The small habits that define who we really are

Ah, Friday morning, greeted on arrival at our office with the cheery smell of fresh bread, bacon and toasted haloumi cheese.

This is the morning we take turns to cook breakfast for everybody, a habit between the small businesses sharing the same building.

It’s the great British morale-booster: bacon sarnies and sausages, avocado and tomato, grilled haloumi, all wrapped up in hearty slices of fresh bread. Including all diets and tastes in breakfast and conversation.

It’s a firm ritual in our week. A chance to meet each other, chat, share challenges across our different disciplines. Inevitably this helps us solve problems as much as warm spirits, and often a joint opportunity has flourished by the next Friday.

Unsurprisingly when we asked colleagues about our own symbols of belonging, the popular reply was ‘Bacon sandwiches’.

Our habits and rituals shape our culture. They say who we really are as a group, a company, a nation. Greetings in the morning, celebrating success, marking a win – or commiserating a loss. Who’s included or not, what’s part of the operational routine, what’s social or camaraderie.

It’s easy to take the small habits for granted, you might not be conscious of them. But they shape your employees’ and customers’ experience every day, and can make a bigger difference to culture than the grand gestures.

We can all influence the daily rituals. Leaders can help the culture they want to see thrive.

If you’re the leader of a business that states in the annual report ‘Our people are our greatest asset…‘, take an honest view of what’s around you about how people are treated.

Is it a habit to say ‘thank you’, in the pitch-battle urgency of business?

It’s easy to dismiss courtesy in favour of speed, but that has a consequence for culture: habitual self-interest will erode collaboration and goodwill.

This isn’t just ‘being nice’, it’s good business sense: a culture that combines efficiency of both operation and motivation is likely to generate more capital.

Ordinary daily habits are the glue of culture. In business, as in family, it’s not only ‘quality time’ but ‘banal time’ that really makes a difference to relationships. It makes for the small connections that become so vital under pressure. You can’t take collaboration for granted in a crisis if you haven’t invested in building it.

Habits and rituals shape the sense of belonging. Companies can spend a fortune on employer branding, but for potential recruits there’s an easy snapshot of the reality of the business. If you’re choosing between two job offers (lucky you) observe the habits of respect between teams: which would you’d like to be part of?

Old habits, and language, can carry on even long after working practices have changed, or companies have merged. Sometimes this reinforces proud heritage, but sometimes it extends bad habits that can infect new culture.

A sense of belonging comes partly from those shared habits.

Sorry, gotta go, breakfast is served.