June 15th, 2023

The Truth Behind The Phrase “We Have Always Done It That Way”

When is the last time you heard someone say, “We have always don’t it that way”? It is not an uncommon phrase in many veterinary practices. Sure, there are some innovations being trialled, such as subscription-model clinics, novel approach to training vet students, telemedicine, 4-day working week. Despite this, many of these innovations seem to be driven externally, not from within the vet practice.

 Why is testing new ways of doing things important? Simple. Companies that embrace a culture of change can maximise their potential. Nothing can suppress opportunities faster than a culture that isn’t open to trying new things to improve business. Having said that, the phrase “we have always done it that way” is possibly used with good intentions, synonymous with “if it ain’t broke, why fix it”. If something is working, and working well, with the tried-and-tested approach, that’s good. There may not be a need for change. However, the enemy is comfort, relying on past achievements, getting caught up in the motion and not questioning if there is a better way. 

 So why do some leaders and teams have this mindset? Because change is unfamiliar and uncomfortable and because people like to keep things the way they are. Three of the key reasons for this are: competence, control, and disengagement. 

 Competence, ‘the ability to do something successfully or efficiently’ is a hard behaviour to try to improve. Pushback to a suggested alternative, even if it is a more efficient way of managing a particular task, is highly likely. This is because our belief that we are competent at what we are doing and how we are doing it blinds us from opening to different and novel ways. There are in fact different stages of competence, which suggest how an individual moves from initially unaware of how little they know, through to recognition, and to acquired unconscious competence utilising a skill without it being consciously thought through. Being open and knowing how to trial new ways of doing things is a skill in itself. And if a suggested solution seems viable and is solid, it may bring with it benefits, improving a company’s productivity and profitability.

 Power and the feeling of having control can also be a massive barrier to change and improvements. An individual may enjoy their perceived power if they are the only person in the business who knows how to manage a specific task well, for example, they are good at managing staff rotas and using excel spreadsheets to do so. While this may not be the most efficient way of doing the task for the business, employees may resist testing out new applications to avoid things to change. Managing change can be tough and providing a sense of control to people when testing out something new can help ease the process.

 The third barrier to testing something new, and many argue the most dangerous one, isdisengagement. In a team there will be a variety of personalities. Many will be afraid of change. This can be approached and mitigated by coaching and empowering them. But when someone is disengaged altogether and does not care, that’s much harder to address. This is similar to the ‘hate’ and ‘indifference’ attitudes – hate is better than indifference, because you can engage with it and work with it.

There are a few different ways to initiate change in a “we have always done it this way” culture. Here are a few steps that you, as a member of a team, can take to present your thoughts and ideas to try improve and innovate your surroundings. 

 1.     Arrange a meeting – depending on the topic, this may be a group team discussion during your next team meeting, or it may be a 1:1 between an employee and an employer. Either way, put the topic on the agenda and give people a heads up.

2.     Come prepared – preparation is king. Know the technicalities of what you wish to discuss, benefits, possible barriers, think of the ‘why’ and the ‘how’. Also, try to put yourself into the other person’s shoes to prepare for their comeback.

3.     Expect resistance – As outlined above, people don’t like change for various reasons. Try to foresee where the hesitancy may come from and why.

4.     Follow up – don’t expect everyone to be on board after only an initial discussion. Give people change to reflect on the topic at hand. But even if your idea is rejected, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an alternative to be found. Be creative.

5.     Stay positive – to thrive in a stagnate work culture, you have to stay positive. Having an idea shot down can be disheartening. Try to perceive it as ‘work in progress’ instead.  

By Silvia Janska

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