How to Cultivate the Right Work Habits

a graphic of watering the brain in order to cultivate the right work habits

Cultivate the Right Work Habits|
Organizations that align their talent with their strategy and culture outperform their peers.  The ability to cultivate the right work habits, however, is much more complex than simple repetition over a period of time.  The ability to cultivate the right work habits involves the desire to change, the opportunity to change, and being held accountable for change.

What Research Says about Cultivating the Right Work Habits
A most interesting study in India can teach us a great deal about cultivating the right work habits.  A Harvard Business School paper co-authored by Reshmaan Hussam et. al. reports on a field experiment on handwashing in West Bengal.

No one disputed that regular handwashing with soap could significantly improve the public health of this rural population.  But this simple habit of washing hands before meals did not become part of the culture despite everyone acknowledging the habit’s importance, understanding the risks of non-compliance, receiving carefully conceived campaigns and getting free supplies. What was getting in the way?

The Experiment on Habits
The field study sought to determine what would encourage and embed a positive new habit (handwashing with soap) in the daily lives of these Indian farmers and their families.  Researchers distributed almost 3,000 simple, wall-mounted soap dispensers with hidden time sensors inside.  They included a control group and various different levels of incentives.

After analyzing the results, the researchers found that both the monitoring and the incentives significantly increased the adoption of the handwashing habit.  And, even better, the good habit continued after the tracking and incentives ended.  Hussam concluded, “Wherever we go, habits define much of what we do.  This work can help us understand how to design interventions that help us cultivate the good ones.”

The Relevance to Cultivating Good Habits in the Workplace
From a corporate culture and change perspective, the study articulated a goal (better health), monitored daily progress (time sensors), and provided incentives (tickets to be redeemed for food or gifts).  Similarly, to cultivate the right work habits in your corporate culture, there needs to be a corresponding combination…understanding that the habit will

  • Contribute to a meaningful goal
  • Be tracked
  • Have immediate meaningful rewards

The Bottom Line
To develop, engage and retain top talent, smart talent leaders identify, support and reward the behaviors and habits that drive the strategic priorities forward.  Profit by the lessons from the West Bengal handwashing experiment.  Communicate the overall goal, track progress on an individual and team basis, and provide meaningful rewards.

To learn more about winning talent strategies, download The 3 Big Corporate Culture Myths about Talent

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