Ask The Coach — Habits … Helpful or Hurtful

Published on March 4, 2014

Dear Coaches,

We started this year by launching a long-awaited new policy regarding how we diagnose and treat patients in continuing care and it’s only been a month and we are fighting, floundering and failing.  I’m finding that old habits die hard around here.  I know that Straine is known all across the country for its systematic approach to running dental practices, so I’d like to know your secret to introducing new procedures to an organization where everyone believes their way is the best and most efficient way.  BD

Dear BD,

As change management agents, the “h” word we typically like to lead with is hope, yet in this case the operative word for you to understand is habit.  From characteristic attire of a religious order to customary practice or conduct, habit represents an outer world/inner world dichotomy that is essential to think about when considering one’s destiny.  For most of us habits are acquired behaviors, involuntary, unconscious patterns that show up in our day-to-day environments, although habits can sometimes progress toward addictions that can be quite problematic.

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which has sold a million copies a year since it was published in 1989, Steven Covey explored the distinction between what he termed the “personality ethic” – the quick-fix solutions and human relations techniques that had pervaded much of the writing in the twentieth century – and the “character ethic” – which revolved around unchanging personal principles.  Covey believed that outward success was not success at all if it was not the manifestation of inner mastery, or in his terminology, “private victory” must precede “public victory.”

Covey believed that habits are the building blocks of change, that real greatness was the result of the slow development of character over time.  Again, consider the duality of this concept: “people can’t live with change if there’s not a changeless core inside them!”  The most important question to ask each performer is “Are your activities the result of thoughtful principles or robotic impulses,” as habits that are founded by intention and with integrity always flex and stretch to serve the greater good.

Let’s look at your situation another way – you posed your question regarding a “long-awaited new policy,” which leads us to believe that it was intentional, born of clarity, reflecting your principles, values and vision, and intended to replace the “automatic pilot” and discretionary habits of your performers.  Remember, Covey believed that “the key to the ability to change is having a changeless sense of who you are, what you are about and what you value.”

We can only assume that the changeless sense of who you are is rooted in the desire to serve your patients at the highest possible level and the policy you recently introduced was created to do just that.  Did your organization understand this?  It’s important to ask, “What are our patients missing out on by resisting the behaviors I’ve asked you to perform?”

The “secret” to introducing successful change is to lead with your values and communicate your vision, expecting the people you’ve hired to accept responsibility for living a life that is aware, accountable and accessible.  As Covey believed, “only by working on ourselves” can we hope to expand our “circle of influence,” thereby having the freedom to choose our reactions to our environment, no longer living by limiting scripts that are not effective.

We almost always hear from those performers least willing to adopt new habits that a loss of efficiency, the time required to learn or perform the new behavior, is unsurmountable.  As Covey highlighted in the title of his book, effective habits are founded on what’s most important and should reflect the core around which your practice exists as there is no use being efficient if what you are doing lacks meaning or an essential good.

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