April 22nd, 2012 // 7:33 pm @ Coach Lynn
Only within the past two decades have scientists (and marketers) really begun to understand how habits are formed – and more important, how they change. In the workplace nearly everyone has at least one “career-limiting habit” – an engrained behavior that keeps you from achieving your potential at work.
VitalSmarts, a respected management consulting company, conducted a study in April and May of 2011. They surveyed 972 people and found the most common career-limiting habits (CLHs) were: unreliability, an “it’s not my job” attitude, procrastination, resistance to change, negativity and cynicism. Other common CLHs included disrespect, short-term focus, selfishness, passive aggressiveness and risk aversion.
For some, the habit explains the gap between being a good employee and a great employee. For others, it can put them at risk of career stagnation — preventing them from getting the raises and promotions they would have otherwise received. Or worse, it can lead to career derailment – demotions and possible firing.
Take Fred, for example. His career-limiting habit of having a hot temper resulted in lost employment. He was a smart, technically competent operations manager. He got his work done on time and was a valued contributor. However, when he had to perform under pressure, he could explode impacting his team and others around him. His emotions derailed him from a successful career. Eventually the impact on the organization was too much for management to accept and they had to let him go. This is a sad story for Fred, but also for the company who had to find and train a replacement – a very expensive solution.
Fred’s habit of coping with the perceived threats in his environment by “fighting” is common in today’s stress-filled workplace, thus the rise in bullying behavior. It’s just as common to see people “flighting” or checking-out emotionally. This behavior shows up in absenteeism, poor performance, and a lack of initiative.
A qualified coach can help employees notice the impact their behavior is having on others, understand the perceptions and beliefs that are causing underlying emotions, re-frame the fear-based thinking, and develop a new repertoire of acceptable coping behaviors. Sounds easy enough, but it is hard work to change career-limiting habits. Needless to say, it doesn’t happen overnight and it requires diligent, mindful practice.
The forces that influence human behavior and the process of change are many. What’s important to know is that habits can be changed, if we understand how they work. Fortunately, neuroscience is providing a clear picture of how habits are formed and how to create new ones. The problem isn’t that people don’t want to change; they do. Sometimes they just don’t know how.
Taking control of your career-limiting habits begins with awareness that you have them. Armed with knowledge, insight, and a supportive coach, leaders are choosing to change their career-limiting habits to avoid stagnation and derailment. Organizations are taking responsibility for helping people improve by providing coaching instead of ultimatums. This investment in employee development is almost always less expensive than falling into the hiring and firing loop.