“That’s the way we’ve always done it” is a mindset harbored by ineffective leaders. Here are 4 ways it fails organizations and how to transform it.
The Most Expensive Words in the English Language
Every business and industry has flawed legacy systems. In the real estate industry, the compensation structure is just one of many problem areas that almost nobody is addressing. When I mentioned some of the flaws that I perceive to industry “leaders” in recent conversations I received this response:
That’s the way it’s always been.
Inner voice: Thanks for illuminating me. I wasn’t aware.
That was sarcasm, in case you couldn’t tell. Because… seriously? Yes, I know that’s how it’s always been. That doesn’t mean it’s not flawed.
Few responses irritate me more than “that’s the way we’ve always done it” and it’s variations.
Unfortunately, giving people leadership positions or titles doesn’t make them leaders. Leadership is a function of temperament, not title.
“That’s the way we’ve always done it” is the workplace equivalent of your parents saying “because I said so.” It’s a lazy response. This is not the response that a leader gives.
4 Failures of “That’s the way we have always done it” and how to transform the mindset.
Here are 4 ways that resting in “that’s the way it’s always been” fails an industry, organization, team, or even your family dynamic. In each section, I’ve shared a top on how you, as a leader, can transform that limited mindset.
Failure 1: Letting Fear Control
People who fight to maintain the status quo fear change, losing status, or losing the perception of expertise.
“That’s the way it’s always been” is their code for “shut up and stop challenging the established norms.”
But fighting to maintain the status quo, by shutting down questions and challenges or ignoring emerging trends, doesn’t actually maintain the status quo. It just keeps your head buried in the sand while the change happens around you.
Failure 2: Falling into Insular Thinking
To maintain and grow healthy organizations, industries and societies, we must constantly question and challenge our established systems and processes.
It’s easy to get sucked into the echo chamber where everyone agrees that the current status quo is the only way to operate. This type of entrenched thinking makes us oblivious to the changes happening around us and to the potential opportunities that exist.
Just because something has “always” been done a certain way doesn’t mean that it still works — or even that it ever worked. Leaders must constantly question their established systems and seek ways to improve.
Failure 3: Maintaining a Narrow Perspective
Just because you haven’t seen changes to a system in your market doesn’t mean that other people aren’t changing the model in other markets. For example, in the real estate industry, Bill Wendel, who runs The Real Estate Cafe in Boston, offers a variety of flat fee and hourly rate options to buyers and sellers. Other brokerages have opened with similar structures. They may not have taken off yet, but that doesn’t mean they won’t.
The New York City real estate industry is infamous for its position that our market is different from other markets across the country. That is certainly true in many respects. But the differences are not as significant as many people claim. History has proven that it’s only a matter of time before national trends take hold in New York.
This isn’t unique to the real estate industry, of course. Leaders in any industry look beyond their individual experience to see what their peers in other markets are doing, and how they can adapt those success stories to their market.
Failure 4: Limiting Your Vision and Imagination
The fact that something has “always” been done a certain way doesn’t mean that it will always be done that way. Past success is no guarantee for the future, especially when the only constant is change. Industries change. Cultures change. The nature of how we serve changes.
If the only reason you can give for why you are doing something is “that’s the way it’s always been done,” then you’re setting yourself up to be disrupted. Because somewhere, someone is looking for a better way.
Resting on “this is how we’ve always done it” shows limited understanding of past trends, limited vision of emerging trends, and limited imagination of what is possible.
Learn from other industries. The music industry was disrupted by digital music and lost an opportunity to create its own version of iTunes before Apple got involved. The airline industry disrupted itself by unbundling services and leveraging the opportunity to charge higher fees for certain elements of its services.
The question is not whether the model will change. The question is whether you will be disrupted or you will be the disruptor.
Change = A Success Mindset
It’s the reason people like Mary [J. Blige] are so successful: they’re just not afraid to change what they’re doing completely. — one of the Lawrence brothers from the group Disclosure
In a world where change is the only constant, to rest on the platform of “this is how we’ve always done it” is shortsighted and lazy. To be a leader is not merely to guide others through change, or even to embrace change.
Leaders pursue change.
Leaders disrupting their status quo.
Leaders seek a better way.
Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.
Will you drive the change, or will you be taken along for the ride?