Leadership gurus have taken great pains to define organizational culture. But we think it’s pretty simple.
How everyone acts on a daily basis — whether they show up early, work weekends, and so on — makes up the broader culture. Our definition at the NeuroLeadership Institute, therefore, boils down to just three words: “shared everyday habits.”
That means building new habits isn’t just part of culture change. It is culture change. And going by the leading research on habit formation, there are three key components, which NLI helps leaders instill in their teams. Those components include: priorities, habits, and systems.
Generally speaking, people must pinpoint what they care about, figure out the behavior that embodies that priority, and support that behavior by making it easy to execute. Here’s what each one is all about.
From a leadership perspective, priorities tend to involve getting buy-in about what really matters. Maybe one person thinks inclusion is a top priority, while another executive thinks the real issue centers on hiring practices.
If leaders can’t agree on what their priorities are, they have no hope of changing behavior. Any effort they expend will just be scattershot, rather than focused toward a common goal.
Our client work has shown that leaders intuitively understand the importance of building effective habits. What people do on a regular basis determines the outcomes the larger team and organization will see.
But how do you create the right habits? That’s often a much harder question to answer, as it’s not always clear which habits model the desired priorities.
A leader may want to boost inclusion, for instance, but only thinks to invite new people to a meeting — a diversity solution. He may overlook the habit of calling on different people to recruit fresh voices and ideas, which actually builds inclusion.
Systems are the trickiest of the three to get right, because they aren’t as obvious. They support organizational habits somewhat in the background. They can be physical cues, to be sure, but they are also often mental cues.
In the above example, a leader who wants to be more inclusive in meetings can call on others to bring more voices into the fold. That’s a habit. The system triggers the habit, such as “If I’m in a meeting, then I’ll make sure to hear from someone new.”
The effect this has on the brain is that each new meeting primes the person to think about the system. The leader can create a mental link between meetings and inclusion.
At NLI, our job is ensuring leaders build the right priorities, habits, and systems in their teams to achieve organizational goals and create lasting impact, however that may be defined. With PHS, real change can happen in months, not years.