The power of habit is the single biggest risk to the success of workplace change programs


Staff habits hold great power in the structure of the workplace and companies looking to roll out new workplace strategies must be aware of this, or risk the success of any initiative they try to implement, according to global commercial real estate firm JLL.

The way we work is evolving and organisations are being required to look for other strategies, tools and or approaches to sustain and grow business performance. The design of the workplace is an important part of this.

“Our brain is happy in the absence of change”, said JLL’s Associate Director of Workplace Strategy, Nathan Sri. “It’s important for companies to realise this because the future of the workplace is changing. Many staff have long-ingrained habits relating to their work space, and the power of habit is the single biggest risk to workplace change programs.”

Speaking at the WorkTech 2016 Conference in Sydney this week, Mr Sri said facilitating a change in people’s habits relied on two critical success factors; how they relate to space and technology. “It’s about the ability of staff to adopt the new space according to their work tasks and business drivers, and their ability to utilise the technology to drive congruent values and behaviours.”

Mr Sri said that, as surprising as it may be, brain scans show that elite athletes use significantly less of their brain than their non-elite counterparts. In fact, extensive research has found that the cognitive side of the brain is used less and less as the athlete begins mastering his actions and movements. “Practice makes permanent, not perfect. This idea can also be applied to the knowledge worker when they are transitioning to a new work space. The longer individuals are in a certain workplace arrangement, the more entrenched their habits relating to that space become.”

However, Mr Sri said it was important for companies to realise that the organisational change process can start a number of months before a company moves into a new space, and that this was a key factor in mitigating risk. “The fallacy is for companies to think that they need to wait for their brand new office before they can affect behavioural change among staff. Staging behavioural changes helps break down the change into chunks that allow staff to adapt changes and adjust their habits in a more gradual process – preparing them for the change when it officially arrives.”

JLL’s Director of Workplace Strategy, Dinesh Acharya said that while many leading organisations invest heavily in conceiving a new workplace design, they tended to spend far less time thinking about how the desired organisational changes will be sustained or evolve over the longer term.

“In our experience, the success of a workplace program depends largely on a well-conceived change program that considers the needs and experiences of employees and in particular, managers, in order to inspire new conversations and behaviours over time.

“Too often, change management programs focus on communicating to employees, assuming that if we inform people of the change, they will ultimately embrace it. While strategic communications are effective in many situations, the more complex initiatives that aim to drive new collaborative ways of working require a more subtle and continuous approach to managing change,” he said

“At JLL we’re increasingly focused on “training the trainer” when it comes to workplace change, to ensure changes are sustained over time. This typically means defining what success looks like for each business unit and tailoring the change program and activities to suit the specific needs of the business – recognising that not everyone is at the same stage of the change journey.

“This tailored approach allows business leaders to drive the cultural change going forwards which is far more effective than having an outside consultant tell people why they need to change at a single point in time. Given the accelerating change in work today, we believe that more organisations need to harness the power of habit to hone the leadership and team skills that will enable elite business performance,” Mr Acharya concluded.


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