The Truth Behind the Phrase “We Have Always Done It That Way”
Nothing can stifle innovation or opportunity any faster than a work culture that discourages looking for new ways to improve business. As a leader, it’s your job to challenge that corrosive “We’ve always done it that way” mindset and create an environment that rewards new ideas and risk-taking. Coach your team to avoid using phrases such as “This is what we’ve always done” or “That will never work.” Help them understand why such talk can be detrimental to adopting and accelerating the change that’s essential for growing and getting the business to the next level. By coaching your people in such a way, encouraging them to nix such negative language, and, importantly, leading by example, you’ll naturally nurture a culture that’s open to and supportive of change.
There’s no question that it’s easy to slip into this mindset and get comfortable with it. In fact, it's rare for an organization not to have this issue rear its ugly head every now and then. But even more rare are the leaders who learn to spot this business threat in its early stages and know how to prevent it from spreading and harming their entire organization. Why? Because people — including some leaders — tend to prefer keeping things the way they are for several key reasons:
When people are comfortable with how they do something, it’s hard for them to see a reason to change. Even if another team member comes along and suggests an alternative, such as a more efficient way to manage a particular task or improve a system, that team member will push back. Competent at what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, they can’t see the forest through the trees and why altering anything that’s already working could have any added benefit. But if the solution is a solid one, it most certainly can deliver not just a little benefit but also a big impact, perhaps in a company’s efficiencies, productivity or profitability.
For some people, change poses a real threat to the amount of control they feel at work. You see that happen sometimes when there’s one particular employee who knows how to do something that’s critical to running the business. That individual may fear change because it no longer means they’re irreplaceable or as secure in their job. For example, in a medium-sized company, you might have only one person who knows how to use an outdated computer application to get specific customer information. This individual enjoys his perceived power while most of his coworkers find it annoying and disadvantageous to company efficiency. For quite some time, the employee tried to resist the installation of the new application because he didn’t want things to change. However, in the end, he lost that battle when the company finally installed a new application that gave all managers easy access to the information. This change rocked his world. Forced to let go of this false sense of power, he was no longer in control of the information, who received it, and the false sense of security he had with his job.
This is the third reason behind resistance to change, and it is the most dangerous and trickiest. When your people are uncomfortable or afraid of change, you can coach and empower them to address those issues. But if someone is clearly not interested in change because they’re disengaged and don’t care, you’ll find your only solutions will be to ignore or fire that individual. How do you spot such an offender? This is the person who consistently says self-centric things like, “I’m not doing it because there’s nothing in it for me” or “I’m not doing it because I could care less.” Recognize such a pattern in language (as well as disengaged behaviors) to avoid misallocating or investing your time, energy and other resources in supporting these self-interested, toxic ways.
What are some other common phrases that can tip you off to an employee or team member who is struggling with change?