If my years of experience have taught me anything it is that the nemesis of improvement is complacency. It’s that acceptance that whatever could be potentially improved won’t be because “that’s the way it has always been” or “that’s just how that person is” or “traditionally this is how it’s done here.” My opinion is that this line of thought is just another way of saying, “Even if it could be better, I am too darn lazy to even give thought to how it might be improved” or “I am so scared of change if you keep talking about it I will hide under my desk and just pretend I didn’t hear or see anything, then maybe it’ll just pass by.”
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people use the phrase, “well that is just how that person is.” My response, “well, that doesn’t make it right, so what are you going to do about it?” Yet still I am left amazed at how often people respond to that with something like, “I’m just going to leave it for now, and deal with it if it gets worse.”
So here’s an example. A manager once came to me complaining that a particular administrative assistant was consistently rude to them and apparently would even yell at them about their high workload. Of course I asked if there was perhaps a personal conflict at play but the manager responded by letting me know that no, this person was like this with many people. It didn’t take long to confirm this was indeed the case.
What’s interesting however is when I asked anyone if they had brought this to the attention of the manager this person reports to, the response I heard most was, “no, that’s the way this person has always been, so I just left it.” No wonder there hasn’t been any improvement, every single one of these people were either too lazy or too scared to say anything about it, even to the person’s manager! Can you imagine the impact of this behavior?
So I brought this to the attention of the manager, a discussion took place with the employee, and the behaviour began to change.
Another example relates more to practices in the workplace. For instance let’s explore a workplace where it is common for staff to have the ability to work from home for bone-fide reasons, but over time staff started taking this for granted and started saying they are working from home only to be discovered elsewhere. Well, that is wrong enough as it is considering they are lying about going home to leave work but what happens if it comes to the attention of management and the first response is, “well that’s just the way it’s been for a while now.”
Some time ago when I experienced something similar to this I couldn’t believe my ears! Again, no wonder there were other issues in the workplace. In these circumstances management weren’t even paying attention to the potential liability issues that might be raised, never mind the productivity of the staff. Complacency had kicked in and productivity suffered. Customer satisfaction was suffering. The performance of the organization was suffering. The credibility of the organization and its management team were on the line. Why? Because a group of people accepted that it was just the way it had always been done.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not standing on a stool and declaring that you should never take into account the historical reasons for something to exist. To do so would be unwise, and frankly it would be a dis-service to gaining a true understanding of the challenge, which is needed before planning any sort of change. Remember Stephen Covey? – “Seek first to understand, before being understood.”
What I am suggesting however is this, if you catch yourself or anyone else ever telling you that something is the way it is because that’s the way it always has been, stop and think about it.
- Think about if there is actually a reason for this, and does that reason still make sense today?
- Stop and think about what else may have changed in the time since whatever it was started, and what effects may have implications to this.
- Stop and think about what future direction this should go in and how to get there.
- Stop and really think hard about why it just might be important to put a stop to complacency and consider a plan that will help improve things for the organization, for society or for the environment.
My guess is, more often than not, you’ll find that something could be done better.
A final note and this is specifically to the HR Professionals out there. If we want to achieve better recognition for our profession, why are so many of us settling for the status quo? What can we do as professionals to increase our capacity in strategically aligning our work with the goals of the organization? What can we do as professionals to illustrate that success as well?
Please leave your comments, thoughts and suggestions. I look forward to reading them.