Rituals: the key to making it last.

Ever wonder why it’s so hard to stick with our plans, even with the best of intentions? Ever roll out an important initiative in your organization, determined to make it last, only to have it fall by the wayside, as you got busy on something else or distracted by a new problem or opportunity? Well join the club. It happens to nearly all of us and in nearly all organizations.   And the cost of these lapses is not just in the failed initiative. In fact, it’s bigger than that.

When we repeatedly fail to sustain our efforts, we teach our employees to become cynical. They learn to simply “wait it out” because sooner or later “this too shall pass.”

So what’s the solution? What’s the key to making our initiatives last for years into the future? Put simply: rituals.

What’s a ritual?

A “ritual” is some pattern of behavior that we do over and over again until it becomes virtually automatic. It becomes “just the way we do things.” A habit is another word for ritual in this context. A ritual can be anything from the morning routine we have for brushing our teeth to the way we drive to work each day to the National Anthem being played before the start of every professional sporting event.

The reason that rituals are so important to success is that most of us are not hard-wired to be good at sticking with things. We tend to have short attention spans, we got bored and distracted easily, and we struggle with doing the same thing over and over again. Very few people have the internal motivation and discipline to do what’s necessary to achieve success day in and day out.

Rituals make things automatic

Rituals, though, enable us to stay on the plan, even after our motivation and discipline have waned. Most of us don’t struggle to brush our teeth every morning. We just have a non-thinking automatic habit or routine. If you want to exercise every day, it’s far easier if you create a ritual of meeting some friends at the gym every day at the same time. It just becomes your routine and becomes almost second nature.

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Creating a high performing culture is nothing more than getting your people to adopt and internalize the key behaviors that most drive success in your organization. (see How Do you Drive a Culture?). The only way you’ll get them to internalize those behaviors is by teaching them over and over again. (see Behavior Change Made Simple).

A game changer

If we can create rituals around how we teach and reinforce the behaviors we want to see, then we have a real game-changer. For the first time, we wouldn’t be relying upon our own discipline and somehow expecting it to last for years into the future. Instead, the rituals make the teaching automatic and self-sustaining. And this, in fact, is the key to sustainability. It’s what enables our effort to last for the next 10 or 20 years, instead of the next 10 or 20 days.

At HPC, we’ve developed a series of rituals that can work in almost every organization, enabling them to sustain a long-term commitment to creating their high performing culture. Reach out to us if you’d like to know more about how you can put these same ideas to work in your organization.

Next topic: Behavior change made simple.

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