“Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”
Business magazines. YouTube videos. Seminars. They all present this response to the question “Why do you do things this way?” as the bleeding fish that a shark of a business leader must viciously attack and eviscerate.
I kind of agree and I kind of disagree.
“Because that’s the way we’ve always done it” implies that the person performing a task has no freakin’ clue why they are brainlessly doing what they are doing. And, if that’s the case, then the task is fair game for analysis and improvement by an incoming leader.
But, I’ve seen enough new leaders set their organizations back years by reacting to this question by making change for the sake of change. They simply assume that there could be no reason whatsoever why processes are the way they are instead of being the way the new leader thinks they should be.
While “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it” is pretty much the wrong answer to the question, I personally feel that “Why do you do things this way?” is the wrong question!
It’s lazy. It’s surface-level. It shows no creativity and no intelligence.
If a new leader really wants deep insights, here are better questions to ask:
- What results are we getting from this process?
- What are the characteristics – especially the non-obvious characteristics – of this process that you feel make it successful at getting results?
- What other processes were tried before the current process and what makes the current process better than those?
- There are certain aspects of this process that, if changed, could ruin the results the process is getting. What are those aspects that we should be careful not to change?
- What aspects of the process do you feel could be changed to achieve better results?
- Is there any reason that those aspects were not already changed?
Can you envision how much more helpful the answers will be to these questions compared to “Why do you do things this way?” When asking deeper questions, a new leader will a more thorough understanding of processes so that changes will be made intelligently and not haphazardly.
Re-engineering processes that were “always done this way” is an almost an irresistible knee-jerk reaction that amateurish leaders have. They change things that may not need to be changed and often cause a veritable landslide of problems.
Good, confident leaders make intelligent changes. And good, confident leaders also know what to leave alone.
Just like employees shouldn’t do things because they were always done that way, new leaders shouldn’t change things just because they can.