What is Unlearning and Why It Matters?

Effectively Getting Your Employees to Unlearn Bad Habits

In a world when the life-span of a skill exceeded the length of a career, unlearning habits or bad habits was not essential. Today, the life span of many skills is under two years. Unlearning is a must-have ability for every employee, or they risk unemployability.

Nobody is perfect! 

Nobody is perfect! We all have bad work habits, no matter how small. Maybe you overthink things, are unorganized or aren’t always on time.  These negative habits don’t inherently make you a bad person, but they can reflect badly on you as an individual.

Everyone starts a new job with the best of intentions. But, over time, bad habits develop, which can harm your job and ultimately your employer. These negative practices become the business standard if they are not detected and addressed.

How do you implement innovative job practices or teach good ways to unlearn these habits in your company, staff, as a manager?

Here are some of the most up-to-date suggestions for inspiring workers to unlearn bad behaviors. Also, to ensure that those new habits “stick” even after the exercise is over. 

Unlearning Emerges as an Essential Future-Ready Skill

In the dynamic world of work, the concept of unlearning emerges as a crucial skill that joins the elite team of grit, resilience, mindset, and mental flexibility, all pivotal for nurturing an Adaptability Quotient (AQ) among employees. This skill is essential for both personal growth and organizational development. Imagine the workplace as a garden, where habits are the seeds sown by every employee. Just as some seeds grow into flourishing plants, others may sprout as weeds, symbolizing bad habits that, if left unchecked, can overshadow and harm the overall garden’s health.

Unlearning is not merely about forgetting; it’s a deliberate process of learning new behaviors, guided by the development of neural pathways, that eventually overwhelm outdated or harmful practices. Think of it this way. Imagine yourself walking through an overgrown field the first time. The footpath is barely trampled after the first time. It’s awkward and hard work compared to the well worn path you normally travel. But follow this same path day after day and soon the new pathway becomes smoother and familiar. That’s how learning and unlearning works. We don’t really unlearn but just overwhelm the old with the new.

Unlearning is also about acknowledging that nobody is perfect. We all, at some juncture, cultivate habits that might not serve us well in our professional landscapes. Whether it’s procrastination, a disorganized workflow, or a tendency to arrive late, these habits can cast a shadow on one’s professional image.

How to Unlearn

The journey to unlearning begins with a recognition of these habits. It’s about observing and understanding that what was once considered standard behavior may no longer align with the evolving goals of the organization. This realization is crucial, especially when bad habits become so ingrained that they start to dictate the workplace culture.

But how do we navigate this path of unlearning and encourage our team to shed these less-than-ideal habits? Here are some innovative strategies to guide employees through the maze of unlearning, ensuring the new, positive behaviors stick:

Identify and Address Bad Habits: 

Start by distinguishing between habits that are merely idiosyncrasies and those that negatively impact teamwork and productivity. This distinction is key to addressing the real issues without dampening individual spirits.

Promote Awareness and Replacement:

Often, bad habits are not a conscious choice but a default mode of operation. As leaders, our role is to illuminate these patterns and collaborate with employees to find healthier alternatives that boost efficiency without compromising their needs.

Ease the Pressure:

Introducing new habits can be daunting. It’s also a shared responsibility between the employee and the employer. Company environment and culture have an equal or greater impact on a team’s ability to grow and innovate than individual abilities alone. Reduce the performance pressure. Guide and support your team through the stages of adopting new behaviors. This approach encourages reflection and conscious decision-making.

Lead by Example:

Utilize visual learning’s power. Designate champions of change within your team to model the new behaviors, providing a live blueprint for others to follow.

Reassess and Rearrange:

Sometimes, the physical and organizational structure of the workplace can stifle new habits. Be open to rearranging spaces and workflows to nurture these fledgling behaviors.

Identify and Remove Obstacles:

Keep an eye out for systemic barriers that might hinder the adoption of new habits. Adjusting workflows, redistributing tasks, or even the physical layout of the office can make a significant difference.

Leverage the Adaptability Quotient:

Regularly monitor the progress and sustainability of new habits. Use workshops, training sessions, and meetings not just to reinforce these behaviors but to celebrate them, fostering a culture of continuous improvement and adaptability.

Persistence Pays Off:

Remember, change is a marathon, not a sprint. Encourage persistence, as it typically takes over two months for new behaviors to crystallize into habits.

Culture Matters, too

    By fostering an environment that values unlearning as much as learning, we pave the way for transformational growth. This shift not only benefits individual employees by breaking the chains of counterproductive habits but also propels the entire organization towards a culture of excellence, growth, and adaptability. In the grand scheme, unlearning bad habits is not just about refining individual performance; it’s a stepping stone towards cultivating a resilient, innovative, and forward-thinking workplace.

    Every employer is concerned with employees’ performance and results. Although the approaches we suggest here will not work in every situation, they have proven to be successful for many people. They will assist you in transforming your beautifully flawed employees into exceptional top performers, benefiting both you and your business.

    Recent studies by both Deloitte and McKinsey revealed that nearly half of all CEOs do not believe their organization will be economically viable in 10 years if they follow their current trajectory. As few as 5 percent don’t believe they have the current talent capacity to make essential changes. 

    If you belong to the half of worried CEOs, talk to us today. We can’t change or slow down the pace of change, but we are the experts at measuring your team’s adaptability quotient – their potential and ability to adapt as quickly and competently as you need them to. Prefer email? Click here.

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    First things first: what does grit even mean? You’ve probably heard the advice “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” attributed to coach Kunte Rockne. That quote captures the essence of grit.  The character trait of grit often refers to passion, the consistency of interest, and perseverance, the ability to endure tough times.

    For instance, we’ve all experienced setbacks. They could range from struggling to learn a new skill, recovering from an injury, losing a job, or even bankruptcy.

    What Does Grit Look Like?

    People with high levels of Grit are confident in achieving long-term goals. They are often described as ‘determined’ and ‘hard workers’. No-pain-no-gain might be the grit motto. Gritty people tend to keep going until the work is done. They take pride in finishing what they start. Their mental focus and emotional stamina are very high. They don’t let short-term gains, negative feedback, or hectic schedules deter them. People with high grit are not discouraged easily; they see setbacks and obstacles as challenges that can be overcome with commitment and hard work. Grit, however, is not always a good thing. Gritty people are often so focused on their goals that they get blinded-sided by outside influences and have blind spots when it comes to alternative ideas. 

    People with low levels of grit give up quickly. Setbacks and obstacles easily discourage them. When change happens they can find it difficult to stay on course with long-term goals. They flee at the first sign of trouble and often blame others. They start a lot of projects but get discouraged easily. 

    How Grit Can Help Your Business

    Why is grit something you need to look for when hiring and developing employees? The future of work is full of opportunity but the journey will be anything but certain. Perseverance and passion will be needed in abundance. These are some scenarios where employees with grit become a beneficial trait for your company.

    They Understand That Good Things Take Time

    Millennials have often been criticized for their need for instant gratification. While it might be true for some of them, grit had to be part of this generation’s makeup. Now in their 30s and 40s, they have endured school shootings, 9/11 terrorism, and the Great Recession…and they are now growing and thriving. It’s only human to get frustrated when we don’t see the instant rewards from our work. Contributing to a project day in and day out, and not getting recognition or confronting bureaucratic idiocy, is disheartening. Many employees may be tempted to just quit.

    If your employee has grit, however, they know good things take time. Setbacks are not failures, but part of the journey.  When personal interests align with goals, it’s easier to persevere and feel that your efforts will be rewarded. People with grit stay and push through.