Fearing change doesn’t prevent it from happening, it just prevents you from enjoying it. – Jon Acuff.
Recently, I spoke to a management team in the region about leadership, innovation and taking their organization to the next level of growth. It took all of about 5 minutes to realize we had a serious problem on our hands that would prohibit any positive change from taking place. Within a short time, I heard the most taboo phrase of leadership repeated several times, the one thing great leaders never say: We’ve always done it that way.
Can you relate? How many times have you been working on a project or trying to update or enhance a process within your organization just to hear, “No, that won’t work. We have to keep it this way because it’s how we’ve always done it.”
If you’re honest with yourself, I’m sure you’ve been guilty of saying the same thing from time to time. I know I have, but it is something I had to train myself to eliminate from my speech over time. The problem with this phrase is that it immediately squashes the innovation process. It inherently kills whatever you are trying to do.
Think about the world of social media. Five years ago, many companies shut the door on social media thinking they didn’t need it, it was just a temporary trend that would die overnight and there were too many regulatory or public relations issues with it. Now that most people have adopted the big social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn into their organizations, they are resistant to understand new technologies like Snapchat or Periscope.
I don’t know exactly how or if our organization will adopt these new technologies either, but I can tell you that the moment our creative team was alerted to these sites we immediately had an impromptu brainstorming session about all of the ways we could leverage it to further our brands. Our muscle-memory response has to be to remain open to new ideas and innovations.
Another leader who has been challenging the way we think, specifically about our communication strategy, has been Coach P.J. Fleck and the Western Michigan University Bronco Football program. P.J. and his team are knocking it out of the park on the way they engage with their customers and supporters. Their use of creative communications with personalized messaging has our team wowed. They’ve even produced videos with viral staying power. That’s one organization that is pushing our expectations and standards as we look to the future; we can’t continue to do things the way we always have and still lead the pack.
It is true that Southwest Michigan First has been highly regarded by different organizations who’ve studied us for the things that we do, yet we’re constantly looking at making those things irrelevant or innovating beyond them. With regularity, we discuss as a team what things we should stop doing or change – even if those things have been praised by outside forces in the past. Change and opportunity make even the most successful initiatives of the past irrelevant, and leaders have got to be comfortable with that.
Look at the classic example of Blockbuster versus Netflix. Blockbuster thought mailing DVDs to people’s homes was ridiculous. They were certain that customers enjoyed the experience of driving to the store and walking up and down 20 different aisles to find the one movie their families could agree upon. Blockbuster liked the status quo and wasn’t interested in dedicating the resources or pursuing the logistics of managing inventory and navigating the postal system. Today, Blockbuster is completely out. Netflix is in – and not only because they innovated to snail mail DVD delivery 10 years ago, but because they continue to innovate and now lead in streaming technologies as well.
In my opinion there is not a more dangerous phrase in leadership than to say, “We’ve always done it that way; there’s no reason to change.” I implore all leaders to work on eliminating that sentence from their speech and eliminating that thought process from their minds.
Change is hard, but dying is worse. As a leader, you’ve got to build a team around you that embraces change if you’re going to stay viable in your mission.
Question: In examining your own tendencies, are you open to innovation or guilty of resisting change? What steps can you take to improve your taste for change?