Before I start, I’d like to just say a little bit about the times we are living in:

This post is being written at a time when the Covid 19 pandemic lockdown is just started lifting in England. 

We have all had freedoms curtailed and had to quickly discover new ways to do many things. I am not going to write about any of that, others have done so very eloquently, and I can add nothing  except to say the following:

My heart goes out to everyone struggling (in whatever capacity) and to say: you are not alone. Most people are having a hard time in some way during these times, and your struggles aren’t insignificant, or lesser because others might seem in a worse position than you. That’s just not how it works. 

Just be kind to yourself, and to others. 

Pass the time as best you can, doing whatever feels right to you. 

It will end sooner or later, because that is how these things work.

So, all that said, there is also a huge opportunity buried in amongst all this discomfort and difficulty. It is the sheer size and scale of the global problem we are facing  that gives us some remarkable opportunities for other, smaller change.

Changing behaviour is difficult

Our human brains generally dislike change. When things change, our brain has to work harder to remember the new stuff we are trying to do. This is why the first days at a new job for example can be so exhausting. 

This is also why it can be so difficult for a company with a culture of lateness (for example) to get everyone to start arriving to meetings on time.  Deciding to do so is not enough. Even if it is the CEO proclaiming the new way of working from on high, it will still be a hell of a job to get it to stick.

Do we just need some self-discipline?

Surely, it should just be a case of deciding to do something new, and sticking with it, shouldn’t it? Perhaps with either some self-discipline or hierarchical discipline, and the job’s done, right? 

Sadly not. This is another thing that just doesn’t work like that. Logic tells us it should, but it doesn’t. This is partly a biological problem.

‘Logical thinking’ is a newer part of the human brain (evolutionarily speaking).  On the other hand, what drives us do the things we’ve always done is one of the oldest parts of our brain, the limbic area. This limbic area is old, stubborn and cantankerous. It does not like change because change requires “expensive” thinking. That is to say, always having to pay attention is hard work for our limbic brain!

“IS this something we have decided to do differently recently? Or can I relax and just do what I always did? ” – A. Brain

After a while, even the most on-board limbic brain will have thrown in the towel and metaphorically gone to the pub. 

Let’s be frank.  We can’t, as humans, persuade ourselves to save for our pensions, eat healthily, and take regular exercise to prolong our own lives.  Why would someone else deciding to change our behaviour for us so we show up to meetings on time even make a dent?

Well, it mostly doesn’t.  And that’s why it doesn’t work.

What has this got to do with the current Pandemic?

I’m trying to stay on topic here and not geek out on habits! One particularly useful tool we can deploy when we need to get a person or group of people to change their behaviour.  Not only to change behaviour, but to do so quickly, and to make it stick.  We need a “crisis”.
Usually I use examples such as moving house, moving offices, starting a new job or getting a new boss. This is not exactly the traditional definition of the word “crisis”, but your brain is treating it in a similar way I have never used the phrase ‘or a global pandemic’ before when training or speaking, but it definitely also fits!
At times of ‘crisis’ like those I mentioned, our brains becomes very malleable to change. We are expecting this new thing in our lives. It is likely unavoidable, either due to the choices we have made or made for us. Our limbic brains have resigned themselves to the fact they are going to have to put some work in.
Now, here we get quite Machiavellian with our own brains. Just pop a couple of other changes in there too, whilst it’s kinda not looking. Sneaky, right? 
It turns out your Limbic brain doesn’t much care about what is changing, only that it is. And because it’s making big changes anyway, we can effectively just add a few extra things to the list.  Your brain has the floorboards up and is focussing so hard on not falling into the hole, that it barely notices what you are doing.
And you can add quite a lot of new changes in under these circumstances. Many more than you could under normal circumstances.
Best of all, these behaviour changes will be more readily adopted than usual.

So how can you practically use this?

We are currently, at a point when many people are coming back to work after weeks of working from home, or furlough. If you act now to set up changes to the way people work, it will stick quickly, with far less resistance than ever before.

So, back to the point of this post. We have had our big crisis (and they don’t come much bigger than a global pandemic!), so everyone in your company is expecting things to change when they come back to work.

People are already expecting new social distancing rules, perhaps different working hours, structured and staggered breaks and many other things.  Their limbic brains are already primed for change.

Now is the time to tag on some cultural change too if you have things you know aren’t working as well as you’d like.

You already have to put in place social distancing measures and potentially PPE provisions and a host of other things to make it as safe as possible for people to return. Your staff are expecting these changes.

Here are a couple of tiny example ways that you could change the culture and behaviour of your staff in addition to the new Covid19 requirements:

Improved meeting efficiency

So what if you also said meetings can now only be for 45 mins or similar, and must start on the hour?  This might help your staff be more effective with the time they spend in that meeting.  You could also encourage meeting agendas to further help with that.

Meeting room hygiene

There will need to be a level of sanitation of the meeting space once a meeting ends to prep the room for the next people.    Perhaps enhance the Covid19 cleaning requirements to include the clearing down of the whiteboards and flip charts in the meeting room too.

These 2 are tiny, contrived examples, but you see how this could work. You are changing the culture of the company, but you were doing that anyway, and people were expecting it.  You are just tagging these extra things on the end…

Or not…

Or you could not take this opportunity.

You could choose to let everyone come back to work, get settled back in to ‘normal’ with only the essential Covid 19 changes to their world.   After all, you can always try to make the changes later.

This is the mistake lots of people make, and it’s an opportunity squandered.  Change is usually very hard, and it takes a relatively slow pace – just one or maybe 2 things at a time.

Changes also take a long time and a lot of effort to get them to embed and become effective. 

A global pandemic is obviously never a good thing, but it is still an opportunity to make lots of things a lot better.

If you choose to lead in that way.

If you want to know more about changing the habits and behaviours of your company, have a look at our training course: A Change Agent’s Playbook.  Alternatively, get in contact at to have a conversation about how else we can get you what you need.