Excellence is a habit, not an act

By R. Keith Mobley, Principal SME, Life Cycle Engineering
As appeared in
Reflections on Excellence

Too often one hears that changing habits, whether personal or cultural, is straightforward and can be accomplished quickly.  All one must do is repeat the new action or behavior seven or eight times and it will become a habit—the new norm. If you have ever tried to stop smoking or to lose weight, you know that it takes much more than just a few skipped cigarettes, desserts or days to change a habit that persisted for years—perhaps decades.

The same is true of organizational behavior. Changes in behavior are gradual and have taken years to reach current levels, whether good or bad. Because of the extended period encompassed by the change, it is too often imperceptible to the organization—they are truly not aware that anything has changed. Why then do we think that organization change is a simple matter of issuing a new policy statement, mandating new behaviors or a myriad of other procedural means to modify status quo?

Recently, I had a lengthy discussion with two change experts about how to effectively change the behavior of a large manufacturing organization. Both were adamant that their highly structured approach of change management guaranteed success. At length, they described how their process was predicated on frequent audits of the workforce to assure its knowledge of the tenets of their change process; regular assessments of management’s involvement and a rigorous model that ranked support for change. They were quite proud that over the past year they had followed the model rigorously. Then they went on to explain that the plant’s leadership team and front-line supervisors were not exhibiting the ownership and visible support needed to create sustainable change. 

The fallacy in their model and approach is simply they forgot the people in their change equation. To effect change, one must first get the workforce, the people, involved. Each member of the workforce, no matter what their level in the organization, must have a genuine desire to change the habits—yes, habits—that have evolved over time and replace them with new ways of thinking, reacting to events and executing day-to-day activities that add value to the organization. 

Like smoking cessation, breaking these habits is not quick or easy. To be effective, the change process must include a positive means of enforcing new behaviors at all levels within the organization. The means must be much more than audits that test understanding of the change process, more than periodic audits of employee compliance to newly formulated standard work procedures and more than employee surveys that provide feedback. While these means may add some value, they only assure compliance when you are looking, not when you are not.

True change is when each and every employee adopts and universally adheres to new value-added practices when no one is looking. When they follow these new practices because they know it is the right thing to do or when it becomes their new habit. It really does not matter what your workforce—from executives to the factory floor—do when you are looking. It’s what they do when you are not looking that determines your success or failure. Since you cannot constantly watch everyone, it is imperative that you create a culture where excellence is the genuine, universal habit of the workforce—and not just when you are looking.

MOBLEY'S 22nd LAW:
“Excellence is a habit, not an act."

Thank you for taking the time to read this month’s letter. Hopefully, it has raised a few thoughts that will help you take the next step in your journey to excellence. I welcome your feedback and am happy to respond to specific questions. You can reach me at [email protected].

Best regards,
R. Keith Mobley
Principal, Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.

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Keith Mobley has earned an international reputation as one of the premier consultants in the fields of plant performance optimization, reliability engineering, predictive maintenance, and effective management. He has more than 35 years of direct experience in corporate management, process design and troubleshooting. For the past 16 years, he has helped hundreds of clients worldwide achieve and sustain world-class performance. Keith can be reached at [email protected].

© Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.

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