That Is Not My Job (Why habits and behaviors matter in the work environment)
Minutes from disaster in November 1987, a commuter at King’s Cross subway station in the London Underground stopped an employee, Phillip Brickell, as he collected tickets from commuters. The commuter informed him of burning tissue close to a nearby escalator. King’s Cross was one of London’s largest, and busiest of London’s subway stops. It was a maze of long and very old escalators, passageways and tunnels and thousands of passengers passed through King’s Cross every day. While a burning tissue wouldn’t seem like much on its own, the environment it was in made it the most dangerous distraction. The work environment at King’s Cross, through its leadership, implied to Brickel that he shouldn’t do anyone else’s job and that the fire department shouldn’t be called unless it was absolutely necessary. 31 people lost their lives that day in addition to 100 injuries from a simple fire that spun out of control.
Why is this important? What was missing? In this case, the culture within the organization at the time caused Brickel’s thinking to be like this: “that is not my job!!” Does that sound familiar? It is not that the organization didn’t have routines, it was that they didn’t have a routine for this type of incident, making them unprepared. They also created a culture where people would not over step their bounds.
So what should be done in organizations, for example, if a customer service representative got a complaint? How should the customer’s complaint be managed? Should there be a well defined list of events that should happen to put the customer in a better place? Absolutely!!! Processes can make a difference, but not just any process. Processes consist of guidelines and it allows individuals, departments and organizations to function more efficiently. Whether you are in customer service, health and safety or education, having the right processes can create working environments where individuals know exactly what to do at any given time based on their awareness of how their actions work in synergy with individuals in other departments as well as how departments work together. Employees will also be aware of how their job fits into the bigger picture.
Another important fact about processes is that they eventually create habits. They create habits because individuals get used to particular routines. Habits are of great importance because they don’t exhaust you. They are automatic actions and they become automatic because we have done them over and over again. Habits allow you to act without the brain doing much work. We get exhausted when our actions are not habitual. Can you imagine a customer service rep who pretends to be pleasant to customers every day? They must feel exhausted at the end of the day. However, if this person was in the habit of being nice to people, it would not feel like additional work. Groups can create effective routines when the individuals involved possess habits that support the routine.
An environment like this is created by having the right performance management system in terms of defining actual behaviors or attitudes needed for the job. When these behaviors and attitudes are combined with knowledge, skills and abilities, they form a competency. Competencies are important because they also help organizations to hire the right people, put them in the right places and with the use of an appropriate appraisal system and how well leaders give feedback and coach employees, the right culture could be created. Is it an easy fix? No, but unless we start with the right processes at the beginning, we will never get the behaviors we need to have to create alignment within the organization. Like Abraham Lincoln once said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” An individual with the right skills but without the right behaviors can turn out to be a disaster. We must focus on the root of the issue. Using the right processes from the beginning will ensure that you get and keep the right people.
Founder of V-Formation Training and Development
Professional Speaker and Trainer
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