There is always a great deal of excitement as the new year approaches. Many business leaders will take the time to reflect on the team’s new goals for the forthcoming 12 months and take the opportunity to reset the baseline, build on the previous year’s performance or do more of the same.

Working with business leaders and their teams, I have discovered that there are usually clear strategies in place for the team to follow in order to deliver on key targets. Having a strategy in place is important and having the right strategy is critical. Most of the time the strategy is clear about the procedures that staff need to follow, identifying who their ideal client is and the business development activities that need to be prioritised.

What I have found is that even with the ideal strategy in place the team can sometimes fail to deliver on the key performance indicators. Often teams tend to create ‘stories’ about the strategy itself, team members and the working environment as to why they are not performing effectively.

Stories are just thoughts that you have about a situation or person. Most of the time these thoughts tend to be negative if the team are underperforming and generally relate to lack of time, being too busy, workload, not having the knowledge, not enough support or not having access to the right information.

Negative thoughts will lead to negative behaviours within the team such as team arguments, gossiping, blaming others, procrastination and poor communication.

Negative behaviours lead individuals to feel a certain way affecting their emotional state. In this case, common feelings such as frustration, anger, disappointment and irritation are cited. Research shows that negative emotions are likely to trigger the stress response impacting on personal performance.

Over time the way individuals and teams think, act and behave will start to form habits which will either negatively or positively impact the business results. Dr Joe Dispenza’s definition of a habit is ‘the recurring, often unconscious and automatic patterns of thoughts, behaviours or feelings that are acquired through frequent repetition’.

I often challenge business leaders to reflect on individual and team habits and whether they are in line with business goals. The danger is that business leaders sometimes choose to take the path of least resistance, and change business strategies without addressing individual and team habits. Changing the strategy instead of addressing negative habits may get you so far and then the same problems will reappear, and you may even end up back at square one.

Marshall Goldsmith in his book called ‘Triggers’ stated that it was a proven fact that it is not lack of skills but inappropriate behaviours that block progress.

There are 5 challenges that business leaders will want to take into consideration when working with individuals and teams to change habits.

1.0 Meaningful Behavioural Change is Difficult but Not Impossible.

It’s difficult because there are so many reasons and beliefs that can throw you off course. Achieving meaningful change can be simple once you have the know-how and tools. Please remember that ‘simple’ does not mean it is ‘easy’. If it was easy, we would all be doing what’s required.

2.0 No One Can Force You to Change Unless You Truly Want to Change.

You can’t demand someone to change. True change must come from within and some people will say they want to change but they don’t really mean it. In the words of Dr. Joe Dispenza, “We can change in times of pain and suffering or in times of joy and inspiration.” Most people choose the former. Leaders also need to find ways to inspire and motivate individuals to want to change.

3.0 Having ‘Self-Awareness’ Is the First Step in Making True Change.

When you become conscious of your unconscious thoughts, behaviours and feelings you are in a space which allows you to make a different choice.

Often the hardest part about change is making a different choice. Sometimes it’s easy to stick with what is familiar, predictable and comfortable. Stepping outside of your comfort zone and dealing with the fear of the unknown, takes courage.

4.0 Making Personal Changes Is Easier When You Have Support.

Have you noticed that when you are accountable to someone else other than yourself, you are more likely to take the required actions? Having the right management support, accountability tools or external support is key. The process of personal change is not linear and more like a being on a rollercoaster ride. There will be many ups and downs and having someone to encourage and support you will increase your chances of success.

5.0 Mastering Change is a Daily Practice.

Most habits become hardwired into the subconscious mind after many years of firing and wiring the same neural circuits associated with developing positive and negative habits.

There is a science to personal change and once you have the knowledge, understanding and self- awareness, you can assign more meaning to the changes you want to make. The concept of neuroplasticity means that you can ‘teach an old dog new tricks’ however pruning away old habits and creating new ones will take time.

Albert Einstein said, “the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.” When it comes to making sustainable personal changes it’s also important to remember that there is a cost to not changing and there is also a payoff to not changing.

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