We’ve Always Done It That Way

Disapproving

People bad-mouth a new way of doing something because “we’ve always done it that way.”  I have heard people chastise others using that expression dozens of times.  I’ve even used it myself.  Forbes called it “the most dangerous phrase in business.”  But what’s missing in that reputation is that there is a great reason people do things the way they’ve always been done before.  We’re going to talk a little about when to change and when to fall back on “we’ve always done it that way.”

Why do we do things the way they’ve always been done?

A well-respected authority on influence, Robert Cialdini, identified six principles of influence or persuasion.  (Reciprocation, commitment and consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity).   “Commitment and consistency” is important because we first commit to a decision, and then intrinsically and fiercely are consistent with our mental choice on the matter.  Its a two-step process.  Cialdini says that this principle is ingrained in our makeup as humans because it helps us live life.  Biologically, we value commitment and consistency because when we are presented with new information, it gives us the ability to choose to think about it less or avoid thinking about it entirely. 

“Once we have made up our minds about an issue, stubborn consistency allows us a very appealing luxury: We really don’t have to think hard about the issue anymore.  We don’t have to sift through the blizzard of information we encounter every day to identify relevant facts; …. or expend the mental energy to weigh the pros and cons; we don’t have to make any further tough decisions.”  – Robert Cialdini

The data wave upon us

Cialdini’s principle is vitally important today. Within the past decade we as people are consuming more information than ever before.  Regardless of if you’re surfing the net or walking down the street, our professional and personal lives have become a sea of information.  We are increasingly hit with suggestions to try a new product or service, or consider a new process, idea, or activity.

According to Science Daily, researchers in 2013 found that “a full 90% of all the data in the world had been generated over the last two years.” The sheer volume of data being created and put in front of us today is staggering.  In that respect, for most of us most of the time, doing things the way they’ve always been done has not only become important, but critical, to simply functioning in today’s society.

Why is it such a challenge to change things?

There are several good reasons people respond with “we’ve always done it that way.”

  1. Time, Effort, and Money: The time, effort, and money you expend working on improving one process are time, effort, and money you no longer have to spend on another.  This is the basic principle of opportunity cost.  You also want the resources you spend to be worth the return you get.  Spending $1,000 on a product you can only sell once for $100 would be silly.

As an example, I think about this same trade off of time and effort when it comes to making pasta from scratch.  Pasta is absolutely delicious if it’s made from scratch.  But if I have only 20 minutes to make dinner, fresh pasta just isn’t going to happen.  I also have to see if I care enough about the difference in taste.  Do I appreciate fresh pasta more than store-bought enough to spend the time making it myself?

  1. Risk: When we decide to experiment with a method, process, or decision, we are deciding to risk the successful results of the way we’ve always done it in exchange for the pursuit of a new idea.  This can be low risk, like ordering Chinese food after my attempt at homemade pasta proves inedible.  It can also be high risk, like a company’s board of directors switching the management company that operates its business.  There are many ways we can reduce risk, and there are people whose entire job is risk mitigation.  But the risk is necessary if we want to get to the reward of greater performance, output, or experience.

COVID-19 and 2020: A time of forced change

Normally in a company, we get to choose what projects we want to work on and in what order.  Employees, consultants, and leaders evaluate and research problem areas or pinpoint top areas for growth.  We can estimate the resources necessary for a project in both manpower and cash flow and prioritize projects to match those resources.  We can test solutions in safe environments until we’re satisfied before releasing them to the public.

COVID-19 threw that capability out the window.  Right now, many businesses have been forced to invent new systems, processes, products, and services.  They have been forced to try new methods that they may have never otherwise considered.  Businesses may be adopting projects at a rate that is ill-advised because if they do not adapt, they will certainly die.  They may have had to reallocate resources and dedicate effort to projects they didn’t anticipate.  Instead of carefully choosing the highest priority projects for their long-term growth, they may be gambling with borrowed resources to take their best shot on a project that will sustain them through this crisis.  Some of these forced projects will be successful.  They will give customers new products and services that they will now love.  Some of these forced projects will provide just what the customer wanted.

When does change become too much?

The trouble with COVID is that many people and companies have been forced to change many processes and products all at the same time.  The supply chain has been shaken.   Small, medium, and large companies that have not been able to bridge that gap are filing for bankruptcy or closing their doors.  The numbers of unemployed workers and filings for evictions are dismal.  People and businesses alike are just trying to hang in there.  According to MetLife’s Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study, even before COVID-19, employees often felt stressed and burned out due to the pressures of a modern working environment. COVID-19 has only made that worse, as the post COVID-19 survey results clearly show.

Change demands resources, attention and effort, and “too big and too much” is indeed exhausting.  Trying new things or doing the same things in new ways is vital to the success of people and companies.  The phrase “because we’ve always done it that way” is okay when the processes and avenues have been considered and weighed.  It is dangerous for the company, though, when we are afraid of trying something new or losing control or when an employee is just plain disengaged.  Management is an important part of that puzzle as well. Having leadership that supports making mistakes as a natural part of growing, and supports employee welfare, and professional growth is important to the success of both the individual and the company.

What to Say Instead:

The next time you make a suggestion which is greeted with some variation of “we’ve always done it that way” stop and think again.

  • Research your case well.  Thoroughly assess both the current system and the system you’re proposing to adopt
  • Present the work involved and results clearly and thoroughly.  Make sure the person with whom you’re speaking can visualize those details about the project as well as you can.
  • Demonstrate a clear quantifiable return on investment.  Who will get the credit for the result?  If you’re talking with someone who is going to do the work, their perception may be different from that of someone who isn’t.  This is especially true if the worker is unlikely to get credit or management doesn’t value the project.
  • Address what resources are needed.  Detail exactly what resources you will need and the process you’ll follow to obtain them.  The person with whom you’re speaking might have no idea where to begin, who can do it, or how long it will take.
  • Different people want different levels of detail to make a decision.  Could this person be persuaded with more or less detail?
  • If you’ve checked off all of the above points, and are still getting objections, try to figure out why.  Are there other scheduled projects that provide greater benefits or are favored by higher management?

Next Time

Remember, it’s not just what you say, it’s also how you say it, who you say it to, and the timing of what you say.  If you present a really great new idea to your boss or colleague when they’re swamped with another project, no matter how good the idea, the answer will probably always be a no.  Wait until your listener has time to actually listen.  Until then, bide your time and work on your proposal, just “the way it’s always been done.”

REFERENCES:

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Adapting to Change

butterfly lifecycle

In the last couple of months, the world experienced events that demanded significant behavior change on the part of individuals and organizations alike.  Some have adapted well to the change demanded while others have experienced resistance and increased stress levels.  Adapting to change will determine which individuals and organizations emerge successfully from challenging times.

A major change is demanded when a discrepancy between expectations and reality occurs.  The subconscious prefers the known and will fight to preserve behaviors that support it while resisting those that support change.  To adapt successfully to change, an individual or organization must reach the tipping point where the psychological pain of remaining the same is greater than the anticipated psychological pain of adapting to a changed reality.

Once that tipping point is reached and adapting to change is desired, individuals need the mental, emotional and physical resources to adjust their expectations to match the new reality rather than attempting to merely accept or like it.  So, how do we adapt to change, and more importantly, how do we lead others who are in our charge, to adapt to change?

First of all, finding the humor in the situation can be instrumental in being able to shift perspectives to find a creative way to adapt to change.  Think of some of the creative masks people came up with during the Covid-19 pandemic.  While we never want to make light of someone else’s plight, finding an inclusive and respectful way to inject some humor can make ourselves and others feel better as we craft our adjustment process.

Secondly, understand stress and use it to adapt to change.  Negative stress is obviously detrimental to us, both psychologically and physically but eustress or good stress is akin to resilience and helps us tap into the mental strength we need to endure through a challenging situation so that we can adjust our expectations and adapt to the new reality we are facing.

A third tactic is to realize that no change must be faced alone.  When we accept responsibility for our actions and step out to adapt to a new change in our lives, we gain power by reaching out to others as mentors, coaches, and/or teachers.  When we do this, we also act as positive role models for others who may be facing similar situations.

When we consider the fact that change is inevitable, it may also occur to us to “be the change in the world we want to see,” rather than being the tag-alongs who have to react to the change someone else creates.  Granted there are changes over which we have no control and our only alternative is to shape the way we react to those changes but being a disruptor is a new kind of leadership that gets ahead of change to shape its course and thus proactively adapt to the change created. 

Lastly, expect change and it loses its power over you.  Individuals who consider changing circumstances to be challenges to overcome, adapt to change much more successfully than do those who contemplate change as the end of a “golden era” and lament its loss.  Successful adaptation to change requires us to identify the change needed, hone strategies for dealing with the required change, and then shift our behavior to accommodate it.

Change is constant and resisting it does not produce positive results.  Expecting and embracing change helps us to adapt successfully and enjoy the process.

Resources:

Hoogerhuis, M. & Anderson, J. (2019).  How to Adapt to Constant Change: Create It.  Gallup Workplace.  Retrieved from: https://www.gallup.com/workplace/268991/adapt-constant-change-create.aspx

Martin, R. & Kuiper, N.A.( 2016). – Three Decades Investigating Humor and Laughter: An Interview With Professor Rod Martin.  The European Journal of Psychology. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4991054/

McGonigal, K.  (2015). Embracing Stress is More Important Than Reducing Stress, Stanford Psychologist Says.  The Upside of Stress  https://news.stanford.edu/2015/05/07/stress-embrace-mcgonigal-050715/ 

Tasler, N. (2016).  How to Get Better at Dealing With Change. Harvard Business Review.  Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2016/09/how-to-get-better-at-dealing-with-change

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Remote Business Success: Connection vs. Conversation

There are many important factors in creating a successful remote business. Today I’m talking about the principle of connection vs. conversation.  We all know that some companies have been more successful at operating remotely than others.  But since COVID-19 came to the world stage, tens of thousands of employers have been forced to quickly make their businesses remote.  Now that the basic conversion has been made, connection vs conversation should be considered when crafting the tools and systems to make sure that our business is one that transitions to remote successfully.

Much of the structure that exists in today’s internet promotes connection at the expense of conversation.  Conversation in this context is a basic human need.  Being aware of the difference in connection and conversation and how it applies to using remote tools can mean the difference in the success of our remote work environment.  Let me explain.

What’s the difference between connection and conversation?

The difference in connection and conversation is about depth and quality.  In today’s society, we tend to “connect” with one another over social media and text messages without having a deeper or more meaningful exchange.  We may have 500 friends that we are connected to but go a year or more without having a conversation with any of them.  In the context of today’s article, the exchange of surface information is connecting, whereas deeper discussion is a conversation. 

Today our work processes have automated almost everything, and connecting instead of having true and meaningful conversations with the people around us has snuck into our lives and made itself at home.  It’s also been proven that little bits of surface connection do not add up to emotionally equate to that bigger deeper conversation and interpersonal exchange.

Why is conversation so important?

It turns out that we as humans need conversation for our mental health.  Studies report that the deeper conversation and social relationships improve longevity, strengthen the immune system, lower anxiety and depression, and improve self-esteem, empathy, trust, and cooperation.  Happier employees are also more productive employees.

While conversation is normally important to mental health, since the coronavirus pandemic arrived the entire world population got dealt an extra dose of stress.  Simultaneously as “safer at home” orders are mandated, many of the ways we used to connect are no longer options.  Our need to connect has risen while our options for doing so have disappeared.

Not only do we all need meaningful exchange as human beings, but communication also requires us to consider someone else’s point of view.  Conversation by nature is a method of exploring new ideas and outlooks which are fodder for creativity and innovation in all aspects of our lives.

How are we connecting?

Think for a minute of the stereotypical picture of a teenager glued to their smartphone who is communicating non-stop.  “Well connected” seems like the polite way of explaining this behavior but it turns out the people that we thought might be the most connected may be the most disconnected.

Using conversation is important not just for that stereotypical teenager.  It is important for anyone of any age whose interaction has shifted to email, text, and social media.  The hit on surface connection also isn’t restricted to texting or emailing, it includes one-way information flows: like the news or sit and get webcasts with little to no interaction.  Content of our communication is also important.  We need to exchange information not just about things we’ve read or seen, but share our own experiences, thoughts, and feelings.

The simulated or instant compassion and understanding we get by posting a Facebook rant or talking to a customer service representative is much easier to get. But it doesn’t give us the same inner satisfaction as a meaningful conversation with a friend, neighbor, family member, or other human who genuinely cares about us and shares their compassion and empathy.  We’ve become so starved for deep and meaningful exchange, and so used to immediate gratification that we’ve substituted these exchanges for one another.

How am I using connection incorrectly?

Some typical signs of shallow connection vs deeper conversation in the work world include:

  • Texting, emailing, or reading posts or emails during work meetings.  When we multitask in meetings, we are refusing to be told where we spend our attention and time.  This may be because we feel our other tasks are more important, or it may be because the meeting is inefficient or includes people that don’t need to be included.  A leader can respectfully ask for no technology while making sure that meetings are efficient, necessary, and include only necessary parties.
  • Using headphones (constantly).  I know more than one person that needs background sound to be more efficient.  But headphones send a message to stay away.  That’s okay, but those people that like music or background noise must be sure to have times when they give them a break; and make sure to welcome conversation, even with them on.
  • Sending an email or text for a sensitive topic.  When faced with a difficult discussion, some people avoid confrontation by sending an email or text.  Email, text, and social media have their place but they are not a substitute for actual conversation.

How can I use conversation right?

Making an effort to be personally present and emotionally invested requires valuing and prioritizing deep interaction with others.  It also often requires proactive effort: we must consciously choose to share about ourselves and create a safe space for others to share about themselves.

  • Assess your professional and personal lives: Just as we would audit our business finances, audit communication choices overall.  Is there anywhere you’ve let connection replace conversation?  Take time to think if a personal call, conversation, or (gasp) meaningful letter may be more impactful or meaningful than an email, text, or tweet.
  • Keep meetings focused: When you ask for other’s time, respect it and keep meeting content tight and relevant.  Go to meeting facilitation training to help you keep your meetings efficient and effective – it’s not the most popular training, but after you take it, you’ll wish everyone was trained.
  • Allow for small talk and personality: In general, allow for colleagues and staff on the clock to talk about their dogs, their kid’s ballet class, or their foray into learning to cook or brew beer.  Don’t let this time overrun meetings or involve overly personal sharing, but do encourage it to exist.  Purposely join video calls ten minutes early to be available for conversation, or stay ten minutes late.  Don’t forget to start your conversation with a “hello” and “how are you?”  Sometimes in the quest to get something done we forget basic manners.
  • Be present. Work while you’re at work.  Focus on family while you’re with family.  Be present with the person you’re talking with, not also texting with someone else on your phone.

Final Thoughts

Remember that connection vs conversation often boils down to cultural values as well and starts with leadership.  Now that the rush to move our workforce home has ebbed, consider how well you’re connecting with that workforce and allowing them to connect to each other.

While we’re at it, have some patience and give yourself a break.  A real conversation takes time and often the best bits of information come after some discussion, some willingness to hear the other person or relate to them.  Then and only then do we glean some new gem that allows us to figure out a puzzle. Even if that puzzle is how to get Fred to process our invoices faster.

These unusual times call for innovation and creativity – which take energy and a growth mindset.  Think about how you’re managing your employees, colleagues, and customers and ask yourself: how am I doing in establishing conversation over connection?

References:

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The Gratitude-Gap

Gratitude–a word that isn’t often heard in business, especially with our focus on adapting to the “new normal” of Covid-19.

Leadership blind spots arise from one of two places, according to bestselling authors Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton:

  1. A skill or set of skills that a leader hasn’t yet learned, or
  2. An assumption or myth that a leader mistakenly hangs on to.

In either case, a blind spot creates an area of vulnerability in a leader’s capacity to lead effectively.  Consider the gratitude-gap blind spot.  Since the groundbreaking work, done in the early 1990’s, by University of Pennsylvania’s Martin Seligman in the field of Positive Psychology, more and more professional and personal satisfaction has been tied to the experience of gratitude.

We now have an unprecedented five generations in our workforce and according to research by Gallup, the younger workers among us are adamantly requesting meaningful work that produces positive results and more frequent feedback from their leadership on their progress. 

Many of their managers know they should be expressing more appreciation to their workers on a regular basis but feel uncomfortable doing so.  They feel they might be viewed as insincere or that they should reserve these expressions for only those who “truly” deserve it.  Enter the gratitude-gap in many workplaces. 

Here is an excellent article on some of the research-driven benefits that eliminating the Gratitude Blind Spot creates for personal and professional experiences in both leaders and those who work with them. 

There are even some major health and financial implications that might be just what the doctor ordered, especially given our current experience of the corona virus and its potential impact.

https://www.inc.com/peter-economy/14-powerfully-beneficial-effects-of-gratitude.html

It might be tough to express thanks right now with so many threats at our doors but according to plentiful research, that’s just what we should be doing, both personally and professionally!

Gratitude has two main parts: the affirmation of goodness and the attribution of that goodness to something or someone outside of ourselves.  First, we recognize that, even in the midst of grave challenges, there are good things in our lives.   Maybe they are simple things like a beautiful sunset or more complex things like a meeting that produces surprisingly positive results. Second, we rightly attribute that those good things originate from somewhere outside ourselves.  We had no part in creating the beauty of that sunset and that meeting produced positive results because of the collaboration of a team of people, not solely from our own efforts.

According to researchers, getting in the habit of expressing appreciation to other people can have a HUGE positive impact on our own lives and on the lives of others.

Here are just some of the benefits an “attitude of gratitude” can have:

Feeling gratitude magnifies our experience of the positives in our lives, allowing us to celebrate the present and block the negative emotions that damage or destroy our happiness.  So, grateful people tend to be more generous, helpful and compassionate and feel more socially connected to the people they care about.  They also experience feelings of isolation and depression less often.

A lot of research points to physical benefits of grateful people.  They tend to have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure and experience of stress and they tend to be more mindful about making healthy choices. Gratitude enhances effortful goal-striving, stronger team cohesion and improved engagement. 

Research from the University of Pennsylvania finds that when leaders show gratitude to their employees, those employees are 50% more successful.  And finally, research from Northeastern University indicates that gratitude is associated with greater financial patience, a trait that may be in great demand in the months to come!

So, remedying a leader’s blind spot may be a simple as saying “thank you” early and often!

 References:

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797614529979

https://www.gallup.com/workplace/284081/meaningful-feedback-means-millennials.aspx

https://www.inc.com/chester-elton/how-to-get-disengaged-employees-to-re-engage.html

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/286686

https://positivepsychology.com/founding-fathers/

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/339430

https://www.hcamag.com/au/news/general/the-benefits-of-workplace-gratitude/147503

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