many of us start out with strong values but become disconnected from them over time unless those values are a priority. In pursuit of profits or expediency we all risk becoming the worst version of ourselves. Therefore, an important habit is to make "being your best self" a filter for our actions and choices, as individuals and organizations.
We believe that by allowing people to be the best version of themselves, it allows us to create and sustain the best version of the company", says Will Holsworth, CEO of The Safe + Fair Food Company. "We want our people to be the best spouse, parent, friend, and team member they can be. When you're the best version of you, you bring your unique passion, perspective, expertise, and work ethic to bare on what we believe is the meaningful and important mission of The Safe + Fair Food Company."
Hire for Culture, Make Happiness a Habit
Ever heard of a Happyologist? Michael Nutter of Impact Advisors, a Healthcare IT consulting firm recently named to Modern Healthcare's Best Places to Work in Healthcare, is one. Nutter says that as one of the world's few Happyologists, his job is to bring joy and happiness to a company's culture - to make happiness a habit.
"We've found that what makes employees happy is when they can align personal and professional goals," says Nutter. "We hire people who are a cultural fit, then we make sure they know they are appreciated, that we care about them as a person, that there is a dedicated resource at this company whose entire job is to make sure they're happy."
What does this mean, precisely, in terms of values and habits? Nutter regularly checks in with employees about their happiness level, and ensures they are benefiting from mentoring and coaching opportunities from the day they're hired. Says Nutter, "As a Happyologist, I take happiness extremely seriously."
It doesn't take a Happyologist to recognize that happier employees are more productive. Says Jas Krdzalic, President of Bodybuilding.com, one of the world's leading websites dedicated to personal transformation, "One of the biggest challenges we face is keeping our employees happy and upbeat, helping them transform their lives so they can transform the lives of our customers. For us, wowing the customer is a habit that's about walking the talk and practicing what you preach. Most of our employees understand that, because they came to us as customers first."
Build Psychological Capital By Focusing On Why
Positivity is powerful, but hard to define. According to Justin W. Carter, PhD, Organizational Development Business Partner at Vulcan Materials Company, a better term might be psychological capital - the combination of hope, optimism, self-efficacy and resilience that allows people to believe in themselves and their ability to reach their goals. Employees who have psychological capital don't just reach their own goals, they can help meet company goals as well.
How is psychological capital developed? Through mentorship. "There's a lot of research showing that mentoring is positive and produces engagement, that if you're happy with your mentor you're happy with your job and perform better," says Dr.Carter. "But no one had really identified how that works. We looked at the four facets of psychological capital - hope, optimism, self-efficacy and resilience - and discovered their relationship to the success of mentoring. With psychological capital, there's a strong correlation between mentorship and performance. Without it, that relationship disappears."
How do habits factor in? According to Dr. Carter, the key habit that builds psychological capital is setting goals and asking why you want to accomplish them. This helps to determine the skills or habits needed to accomplish that goal. "What are your goals in the next twelve weeks and why are they important? Set top level goals and those that cascade down from them - what are the five or six habits you need to develop that will help you achieve your primary goal? Then keep track: make yourself accountable for living those habits three to five times a week."
Great companies happen when great people with great habits come together to build a great culture. Establishing and promoting positive habits like communication, transparency, empowerment, being your best self, prioritizing happiness and creating psychological capital provides the foundation of a culture where your people not only share values, but make putting those values into action a daily habit.