Some things about what people do also have their roots in psychology. Deming had an understanding of psychology as one of 4 areas in his system of management. A huge factor in what people do is based on what they are used to doing – habits. It is often difficult for people to change – not necessarily because they don’t want to, or the alternative is more difficult or they think it is unwise. It is difficult just because they are in the habit of doing something else.

William James explored the power of habits – The Laws of Habit

Often I favor convincing people why certain actions are best and then they can chose to take those actions. But you can also get people in the habit of the actions you seek to encourage and then let the power of habit work. For health, I think this, often is a good strategy.

But it also is done in many ways that culture is established in an organization. You enforce that meetings must have an agenda. Then it becomes a habit. You enforce that decisions are based on data. Then it becomes a habit. You enforce that the work area must be clean. Then it becomes a habit.

Two ways you can notice that things are becoming a habit:

1) when people bring “work” ideas to their personal life – Visual Management and Self-Reliance, Laundry Kaizen [the broken link was removed].

2) you find yourself in a new environment where the habit is not practiced and you are uncomfortable. You go to a new organization and 5s is not being practiced and you feel uncomfortable. You go to meetings without agendas and they seem to wander and waste time and you can’t imagine why they don’t use an agenda and follow it.

When the ideas have reached the level of habits you have changed. I think with health issues this is the understanding people should have. How do I change things so people adopt good habits. Then you have to find strategies that effectively move people to adopt those habits.

The strategy is based on the idea that adopting the habit can be easier than convincing someone to change with the power of pure logic. But it is also important that as habits are adopted to explain the reasoning about why the habits are important. By understanding the role those habits play in successful health, for example, a person knows how to adapt to changing circumstances. And they know what are the key factors that should remain as new methods are adapted over time. Explaining why 5s is valuable is important even beyond the habit.

If you get someone to behave in a certain way to get some incentive you rarely get the change in psychology. They don’t adopt a new habit. They do something to get what you offer. They will continue to do it if the incentive is offered. If not, they stop. Does Rewarding Children Backfire?

In response to: In search of metrics [the broken link was removed]

Related: Flaws in Understanding Psychology Lead to Flawed ManagementRespect for People, Understanding PsychologyInformation Technology and Business Process SupportPunished by Rewards? A Conversation with Alfie Kohn

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7 Responses to Habits

  1. Great post John. We talk often of behaviors and habits. Habits are just automatic behaviors. Behaviors come from our principles and mental models.

    When it comes to lean journeys, many people think that if they do enough lean events such as kaizen events, that people will spontaneously going to practice continuous improvement on their own. That’s not how it happens. Freudenberg NOK ran over 14,000 kaizen events, but they had never built the right habits. You need to manage the process of generating habits, as you discuss here.


    Jamie Flinchbaugh

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