Top tips for building habits

As learning professionals, we want to design interventions that lead to lasting change. Shifting behaviour involves a process that continues long after the programme finishes.

Written by Emerald Works
Published 24 September 2018
Top tips for building habits

Our research has shown that mature learning organizations are more successful at integrating learning and work, but they don’t abandon formal learning. One of their strategies is to design learning campaigns and programmes that build and encourage new habits.

Through a decade of analysis, we have explored how learning innovation done well delivers real impact that matters to organizations. We consistently find that highly successful organizations embrace learning as a means to deliver profit, growth, transformation and productivity. High performing learning organizations know how to build new capabilities quickly and ‘un-build’ old behaviours that are no longer relevant.

The ability to change behaviour through habit creation is crucial to becoming a top performing organization, particularly as learners have the skills to efficiently learn and unlearn knowledge.  People professionals have a unique opportunity to go beyond the tangible, shaping not just the content that is being taught, but how the knowledge is integrated into the behaviour of the learners.

Habits are routine actions that embed new behaviours into the business. Although they appear to contradict the concept of an agile learning culture, the ability to rapidly create new habits and change behaviour on an ongoing basis means that an organization is flexible enough to adapt to change. By creating a habit, or rather a reflexive action within learners, L&D professionals have the capability to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of learning as a whole within their organisation.

The 30-day challenge is a format used by fitness colleagues to help us improve our health, diet and bodies. The trick is to consistently make a small and intentional change every day for 30 days to instill new patterns of behaviour. It not only works for our physical health but also can play a major role in shifting our attitudes to the way that we learn.

Our friends at Citibank have been incredibly successful in applying the 30-day challenge in changing the way that colleagues think about how they learn and interact. They are literally changing the culture of learning by establishing and reinforcing new habits one tiny step at a time.

Intrigued by the success of the 30-day challenge, we went back to our data from over 7,500 L&D leaders to understand what high performing teams are doing to build better habits that last long after the course has finished.

We have uncovered two key fundamental attributes required to change behaviour and produce habits in the workplace: application and reflection.

From our In Focus report, “Driving Performance and Productivity”, we found that top performing organizations are:

  • 3x more likely to successfully apply learning (vs average)
  • 3x more likely to encourage reflection (vs average)

Whilst great learning interventions build the foundations for behaviour change, a focus on application ensures that new ideas and knowledge are put into practice. It would be impossible to create a habit without application since a habit is constructed through a cycle of repetitive action and reflection.

So, how can one successfully achieve application? To most organizations this is a challenge in itself. In fact, last year we found that only 18% of L&D leaders looking to improve application of learning were successful.

Stopping and thinking has become more popular through the growth in mindfulness activities, however although stopping and reflecting has been proven to be critical to learning, only 14% of organizations are successful in actively encouraging it.

The cycle of application and reflection are essential to building habits, so we decided to look into our data to understand what contributes to success in these areas. We have summarised our findings in our new In Focus paper, “How to Build and Change Habits in the Workplace” with one of our ambassadors, Cognician, who are passionate about helping organisations establish new habits!

By making a few small changes to your L&D strategy, people professionals have the ability to shape behaviour within their organization. This change will deliver real impact in your organisation by aiding in: successful transformation, organizational growth, increased productivity and profitability.

Creating habits is not necessarily the solution to all your L&D problems, but it certainly helps create an engaged workforce that can easily adapt to change.

About the author

Emerald Works

Emerald Works

At Emerald Works, we’re committed to helping individuals and organizations around the world realize their full potential by using evidence-led learning solutions that work.

We work together to build learning cultures that empower people to bring about real change for real impact.

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