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Driving Change Adoption Using the Power of Habit

Updated: Jul 27, 2020

How are those new year’s resolutions coming? Like most people, we started out strong on January 1 with our “healthy eating” resolutions, but have since then gotten a bit derailed (curse you, Reese’s peanut butter cups!).

We all know that change is hard. While we have the best intentions – we want to eat better, exercise more, be more productive, be more present – it’s easy to revert back to our old ways once the initial excitement of change dies down and we lose our momentum. The status quo tends to reign supreme.

This is true in personal life, and it’s true when you’re trying to drive a change within an organization. Any time you try to get yourself—or someone else—to adopt a new way of working or being, you have to butt up against the human tendency to resist change, whether that change is big or small. So, how can you get people to not only embrace change, but to actually follow through with the behaviors that are necessary to sustain change?

Let's take a cue from Charles Duhigg and harness the power of habits.

By taking a bit of time to design work so that it helps facilitate change adoption, you can give your next initiative a better shot at long-term success. Here’s how to do it in three practical steps.

Here’s how to do it in three practical steps. Let’s use a CRM (customer relationship management system, such as or Hubspot) software implementation project as an example.

1. Identify the behavior you want to drive

First, determine exactly what you want your employees or colleagues to do with the new system. In this case, you now need your commercial team to document customer interactions in the system – including following up on complaints, requesting pricing, etc.

2. Setup a cue

Once you identify the habit you’re trying to build, it’s time to start the process of ingraining it within users of the new CRM. You do this by setting up a cue, which can be anything that triggers a specific behavior.

Let’s say you want users to login to the system (THE BEHAVIOR) every morning when they fire up their laptop or tablet. To prompt them, you could set up a calendar reminder (THE CUE) for the start of each day for 30 days after the launch of the CRM.

Another cue option would be to install a shortcut on the desktop of every employee’s computer, or to setup the system so that each person’s browser automatically opens to the login screen when they launch a web browser.

3. Design a reward

Now, it’s time to reinforce the habit with a reward. I’m not talking about handing out bonuses (although, wouldn’t that be great?!). You can get creative here.

Maybe you monitor usage of the system and publicly praise the people who use it by sending out a “way to go” email at the end of each day. Maybe you buy a special lunch at the end of the week for the individuals who input the most useful data.

The reward doesn’t need to be expensive, but the people using the system should actually like and enjoy it. Otherwise, it’s going to be useless in reinforcing the right behaviors. Nor does the reward need to last indefinitely. If all goes well, after a few weeks employees will enjoy the intrinsic rewards of the habit (e.g., efficiency gains, ease of reporting, access to vital information at their fingertips), and they won’t need the external reinforcement.

Then you can stop offering the reward and let the sustainable success flow!


Project Human Behavior Change Management Tip

Want to know how to incorporate this process into your next big project to make it more successful? Consider leveraging the power of peer pressure by publicly tracking the adoption rate (or some other key metric) across teams or functions.

The process can be as simple as developing a line chart that displays what percentage of each function’s members are using the system, with the goal of achieving 100% adoption per team by a specific date. Post the report in a prominent spot at the office or share it via email with everyone (including the project sponsor) once a week.

To up the ante – and make the process more fun and engaging for employees – come up with a theme for the tracking phase (e.g.,“Climb to the Top” or “Race to the Finish”) and offer a special incentive to the team who reaches the goal first. Think pizza party (or any type of free food!) and a public congratulatory email from a leader thanking them for their commitment to the project.

Of course, it’s important to publicly recognize each team as they achieve the goal to maintain motivation and momentum. As each new team receives their accolades, the remaining teams hopefully will step up their game to avoid being the last group to fully adopt the change. This tactic can foster some friendly rivalry to see who can achieve the goal first, while at the same time beginning the process to make the change sustainable.

One last point: change management doesn’t end with the conclusion of the roll-out phase. For a change to be sustainable – and become the new normal – someone within the organization needs to serve as a champion of the cause and continue to monitor and share key metrics to ensure folks don’t slip back into old ways of working.


Remember, while it’s critical to have the proper plan in place to roll out a change at an organizational or departmental level, it also helps to re-design work to facilitate change adoption.

If you can make change adoption a habit for colleagues, you’ll have a much better chance of achieving sustainable success and getting the expected value out of the change investment you’ve made.


About the Authors: While Laura and Dawn collaborated on this article, they discovered their mutual love for Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (mmmm).

Laura Osifchin, MBA, former managing partner of Lean Out Communications, is an expert in using strategic marketing communications and commercial engagement to drive successful change initiatives, build brands and grow businesses.

For Fun: Must.Have.Reese's; Total book nerd; Head-Elf-From-Rudolf Impressionist.

Dawn Mahan, PMP is Founder & CEO of PMOtraining, LLC and believes that while 90% of a project manager's job is communications (per PMI), for projects that involve behavior and/or culture change, it's best to have a Communications & Human Behavior Change Management expert as a key part of the Project Leadership team.

For Fun: Chocolate+PeanutButter=Happiness; SCUBA Diver; Phillies Fan.

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