By Cindy Chang
I love practicing – not a surprise to anyone who knows me. I like learning a new skill or topic by slowly gaining an understanding over time, piece by piece, and adding everything up until I have satisfied a level of mastery over the subject.
I grew up playing piano and violin, practicing each for an hour every night after dinner. (It was less of an option at that point in my life.) While I was told that practicing was important, I never really understood why until later in college, when I was easily able to take up both instruments again after a few years away. All of those scales and passageways came flooding back, almost automatically it seemed. Ah, I realized, that’s what all that practicing was for.
Practicing helps turn a behavior into a habit, into something that is so natural that you can’t remember what it was like to learn it. Practicing isn’t just for physical activities; it also helps develop habits of thought and ways of interacting with others. When we intentionally practice to create a habit, like deep breathing in stressful situations, it leads to real changes in attitudes and feelings – being more calm under pressure. Imagine a whole group of people practicing the same behavior and the effect this can have on the group’s culture.
At Prosono, we talk a lot about habits and how they form the basis of interaction within a team, a company, and even a culture. If an organization allows – and rewards – the habit of keeping your head down and doing what you’re told, what does that do to create a culture of collaboration and agility? Alternatively, if an organization allows people to practice respectfully challenging each other’s ideas, with no ego attached, the culture fosters habits of continuous improvement, healthy debate, and idea generation at all levels.
The best way for us to help our clients practice positive, impactful behaviors and turn them into habits is to practice ourselves. Our board game Kanban Board (or, this) – fashioned out of post-it notes and painters tape – helps us prioritize work and keep each other accountable, as well as practice our stated values (responsiveness, resiliency and agility). When things change, so do our post-it notes, along with our mindset in completing our work. We help each other out when we can and ask for help when we need it. Instilling these habits in ourselves makes us more responsive to our clients and more responsive to a dynamic, ever changing world.
We practice providing real-time feedback to each other, sometimes more successfully than others, with the thought that we can stop unproductive habits from forming before they start. We practice asking “dumb” questions of each other, believing that the habits of being inquisitive and vulnerable will help us uncover a solution for our clients that was right in front of us. We practice direct, jargon-free language, because the habit of clear communication leads our clients more strongly into an unknown future.
Practicing is not easy, especially at the organizational level. We have to work piece by piece to encourage the desired habits to form in each of us. With the right habits in place, we spend less time and energy on how to live our values, and just live them.