What Behavior Can You Change?

I was thinking about some of the changes my clients are considering. Most of them want to use agile approaches, all the way through the organization. A laudable goal because it will produce the business results they want to see.

What’s the first thing people can do?

Change their behavior. Not change their system. Not change their beliefs. Change their behavior so they can change the system.

We each have a system of work. I have my system, which is a series of small deliverables throughout the day (often in 15-30 minute timeboxes), followed by quick reflections or breaks. I use flow inside of a weekly cadence of planning and reflection. You might recognize this as a form of agile, but it doesn’t have a name.

I changed my system of work, starting back when I was writing my first book. I realized that writing a book was different from writing an article. I didn’t have the time to write an entire chapter all at once. I had to be able to make progress on parts of a chapter. I felt better when I finished sections. At that time, I worked in one-hour timeboxes.

Throughout the years, I have experimented with my writing, and I can now make progress in chunks as small as 5 minutes long. I don’t always find those chunks satisfying—there’s more I want to do. Yet, I changed my behavior so I could change my system.

I had to change my behavior before I could change my system.

Once I changed my behavior, I could change my system of work. I realized I could apply the “how little makes a finished chunk” to more of my work. My thinking changed. I apply that thinking to all my work now.

That thinking, arising from my behavior, has changed my beliefs about my work.

On a coaching call this week, one of the writers in a writing workshop said he needed an hour or two to make progress. Right now, he believes that. It’s his system. I recommended he experiment with smaller writing times and see what happens for him.

I can tell him about my changed behavior. I did. However, unless he tries to change his behavior, he won’t see the effects I see.

Back when I was a manager, I suggested many changes to my teams. I wasn’t sure any of them would work, but that didn’t stop me trying to improve our system of work. I asked people not to believe. I asked them to change their behavior. I admitted I found it difficult to change my behavior when I didn’t believe. And, I was willing to bet that if we changed our behaviors, we could create a better system of work that would either accommodate our beliefs or change them.

Changing behaviors worked for us. It showed us what worked and didn’t work for us, then. Not what we believed. But what a system could be. Maybe it’s just one behavior, maybe it’s several behaviors.

That, my dear adaptable readers, is the question this week: What behavior can you change?


2 thoughts on “What Behavior Can You Change?”

  1. Thanks Johanna. Interestingly I’ve usually found it works as well the other way around. Change the system of work where you are able to and you change behaviours. Change behaviours and you change beliefs. Thoughts?

    1. Phil, you might be able to change the system of work first. Sometimes, that works. Yes, that will change the behaviors because you are changing culture. Specifically, what’s rewarded, I imagine.

      I think I need some examples for change behaviors and you change beliefs. I think, for many examples such as project processes and writing, we change the system before we change beliefs. I’m trying to think of a time where we change behaviors, do not change the system and change beliefs. I can’t think of one. Maybe I’m not thinking clearly. Given my time at night, I’m not surprised!

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