6 Strategies for Battling “How we’ve always done it”

Change can be harder when you are up against a strong, shared history of how work is done. How you work today – the same as yesterday – is engrained and predictable. Like a familiar blanket or story it may not be the best option, but it’s comfortable and understood.

And, ‘the way we’ve always done it’ is even stronger when your team has been in place a long time and they know the workarounds, the problems and how to make even an inefficient and outdated process or service function. Research says the closer a manager is to the front line work v. the top executive team the more likely they face this resistance to change.

When you consistently face “this is how we’ve always done it” – talking more, talking louder or saying ‘we need to change!’ will be insufficient.

Try these strategies for helping others let go of the past and move forward:

  1. Define the future without reliance on today. When you begin a discussion with “what should we change?” you are unintentionally bound by today instead of what could be. Instead, ask others to describe the future without regard for how it’s always been done. Explore how to solve this problem or need if starting from scratch with no limitations.
  2. Return to “the why”. Return again and again to why a change matters to your customers, your team, or your organization. Share the impact of not changing. People are only willing to let go of the past if they internalize why a change is needed and the difference a change can make.
  3. Experience a new way of working early. Most of us absorb a new and different way by experiencing it v. hearing about it. I can describe virtual reality to you but until you put on a headset and experience it firsthand you probably won’t get it. Visit another company, watch a video of how another industry is providing a service differently or start a small experiment so others can experience a different way.
  4. Create short-term incentives to change. Change takes time and some immediate recognition of progress will fuel the desire to carry on. And, incentives aren’t all financial. One client created team competitions to recognize the teams that adopted a new technology quickly.
  5. Educate through the fear of changing. One of our clients introduced new iPads for all customer interaction in a workforce where many tenured associates were uncomfortable with technology. This created a fear of change even among top performers. To address this fear, the leaders created champions throughout the business who helped others learn the new technology while doing their work. This was non-threatening as it was easier to ask a colleague a question and learn independently rather than in a formal classroom with more visibility and less interaction.
  6. Face it when there is no willingness to change. A leader recently agonized that after months of trying to convince, support and offer training – he still had two team members not willing to change. If you have clearly shared expectations, offered support and you still can’t get there – it may be time to move forward and find a replacement. Letting resistance settle in and get comfortable after a long enough time has an enormous impact on the entire team and on moving forward. It also communicates that changing is optional.

Any change will face the resistance of the status quo.

As Grace Hopper, a pioneer in computer programming said, “the most dangerous phrase in the language is ‘We’ve always done it this way.”  Be ready.

Patti Johnson is the CEO of PeopleResults. She can be reached on Twitter @pattibjohnson