The good — and the bad — habits you exhibit at work can impact your performance effectiveness as well as that of the company's.

Have you ever heard us described as creatures of habit? Well, it's the truth. A habit is defined as a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition, and this process molds all of our lives. If you go to your car, unlock it, get in and put the key in the ignition, crank it, buckle your seat belt, and then put the car in gear in that exact same sequence every time — it is because this routine has become a habit. Most would agree that this is a very good habit, as you should always buckle your seat belt before you crank your car.

What if I went through the very same sequence when getting in my car, except I omitted buckling my seat belt? Instead, I waited several blocks to buckle up after getting tired of hearing the alarm bell ringing. I'm sure you would agree that this is a bad (if not stupid) habit. So, even within the same activity, there are good habits and bad habits — and we all have both. If you think you don't have any bad habits, just ask your spouse, friend, or a peer at your company.

This month, I want you to look at your daily routines and make an honest effort to ferret out some of those bad work habits. If you get motivated to look at your personal life as well, so much the better.

Your Morning Priority

During my 40 years in the wood products industry, I have been observing the patterns of leaders in the industry to glean what makes them so successful. There are many common traits of great leaders and managers, and over the years renowned authors have written volumes about them. Obviously, looking at one's daily habits at work would reveal a lot about how he or she views their responsibilities. However, unless you chart each day's activities over a period of time, it is difficult to get a handle on these habits.

I have used a simple method that will work for you to determine the priorities and focus you have at your company, and that is to determine what you do during the first 30 to 45 minutes at work each morning. This information (and the habits discovered) reveals details about your

priorities and even your effectiveness at work.

The first question that comes to mind is, "What time do you arrive at work?" Are you one of those who are in the habit of setting a grueling schedule every morning so that you barely make it to work five minutes late? You know the drill, you hit the snooze on the alarm clock several times and then begin the rat race to get to work. Or, are you in the habit of getting up early so that you can arrive at work on time?

I will give you the benefit of doubt and assume you are the latter. You get up early and arrive at work early — good habit! However, what do you do when you get there? Now I'm meddling. Do you go straight to the coffee machine and have a cup or two with the guys? Do you spend the time catching up on gossip, or reading the newspaper, or surfing the Internet? If you feel good about yourself because you get to work early — what's the benefit? Is what you do in that 30 minutes a good example for others? Is it good for the company? Or, is it just good for you?

Illustration by Chris Nititham
What are your work habits?

Questions to ask yourself to help you analyze your habits:

1. How do you spend the first 30 minutes of your workday?

2. Do you try to compliment others and give credit when credit is due?

3. Are you willing to redirect praise that you receive to others?

4. Do you talk about others in the company or do you just gossip?

5. Are you a good listener?

6. Do you spend time thinking about yourself and your interests during

the day?

7. Do you look for ways to meet the needs of others during the day?

8. At what time do you leave work?

9. How do you spend your last 30 minutes of the workday?

10. Do you expect or accept mediocrity in yourself or others?

A habit of arriving early is perceived as a good habit, but I submit that what you do when you get there is a more important indicator of your behavior pattern. I like to see a manager reviewing his or her plans for the day or taking time to walk the factory floor to see how others are using this valuable time before the official workday begins. Some have suggested that if you do your pre-planning well, you need not check on the operations. Wrong! A good manager, supervisor or worker will get to work early and help others get ready to become productive as soon as the bell rings, period.

What is your attitude toward a spray operator like Jane who is always early and organizes her work for the day before the conveyor starts? Do you recognize her as a conscientious employee with good habits and constantly make the comment that you wish you had a dozen more like her?

Look at your first 30 minutes at work each day and ask if your company would be better off if everyone spent that time like you do.

Taking Credit

In preparing this column, I tried to think of several common bad habits that might ring a bell with you. One is the habit of directly or indirectly taking credit for the accomplishments of others. Before you convince yourself that you never do this, please read on.

Maybe you are a production manager in a millwork factory and the boss comes by and says, "Great job, Bill, you really did it last month — a new productivity record." Now, what's your usual response? Is it, "Thanks, Clyde."? Or, is it, "No problem."? Maybe you reply, "We're trying."

Well, the last response is better, but the others are an attempt to personally claim the credit for the achievements in productivity. I don't care if you were very instrumental in the results, you should not be in the habit of drawing attention to yourself, but instead recognizing the efforts of your team or the plant personnel as a whole.

Get in the habit of giving others an extra share of the credit — even to the point of looking almost insignificant in the achievement. This is a great habit of great leaders, and you will never regret this pattern of behavior. Your continuous improvement efforts will yield top dividends if this is your attitude and that of your company leadership.

I have written before that the best thing you can do is to acknowledge your people as the greatest asset you have in your company, and to do it so they hear about it whenever possible. Make it a habit to put yourself last instead of first.

Speaking Before You Listen

Another bad habit that a lot of us need to corral is that of saying too much, too soon. How many times have you been in a conversation and were interrupted by someone who only just joined the group and says something totally stupid because they did not listen long enough to grasp the real issue? The same thing could be happening every day in your company.

An employee starts talking about a quality issue and you immediately tell her how you solved that same problem last year. Bad habit. Instead, hear the employee out and ask about her idea to solve the problem instead of interrupting as if she was ignorant on the subject.

You can learn so much by just listening. You can also teach by listening and then leading others through a problem-solving exercise of their own. What would the results be if all managers and supervisors in your company made this a habit? Most likely, there would be a total positive transformation of your company.

Self Exam

Maybe its time that you looked to see if you are in a rut — if you have developed some bad habits of your own that are lowering your level of professional excellence and the performance of your woodworking company. You are the person best equipped to analyze your habits and to look closely enough to determine if they are really good or bad patterns of behavior. Check out the sample questions that will help you analyze your work habits below.

A willingness to change and grow is a good habit in itself.

Tom Dossenbach is the managing director of Dossenbach Associates LLC, a Sanford, NC-based international consulting and research firm. Contact him at (919) 775-5017 or e-mail [email protected]. Visit his Web site at

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