It was Thursday Afternoon, and I was waiting for a manager I coached to arrive at the local coffee shop. It has been a good year for her. She managed a team of high-performing individuals and had focused on continually improving their performance, creating and changing processes to get better results. I was looking forward to our conversation.
As I waited, I noticed that a good portion of the customers were greeting each other by name, exchanging pleasantries and waving their goodbyes, saying they would see each other tomorrow. It was their afternoon routine.
The Manager arrived sitting heavily in the chair next to me. Apprehension showed on her face and in her body language. This wasn’t going to be the conversation I had imagined.
“I just reviewed the numbers. I wanted to give you an update, show you the improvement.”
A long pause as she gathered herself.
“Productivity is down ten percent from last month. And it’s not a blip; I looked at the previous week, it is down fifteen percent.”
“How is it year to date?”
“Still good we are up overall by twenty-five percent.”
She smiled. She knew what I was doing, trying to get her to look at the big picture; to see the improvement in her team. What they had accomplished together.
“I am just frustrated that the team is losing their level of commitment to the new changes.”
“How does the team feel?”
“Frustrated, to be honest. They are complaining about the latest change. Too complicated they say.”
“Not any more than the last few changes.”
“Maybe it’s not the change but the amount of change.”
“Let me give you an example. Do you remember when they were working on the major interstate and each morning you had to take a different way into work?”
“Ugh. That was terrible. I could never get my rhythm in the morning. I felt out of sorts.”
“Yes. Each day there was a new change. You had to adjust.”
“I did. I had to watch the detour signs. In fact, it was so confusing; I turned off the radio so that I could concentrate on where I was going.”
I sipped my drink.
“Oh no. My employees are feeling confused. They are working harder when I told them they would be working smarter. They aren’t sure where they stand because our expectations are changing with each change.”
“And now what?”
“I need to work with my team to develop a routine so we can smooth things out and get them feeling better about the job they are doing.”
“So how are those numbers?”
With all the push for evolving, changing, progressing and growing our organizations, leaders have forgotten the importance of routine. Humans have a basic need for security and stability, to be able to forecast the possible future when change disrupts this, it makes us uncomfortable.
As a leader, I made touching base with my staff part of my daily routine. Each day, I set aside time to get out of my office and talk with my team. This method allowed me to see what their day was like, what challenges they were facing and how I could support them. Usually, there were little to no, short-term gains, i.e. there wasn’t anything I could do to support them at that particular moment, however in time, I learned who my employees were, saw trends impacting the business and was able to make better management decision based on this routine.
Routines are also beneficial to the productivity of your team as it provides them with a sense of security, a feeling of stability and increases their overall confidence. In a study done by Dinah Avni-Babad (2010), showed that individuals use routines to increase their sense of well-being.
Routine also allows for the automation of thought. The benefit of this can be seen in our average commute to work. As I used in the example with the manager I was coaching, her commute to work was disrupted by the road work. She had to increase her concentration, and she was continually out of sorts, emotionally tired. However, when the road work was done, and she was able to get back to her morning routine, her energy came back, and she was able to plan for her day as she drove into work.
In his book, Daily Rituals: How Artists work Author Mason Currey describes the importance of routines for some of our greatest thinkers. In one instance he talks about Benjamin Franklin, who at the end of each day asked himself “What good have I done today?” used a routine to make sure he was accomplishing all of his goals. His routine provided structure for his day. Like Einstein who wore the same clothes each day, Benjamin Franklin did not have to think about how his time would be spent and was able to focus on the work at hand.
When an individual creates a sense of well-being for themselves through routines, it offers an increase confidence. Allows them to project forward and create a sense of control over the future. It also gives them the platform to take risks, be creative, be innovative, and paradoxically challenge the status quo.
To recap routinely provides the following benefits:
- Better sense of well-being
- Increase focus on high priority tasks
- Daily or weekly structure
- Reduces distractions
- Increases overall confidence
- A platform for challenging the status quo.
When we realize the importance of routine on the individual, we can now appreciate why people are naturally resistant to change. We can also understand the importance of Change Management to help facilitate bringing an individual from their old routine to their new routine. Change Management is the framework that allows the organization to manage the people side of change. Without Change Management there is a greater risk that change initiative will fail.