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"If it Ain't Broke..."

Updated: May 19, 2020

Change is hard. Period. Even if you’re in a transition that you requested, chances are that you’re having to learn new habits or challenge old mindsets, neither of which is an easy task. The work that our team does is almost squarely in the change business. We help teams and organizations find new, better ways of working together, so we’re constantly surrounded by people that are in the middle of some sort of transition and get to see the different ways that people handle change.

One of the more common questions we hear from team members during workshops is something to the effect of, “I don’t know why we have to do this. I felt like everything was already working just fine before.” When I was first starting out as a facilitator and coach, I would usually take such a comment as rude or argumentative. But these days, I actually appreciate when people will call out this mindset early on in the process. It helps people like myself level-set and understand where different team members stand on the transition upon which they’re about to embark.

As this is a perfectly rational and often-cited rationale, I think this concept bears discussing. You see, I think that naturally, most humans--and as a result, most businesses--are change-averse. Now, by that I don’t mean that we hate making any changes to the way that we do things; what I mean is that there is a large group of us in the workforce (which I’d put myself in, to a degree) that are wary of change for the sake of change.

While there are certainly some people who are able to consistently accept change/orders and trust their leaders without question, I think most of us feel like we need at least some evidence to show that each change we make is an actual improvement. After all, change is hard, no matter how big or small, and sizable change in the workplace usually entails quite a bit of learning, failing, and frustration before we ever actually see its effects. So, I can easily understand the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. Yet, while this approach certainly has merits, it does have two major flaws-

1. Just because something is working doesn't mean that it can't get better.

Think of the days leading up to the advent of the car. Any one of the various inventors credited with creating the automobile (yes, there are several) probably heard something like, “Why would we need to build that when a horse works just fine? Horses are relatively inexpensive, readily accessible (whereas most machine parts at that time were probably not), and we can even use that horse to breed more horses! No one will buy your machine because it just doesn’t make sense to do so.” If you were the inventor hearing this, you’d probably have to agree that these are all really valid reasons to suggest that the change you’re about to try making will likely fail, or at the very least, it’s not as useful as you may hope. Similar things could be said across most industries at one time or another — Package delivery services like UPS versus the post office, the touch-tone phone versus the rotary phone, even Lean methodology versus the traditional Waterfall approach.

Over time, the advantage for these evolutions has revealed itself; but at the outset, I’m sure there were probably several people thinking the same thing that the person sitting in your workshop was thinking- “I don’t know why we have to do this. I felt like everything was already working just fine before.” It’s rational, but it can be dangerous when it gets in the way of progress.

2. Just because something was working for you doesn't mean that it was working for others.

People don’t always bring us in to “fix their company.” In fact, if a workshop or keynote speech is your big plan for “fixing” things around the office, you will fail. People move to more human-focused systems and processes because they recognize the impact of helping your people show up more fully and contributing to their maximum potential. They do so because change is necessary for survival, and the more adaptable you can make yourself and your business, the better chance you’ll have at not only surviving, but thriving.

So, when you feel yourself questioning, “Why do we have to do all this?” try instead asking yourself a potentially more valuable question- is it safe enough to try? If so, give it a shot and see what you can learn from this new way of working. This will make accepting and acting with the change much easier for you, and who knows — you might even enjoy work a little more!

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