The Secret Powers of Routine

Blamed for having detrimental effects on all sorts of things from relationships to our jobs, routine is often perceived as the enemy of change. But is this really true? A Danish study reveals the extraordinary role that routine plays in organizational change. 


Employees who are reluctant to change their work methods in favour of more effective ones are abundant. It’s certainly hard to imagine them anything other than averse to a change in corporate structure. 

Three researchers who specialize in organizational design and strategy at the University of Southern Denmark felt the need to examine these theories.


Can we Adapt to Changes Made to our Routines?

Sangyoon Yi, Thorbjørn Knudsen and Markus Becker, the team of researchers relied on studies that, aside from the negative effects of our mundane work lives, actually showed benefits in terms of leaving more time for creativity. In fact, repetitive tasks actually create a certain level of automation in the people who execute them day in day out. Consequently, their brains are free to think about something else and if they’re lucky, they might have a stroke of genius. 

From there, the researchers wanted to examine the effects of making changes within a business that was considered to be more or less repetitive. In order to better understand the calculation model developed by the team, just imagine that the organization is a beehive. Each bee contributes to the hive’s organizational structure according to a well-defined role. It is in fact the repetitive tasks of each bee that ensure the proper functioning of the hive. If the hive’s internal system is altered, several bees are then forced to deviate from their usual tasks as a consequence of this change. And what happens to the hive after this upheaval?

The results of implementing change are enough to make any employer maintain the routine habits of his/her employees rather than take the chance of modifying them.


The Upshot of Resisting Change

Not surprisingly, the study showed that adapting to change is more challenging for a workforce that is used to routine because their instinct is to resist change. However, they weren’t expecting to discover that when change was planned, that resistance gave the company the time needed to improve the transformation that was underway. 

Change is like a speeding vehicle that is out of control but routine gets it back on track before it hits a ditch. Once the situation has stabilized, changes can be made more effectively and can be implemented throughout the company. 

Organizational change is most effective when it is implemented using a judicious amount of the inertia inherent in routine itself, which improves the trajectory of the process rather than once it’s already in place.

It’s certainly a good way to reduce a good number of the meetings needed to take stock of the changes that were made.

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