“The only proper way to eliminate bad habits is to replace them with good ones.” – Jerome Hines
Joan was shocked. It was her first morning back from vacation and she returned to discover a note from her project manager, Mary Carol. The note said, “Before you do ANYTHING, come see me. Seriously, do not get coffee, do not open up your laptop and check emails, just come to my office.”
Joan could not imagine how she could have gotten into trouble. She had been out of the office on a scheduled vacation for the past two weeks. What could be so important that Mary Carol needed to see her before she jumped back into her work routine?
Little did Joan know that while she was away Mary Carol had been thinking about Joan and her work habits and how to change them. Joan was basically a good team member. Each morning Joan started out by walking to the break room for coffee. That was not an unreasonable routine. MOST of the team started off with coffee. Some walked in the door with coffee in their hands. The problem with Joan’s habit was that it also involved her starting conversations with just about everyone she met along the way. Joan’s morning cup of coffee was the equivalent of lunchtime for others. It took a big chunk out of Joan’s day and it was disruptive to those who crossed her path. Mary Carol had pointed this out to Joan on more than one occasion. Yet Joan failed to change her habit of chatting away her morning.
Mary Carol hatched a plan. Every morning she would make sure that Joan had an assignment that was due within the first ninety minutes of the day. She knew Joan well enough to know that she was excellent at meeting deadlines. If she could focus her attention on work BEFORE the extended coffee break began, she just might be able to get Joan to break her habit.
The first thing that Joan said to Mary Carol was, “I will get started as soon as I get a cup of coffee.” Mary Carol quickly replied, “You don’t have time for that now, let me bring you a cup of coffee.” For several days Mary Carol kept Joan on the same schedule. As soon as she arrived she was given an assignment and a tight deadline. After a couple of days, Mary Carol stopped bringing Joan a cup of coffee. Instead she walked with her to pick up the coffee while discussing the pending assignment. After a few more days she encouraged Joan to get cup a coffee and advised her that she would in fact be waiting for her at her desk. After ten days of no extended coffee breaks and on time assignments, Mary Carol presented Joan with a gift card for coffee. Out of habit on the eleventh day, Joan stopped by Mary Carol’s office first thing, without even being asked. On the twelfth day, Mary Carol left Joan a note about her assignment, but did not require her to come to her office. This new approach really helped Joan to get back on track with her work habits. She came in and got right to work. She did have a day or two where she fell back into her old habit, but when her colleagues asked her what she was working on that day, she remembered that she needed to get back to her desk and back to work.
You might wonder why Mary Carol went to all of this trouble for Joan. Why didn’t Mary Carol simply chastise her or threaten her with a poor performance review? Joan was an otherwise strong team member with a bad habit. She was worthy of the effort and investing time in her was well worth it. She simply needed help replacing her bad habit with a good one.