Posted by Cathy Reilly

8.24.16_blog_boy_w.mask_for_boost_employee_willpower_325x216_iStock_84649983_SMALL_1.jpg“Where there’s a will there’s a way.”

We love our “can-do” slogans. While they may provide that spark of positivity that helps us keep going, how far will they really take us on their own?

Here’s the reality.

Willpower tires easily, like a muscle. You usually can’t change your behavior simply by resolving to do something. If that were true New Year’s resolutions would actually work.

It’s not that can-do thinking is bad. It just that it can only take you to the point where you “can’t do”. Then help is needed. As a manager or HR professional dealing with the people side of organizations, you need to understand how to give this kind of help to employees.

Tasked with daily responsibilities and deadlines, employees are often asked to do more, and to do so with less. Sometimes it’s best NOT to ask more from your employees, but to focus instead on making it easier for them to do their work.

Most employees want to do a great job, but many fail because they lack self-discipline or the sheer willpower to prevail through difficult situations.

Instead of asking them to work harder, or do better, ease the pressure and help them change behavior in stressful situations.

How do you do that? Change the system so it’s built with effective routines for them to follow as habit. By teaching employees a better routine, you make it easier for them to do their work. Instead of trying to get employees to forge through their work through willpower, set them up with routines that serve as powerful business tools.  

When Starbucks was at the height of its expansion, opening seven new stores every day and hiring as many as fifteen hundred employees every week, they knew they had a problem on their hands. They could not possibly ensure that every hire had the self-discipline to excel at customer service – to show up on time, not get angry at patrons and serve everyone with a smile, while remembering customers’ orders and if possible, their names. And they knew they couldn’t simply say, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way. You can do it if you put your mind to it.” Yet it was essential that they knew how to serve an expensive latte with a bit of sparkle, especially at high traffic times. “We’re not in the coffee business serving people,” Howard Behar, the former president of Starbucks said. “We’re in the people business serving coffee. Our entire business model is based on fantastic customer service. Without that we’re toast.”

To ensure consistently excellent customer service, one of the systems Starbucks uses is the LATTE method. Listen to the customer, Acknowledge their complaint, Take action by solving the problem, Thank them, and then Explain why the problem occurred.

Starbucks has dozens of such routines as habits that employees are taught to use during stressful inflection points. They practice these routines again and again until they become automatic. A disgruntled customer triggers the LATTE routine, which can quickly turn the entire situation around. In this way a routine can transform an unfortunate incident into an opportunity and instill discipline and confidence in an employee.

Starbucks isn’t the only company to train employees on routines. As part of their 185 hours of first year training, employees at the Container Store learn to recognize inflection points such as an angry coworker or an overwhelmed customer. The employees then turn to a routine for calming shoppers or defusing a confrontation. If a customer seems overwhelmed, for example, an employee immediately asks them to visualize the space in their home and describe how they’ll feel when everything is in its place. “We’ve had customers come up to us and say, “This is better than a visit to my shrink,” the company’s CEO told a reporter.

Where there’s a will, reliable routines as habits can boost willpower and pave the way to a successful finish line. Sometimes the less they sweat, might be a better indicator of how much your employees are getting done.

Topics: Management

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