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4 Things HR Leaders Need to Do When Forming New Habits

two business women walking and talking outside the office

Being an HR executive is all about navigating changes, both in your organization and in your own role. The most successful executives are often the ones who can adopt new behaviors and habits and then make them stick, even in a challenging environment. During my time as an HR executive and business leader, I learned that in our fast-paced world, we don’t carve out enough time to practice new habits that can amplify our success. I’ve learned some approaches (sometimes the hard way) that can help you tackle challenges and get on the way to making sustainable changes.

1. Be Better Than Perfect

Leaders are driven to pursue excellence, making us vulnerable to perfectionism. This all-or-nothing mentality can lead us to abandon a new behavior if we can’t execute it perfectly from the start. The antidote to perfectionism is not to give up. Giving up is a symptom of perfectionism. Instead, you need to be better than perfect.

Being better than perfect means focusing on the change you want and why you want it so that you can overcome early setbacks. You take steps toward that goal, celebrating each step in the right direction, and you stop judging yourself when you make a mistake.

Guilt is your enemy when you’re trying to make a change. If and when you slip back into your old ways, don’t let guilt take over. Recognize where the guilt is coming from, lean into it, and experience it. Then, realize that it’s not logical. Guilt is not getting you closer to your end goal—in fact, it’s only wasting your time.

Research shows that it can take up to 10 weeks to make a habit change stick, so it’s important to have patience with yourself as the process unfolds.

2. Focus on Your ‘Why’

Before you begin, take a step back. Ask yourself why you want to make this change? Is the pressure coming from yourself or someone else, such as a colleague or manager?

When your desire to change comes entirely from within you, turning that desire into action can be easier. Dig deeper into your motivation to find the root of it. Ask yourself “Why?” five times. If you can answer the “why” question at that point, then pursue this change.

The conversation goes something like this:

Motivation: I want to be more productive.

  • Why?  Because I don’t feel like I’m getting enough done during the day.
  • Why?  Because I see some of my colleagues succeeding, but I’m struggling to stay on track.
  • Why?  Because I get interrupted and often set unrealistic expectations for when I can finish.
  • Why?  Because I’m not planning out project timelines before I start them.
  • Why?  Because I don’t know how, and trying to nail stakeholders down in advance is overwhelming.

Once you’ve drilled down to the root of the problem, it’s much easier to see a path forward.

3. Get an Accountability Partner

You need someone to hold you accountable. This could be a colleague, close friend or mentor who’s successfully made similar changes. When we are accountable to someone else, we are more likely to stick with a new behavior.

Meet with your accountability partner regularly. Get coffee, have lunch or schedule a Zoom call to discuss the change and the progress you are making, as well as things that may be holding you back. Remember that this person is on your team, so be honest with them about your progress and open to listening to whatever they have to say. You don’t need to be defensive if they offer you advice. Your partner should want you to succeed as much as you do!

4. Reward Yourself and Celebrate Accomplishments

Celebrate even small steps forward. Every improvement is progress toward your goal, so be sure to reward yourself in little ways as you work toward cementing your new habits.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do when you’re trying to stick to something new is stop and take a deep breath. When you take a second to step back, you can reflect on your experiences and refocus on your goal.

Successful change begins with clarity of purpose and process. It ends via discipline and practice—a lot of practice!


Lucinda Smith is an executive coach and advisor, as well as a SHRM EN Executive Advisor. Previously, she was a senior vice president at AGCO Corporation for 15 years. 


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