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But That's the Way We've Always Done It

By Chris Arringdale

Change. This six letter word can strike fear in the hearts of many an employee. The thought of changing anything can be anxiety producing in some people. But businesses are dynamic. And for businesses to survive, they have to be flexible and they need to have the ability to react quickly. If an anti-change mentality exists within the company, the ability to remain flexible and react is reduced considerably.

Businesses and the people that inhabit them become creatures of habit and comfort. The thought of change in procedures and processes can be uncomfortable. But it is vitally important that a business remain open to change and adjust the way it goes about its business as changes in the markets it serves occur and as inefficiencies creep into the operating environment.

Because people are reluctant to change, it is important to establish a standard of change. In other words, employees should be well aware that nothing is sacred. If a process is causing problems, it will be changed to make it work better. If a particular approach to doing business isn't working as well as it used to, it will be changed. The "because we've always done it that way" excuse is not acceptable in explaining why something shouldn't be altered.

Since employees are often protective of established ways of doing things, it is sometimes difficult for them to admit that there might be a better way of accomplishing the task at hand. There is also the fear of job loss when an employee feels there will be a reduction in the amount of work required to accomplish a particular task.

To avoid an ant-change mentality, set expectations about change. Those expectations include eliminating the notion of sacred cows. Sacred cows in business can be, at best, limiting and, at worst, crippling. Sacred cows can be employees, processes, procedures, products or services, promotional approaches, office or store front location or a host of other things held near and dear to the heart of someone in the organization.

Look at current business practices with a critical eye. Ask yourself if those practices really are the best way to go about meeting your goals. If they aren't, initiate changing them. Employees will feel more comfortable about change when it is a part of the culture. When change is not feared because it is known that the business will keep up with market changes and with the times, employees will buy into the idea of change more readily and help facilitate the change process.

Don't allow employees to dictate the rate of change. Many employees will tend to slow that rate. Your job as a manager or owner is to encourage employees to identify things that need to change or to assist the employees in identifying what needs to be changed.

It's widely recognized that businesses that are adaptable and flexible stand a better chance of thriving. They can react quickly and prudently. In a culture where change is uncommon and feared, the ability to change rapidly is diminished significantly because the organization isn't accustomed to making changes as needed. In a slow-to-react culture, the business often finds itself on the outside looking in, so to speak, when it comes to taking advantage of new opportunities in the market or upticks and downturns in the economy.

Change is inherent in business. Unfortunately too many businesses are not good at recognizing when to change. And in many other cases, the people within the organization hold the business back by not wanting to change. Cast a critical eye on all facets of your business and constantly ask yourself if any of them should be changed. Ask your employees to do the same and encourage them to come forward with their ideas for change.

One word of caution is in order, however. Sometimes an owner or manager will want to change things simply for the sake of change. Adhere the old adage, "if it ain't broken, don't fix it". Certainly something that appears to be working well can often be enhanced by making some minor modifications. Evaluate whether radical change is necessary or just some simple enhancement is in order.

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