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No business is ever truly perfect. There are always things that need to be changed, and most of those changes ultimately come down to a behaviour: getting people to act in a new way rather than an old one.

But how many work hours are wasted introducing a change only to watch our employees and co-workers slowly slip back into doing the same wrong things they were doing before?

Making a change isn’t even half the battle. The real struggle is getting changes to stick. And changing new behaviours into stable habits can be a challenging process.

Identifying ‘Push’ and ‘Pull’ Factors

Much research has been devoted to identifying how new behaviours, that happen sporadically at best, become habits that persist consistently over time. The short answer to this question is that one needs to look at each situation and identify which specific factors are at play.

Behavioural scientists sometimes refer to ‘pull factors’ that encourage a behaviour and ‘push factors’ that discourage it.

These can be broken down into the following, broad categories:

  • Individual motives: does the person want the organisation to succeed or are they so unsatisfied in their role that they just want to sign out and go home? If it’s the latter they probably won’t be motivated to go through the effort of changing their behaviour.

  • Self-Regulation: are our people able to motivate themselves to engage in the new behaviour or do they require monitoring and supervision? Do your managers support each other, and the new change, or does someone need to ‘watch the watchers’?

  • Physical resources: is the workspace ergonomic enough that employees can do the new behaviour easily or does it place strain on their bodies that builds up over time to become incapacitating?

  • Psychological resources: Are your deadlines reasonable enough that your people can invest time and energy in the change, or are you driving your employees towards burnout by adding new behaviours on top of their existing responsibilities?

  • Habits: what current habits are there that might encourage or discourage the desired change? Are there any existing habits that can be co-opted into supporting something new?

  • Environmental influence: is the workspace designed to facilitate the new behaviour or have you ended up with physical structures that (literally) block people from successful change?

  • Social influence: are the staff as a whole supportive of the new changes (and of those who change) or are they undermining these efforts? Does your organisation have teams, or does it just have ‘cliques’?

Change is difficult, getting changes to stick is a genuine challenge. And every workplace is a stew of conflicting forces that either support or handicap your employees’ attempts to adopt a new behaviour, and make it into a habit.

By identifying which push and pull factors are promoting or suppressing necessary changes you should be able to lay the groundwork for an organisation that evolves both sustainably and consistently.