“We’ve Always Done It That Way” (But Maybe You Shouldn’t) [opinion]

Robin Siktberg

     Because we’ve always done it that way.” What do you think of that phrase? For me, there are few phrases in my professional life that I dislike hearing more. Why do I dislike it so much? Because it’s usually in answer to me or someone else questioning methods or materials in order to explore ways of doing things better. If the answer to “Why do we use XYZ supplier?” is, “Because we’ve always used them,” instead of “Because they have the best rates, or the best service, etc.,” it might be time to make a few calls. Make sure the reasons for which you first chose them are still true today.
     At Greenhouse Grower, it’s a question we always need to keep asking ourselves. Does our workflow still make sense as digital media continues to gain traction? Is there a good reason for always covering a given topic in a certain month? Maybe it makes more sense to cover it at another time or drop it altogether. What is the best vehicle for communicating our message? In the media world, it changes all the time, and we have to stay on top of that. What worked a few years ago may not have relevance now.
   I have worked with people who cling to the comfort of the known rather than risk the uncertainty of trying something new. It’s incredibly frustrating. They are the ones at meetings who constantly say, “No, that won’t work,” or shoot down new ideas as soon as they are proposed. And they are the ones who say the dreaded, “We’ve always done it this way.”
If you are a business owner, it’s not likely you are one of these Negative Nellies or you probably wouldn’t still be in business in today’s economic climate. But you most likely have some of these people on your team and know whereof I speak.
     My advice? Challenge them. Make them tell you why it’s still worth doing something the way it’s always been done. Ask them to back it up with facts. If the reasons still hold true, all is well. In my experience, often people with this tendency are given too much power in a team — usually because they are long-term employees and because they cling tenaciously to their positions. What then happens is employees with fresh ideas get frustrated and leave or give up. They’re tired of being shot down and realize their efforts are never going to come to fruition. Either way, your business loses.
In the six months I’ve been at Greenhouse Grower, I have met or talked to so many people who are not afraid to step out into the unknown in order to improve their business or even start a new one. They’re not listening to the Negative Nellies — either on their staff or the one that may live inside their own head. From Mike Gooder and Jeff Mast (July 2012), who added produce to their crop mixes — learning about food safety, new varieties and unfamiliar markets, to Ken and Leah James, who built their Operation of the Year-winning business in just 14 years by embracing change, searching out new ideas and not listening to some people who surely told them to play it safe. There are many, many more.
     If you feel like you’ve gotten stuck in the “We’ve always done it this way” rut, I challenge you to choose just one thing you’re doing and see if it still makes sense. If it doesn’t, change it. You won’t be sorry. Listen to your employees with fresh ears. They often have great ideas, even the new ones. Especially the new ones. And when you’ve developed a reputation for being progressive and proactive, that’s when you can say proudly, “We’ve always done it this way.”

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