The Notoriety of ‘If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It’
“That’s how we’ve always done it.”
A stance that’s notorious for being the most dangerous one in business.
A stance that’s been shared with distaste five times with as many of my clients in the past month.
The first client shared his aversion to this ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ viewpoint during a training session with 50 of his fellow leaders and team members present. He’s worked in a leadership role at the organization for just under a year after leading teams elsewhere for over 30 years.
He said he was hired to bring new life—and improved results— to the team he now leads. The problem is, each time he introduces a new idea, he’s promptly met with the dreaded notion, “But we’ve always done it this way. Why would we change that?”
The Frustration of Many
The other four clients who mentioned this very same ‘That’s how we’ve always done it’ challenge shared their own frustrations:
“I lead our marketing department. Innovation is our superpower, and I keep being told that what they’ve always done works. Where’s the innovation in that? I feel the creative spirit of my team slowing dying.”
“I swear, if I hear one more time that they’ve always done it this way, I’m going to scream!”
“When I hear ‘That’s how we’ve always done it’, I lose respect for the leaders here.”
“If keeping things the way they’ve always done them is the hill they want to die on, I don’t think I’ll stick around to be on that hill.”
The Mindset That Produces Unwanted Results
I look at it this way. ‘That’s how we’ve always done it’ is a mindset that crushes creativity, engagement, scalability, and continued success.
Is it accurate that some processes are so tried-and-true, it makes sense to keep them? Yes.
Does every process need change, innovation, and new life? No.
Can leaders add a new level of curiosity before automatically going to the place of ‘That’s how we’ve always done it’? Can they ignite a spark of ‘Let’s try something new’ in their team members? Yes, please!
Five Steps to Commit to a Different Way
How to do it? Here are five steps to get you started.
- Challenge the premise. While the statement, ‘That’s how we’ve always done it’ is easily understood, it’s important to dig deeper. Ask when the process was originally implemented. Determine if it’s been used for a year or five or ten or more. If it’s not a process that’s been used since Day One, be curious about when and why it became the go-to method.
- Learn through listening. In the first step, your job is to ask questions and be inquisitive. Now, it’s time to listen. Tune into the reasoning behind decisions made and processes used. Learn the ‘why’ behind those decisions. Understand that some parts of the process may still be valuable. Take in as much as you can by listening to those who have used the current process for a while.
- Applaud the past. Now you know why some people aren’t ready to change their current way of doing things. You’ve likely heard some important information about why they feel the process doesn’t need updates or overhauls. This is the time to celebrate the past decision to apply the current process. Parts of it worked at one time, and perhaps some parts still do. Rather than bulldoze what once worked well, show gratitude for the successes experienced as a result of the process used.
- Share your vision. As the celebration of past decisions brings a dopamine hit for you and your team, keep the momentum going by painting a picture of the future. Outline the new process, and showcase benefits that will come because of it. Articulate how it will help your team, your clients, and/or your organization save time, money, and stress. Be as specific as possible, and paint the vision in such a way that your team members are eager—or at the very least, willing– to give the new strategy or process a go.
- Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate. All change requires checkpoints to establish what’s working, what’s not, and what must be done differently. Set up your checkpoints in advance of a new process being implemented. Know how frequently the evaluation process will occur, and determine who will be part of the process. To get optimal buy-in and valuable feedback, consider including your team members in some or all of the follow-up checkpoints. This step allows your team to see that all change includes some cause for celebration and some cause for reevaluation.
Leave ‘That’s How We’ve Always Done It’ Behind
A good portion of the work I do involves helping clients clearly see habits that no longer serve them well. Once they see them, they get to decide if they’re ready to let go of those habits.
‘That’s how we’ve always done it’ is simply a mindset habit. It’s automatic for many people. It’s the path of least resistance with the reasoning being when you keep things the same, you get to stay comfortable in the familiar—even if that place of familiarity isn’t working as well as it once did.
The first step to changing this habit is to notice it. If you feel yourself falling into the ‘That’s how we’ve always done it’ trap, recognize when you go there. Explore why you do. And ready yourself for the positive change of leaving the ‘trap’ and habit behind.