In the operations world, as with the rest of life, bad habits form easily and surreptitiously. Whether good or bad, a habit is any action that we have performed often enough that it becomes nearly an involuntary response. We label it a "bad habit" if we consider this behavior to be undesirable.

In the operations world, common examples of such behaviors include:
   --Breaking established file receipt standards on a regular basis rather than addressing the underlying cause
   -- Under-reporting internal process errors to improve performance results
   -- Reducing machine throughput to better pace the workday

People and organizations spend countless hours and dollars each year attempting to break these bad habits, often with limited success. Why? Because there is no magic bullet.

Change, both personal and organizational, is hard work, and there are no shortcuts to achieving it. The steps an operation needs to take, however, can be very simply outlined. To effect a change in habits, one needs to bring the action back into the realm of consciousness and regain the ability to make choices.

A first step in breaking these negative behaviors is to try to understand why this action so compelling. Put another way, what's the payoff for doing this seemingly negative activity?

Since the behavior is already classified as "bad," there may be temptation to say there isn't a payoff. However, after a closer look, there is always a payoff. For example, let's say your print operation only delivers the insertion-ready print on carts halfway down the hall to the finishing area because of the distance and that finishing represents a different organization. What's in it for R print operations? They get to flex a little muscle in their internal power struggle, plus control when finishing receives their work.

Or you might have a bad habit of not reconciling the entire direct mail production run by reasoning that recipients who didn't receive those damaged packages weren't expecting the offer anyway. Here, the payoff is that you exhibit less control and quality, but finish the job faster and take a longer break.

What's the Trade-Off?
Next, take a look at the trade-off. What is the cost of your habit? This process is generally straightforward and much easier. Just reflect on why it is considered a bad habit in the first place. Delivering the printed files only halfway to their destination is a bad habit because it leaves everybody feeling tense and tears down the communication lines and teamwork that are essential for success. The print operation is trading a temporary sensation of power for the productivity and financial success of your organization.

Similarly, not accounting for all of the direct mail package offers is a bad habit to get into because you allow poor quality and complacency to take root in your operation. To obtain longer breaks, the operation is trading off having a high-quality, high-integrity production process. When you look at it that way, it doesn't seem like you are making very wise choices, does it? There has to be a better way.

Knowing which steps to take can be confusing or crystal clear. How clearly your organization sees the next step is directly proportionate to next step clarity. It's obvious that organizations that are confused about their future direction and strategy are also confused about what to do today. We see it all the time.

Time to Make a Choice!
After evaluating both sides of the proposition (your payoff and your trade-off), it's time to choose. By raising the level of consciousness in specific areas of focus, such as quality, process integrity and utilization, it's no longer an involuntary act. The awareness fosters an understanding that you know you are making a choice every time you perform this action. You are choosing what you value more: the payoff or the trade-off!

Going forward, each time your operation continues with whatever the bad habit is now, there is a choice to be made. The organization has to actively choose. Which do you value more? Do you value more the status quo of interdepartmental squabbling supported by the print delivery gamesmanship, or do you value organizational optimization and high productivity? Do you value longer breaks and less challenging shifts or providing best-in-class, high-integrity communication delivery services?

A Better Way
The whole reason that your organization formed these bad habits in the first place is because they filled a particular need. There was interdepartmental tension that needed relief or an erroneous belief that high quality wasn't compulsory. As your organization breaks the old patterns, it still necessitates a venue to fulfill all of these needs. You will not only be making an active choice to not do the old, "bad" action, but in addition, you will also be making a conscious choice to execute a better, alternative action in its place.

Rather than print operations squabbling with finishing, both groups might decide to jointly devise a more effective workflow that eliminates obstacles on both ends. Instead of dismissing the damaged direct mail packages, the operations may decide to add sequence control numbers visible in the address window and barcodes, tools that are used on more accountable transactional customer communications.

The new habit that you substitute isn't as important as whether you and the operation feel better about the choices made. After all, the reason it's considered a bad habit is because it leaves a bad feeling.

Your Time to Decide
By now, the realization that the only way for your organization to continue with its bad habits indefinitely is to sink back into denial of why they occur in the first place. Each time the operation reverts to old patterns, the thought will pass through your mind that organizationally we are trading X for Y each time that action is performed. Operationally, you will be forced to make a choice, about continuing those habits, either good or bad. What choices will you make? The one that makes you feel bad about yourself or the one that makes you feel good?

Kemal Carr is the President of Madison Advisors, an advisory firm that specializes in print and electronic communications. Kemal also acts as a principal analyst for Madison Advisors. He provides project-based advisory services designed to assist clients with business strategy and technology selection decisions. To contact Kemal, email For more information on Madison Advisors, visit