New Year Resolutions and Change Management


“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”  ~Aristotle

After living for over 6 decades, I think I am an expert, or at least experienced enough, in New Year Resolutions.  As for myself, and I suspect the majority of people around the world, after a month or less, resolutions for change and improvement are long smothered by the weight of previously ingrained habits.  And habits are powerful forces for a number of reasons, not the least of which is, to most people, habits are invisible.  We don’t realise we have them, nor do we understand how much of our day-to-day behaviour is driven (dictated) by our habits.

For example: Most men have an habitual way of putting on their trousers.  One leg always goes in first.  For me, it is the left leg (I am left-handed after all) then the right leg. Always in this order.  Don’t ask me why, it’s just a habit.  But if I consciously decided to try it the other way round, right leg first, then left, it takes great concentration and most of the time, I fall over.  It’s not just me.  You try it.  We have a habit of one leg first when putting on trousers.

Also, if you sit back and cross your arms, there is an habitual way we do this. For me I leadcrossed_arms_by_marivel87-d32fitn with the left arm, which goes over my right arm, with my left wrist under my right bicep.  Always.  It’s a habit.  Go ahead.  Cross your arms the “normal” way (for you), then cross then the other way.  Most people tell me that it feels awkward and uncomfortable to cross their arms the other way round.  Another habit.

When you stop to think about it, we probably have hundreds of little physical habits that help us get through the day with the least effort and most efficiency. In this case, many of life’s little physical habits are quite useful.

But, when trying to make a change, these little habits can often create significant barriers, especially if they remain at the invisible, or subconscious level.  Let’s say one of my New Year Resolutions is to wake up earlier and take a 45 minute walk in the morning before my daughter gets up for school. Simple.  Should be pretty easy.

But unless I become aware of the many habits I have associated with getting up in the joggermorning, my unconscious habits will probably prove stronger than my willpower, especially at 6am on a cold winter morning. The key to success then, is to create new physical habits based on new routines.

For example:  put all my walking clothes and shoes just at the edge of my bed the night before; move the alarm clock across the room;  plug my bedside light into a timer set to come on at 6am; have my iPod and headlamp on top of my clothes so I don’t have to search for them; have money in my pocket for a Starbucks coffee at the end of my walk; enlist my wife to give me a good hard shove when the alarm goes off.

All these are process changes to my normal, routine habits of getting up in the morning.  If you make physical changes that require different behaviours, then unconscious habits can be overcome.

Now, what’s all this got to do with Change Management?  I think you can see the connection.  Most change fails because we have new goals and intentions that are up against old ingrained habits.

Much of what we do at work is filled with unconscious habits which have been developed by repeatedly adhering to specific business processes (specific actions steps to accomplish an end result).  In some cases, the habits continue long after the business process is no longer effective at delivering results.  The same is true of corporate culture. Much of what we call “corporate culture” is really a series of physical and mental habits developed by adhering to given business processes and requirements.

bound-with-chainsIt’s nearly impossible break business process habits, mental thought habits or personal physical habits through force of will (or through motivational change workshops). It can be done, but the amount of energy and concentration is large.

The easier way to change business outcomes, and corporate culture, is to install new business processes, reinforce them with recognition and appreciation, and disrupt the old business habits. In a short order of time the new processes will begin to develop new business habits that are more appropriate for the desired outcomes. Here’s a rather dramatic example of culture change.

The first step is to become aware of the habits we have at business that drive daily behaviours, corporate culture, and results.

He who knows why will always win over he who just knows how!  ~Thomas D. Willhite

Tight Lines . . .

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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4 Responses to New Year Resolutions and Change Management

  1. Cracking good post, John! Spot on, and very timely.

    I recall some research which says it takes 27 goes to turn a conscious behaviour into an unconscious one, ie it becomes habit. The challenge is always how to make the 27 happen!

    So make sure you really do the daily walk during January and you will be fine! Good luck.


  2. angulam says:

    brilliant post and very timely…..


  3. Pingback: Success Quotes | Kelly Business Advisors, LLC

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