The great lyricist Tupac Shakur wrote a song “Changes”, some younger people forget that he was sampling the 1986 song “The way it is” by Bruce Hornsby. Both songs talk about the lack of progress on social, race, and economic issues. Both songs share the same refrain,
“That’s just the way it is
Some things will never change…”
Other than both being terrific songs, both share an insight into one of the biggest problem in our society: acceptance of the way things are because that is just the way they are. As a leader in my business, I believe it is my responsibility to change this mentality amongst my team. Successful business and successful people have an openness to change and ability to imagine the way things could be. So when someone on one of our teams says, “Well, that’s just the way we do things and that’s how we’ve always done things.”, I know I have my work cut out for me. In a fast growing company, where “never settling for good enough” is in the core values, we must always be looking for better, safer, more efficient and effective ways to work.
I firmly believe that the most important thing in any company is safety. So whenever a member of our team gets injured, I get involved personally to try to uncover how the injury happened and how we can prevent similar injuries from happening in the future. In our company, injuries are most common in the warehouse and installation teams. I have heard the same story a few times, “We were doing things the way we have in the past and something went wrong and someone got hurt” When I ask why we do it that way, the answer often comes back, “That is the way we have always done it.” When I ask how we can prevent this moving forward, the answer is typically “It was just a freak accident.”
This grates on my soul. Acceptance of a situation that lead to an injury hurts me deeply. “It was just a freak accident” is accepting that on occasion accidents are going to happen, and that we might as well just live with that. As a leader, who cares for his people, I cannot accept “That’s just the way it is” and I will not accept that my team can accept that. So I stop and ask my team to imagine what the conditions would need to exist so that whatever injury just happened never happens again. 95% of the time when you ask for imagination and put all possibilities on the table, these front line employees are able to come up with 3-5 solutions that can prevent similar situations from occurring in the future. You can’t change the mentality without changing the way your people think and imagine the change that is always possible.
As a leader, it is sometime hard to accept that many people are coming from environments that shut down feedback and ideas. When they asked their leaders why thing were, they were dismissed with “Because that’s just the way it is” It is our responsibility to help them shift from this learned lack of imagination and forward thinking to accepting that all possibilities are open, and the only limit is their own imagination. Continuous improvement-Kaizen has been in the US for decades, yet most business treat their teams and their companies the same way they did in the 1940’s.
Continuous improvement, openness to change at every level and the required mentality shift is a necessity if a company is to succeed in the modern business environment. With more and more industries being disrupted through technology and competition, the new business climate is: change or die. If you want to be the best buggy whip maker, you can continue to do what you’ve always done until the world changes and you are no longer relevant. Growing companies have to change by necessity. They need to change because processes that worked at $2 million in revenue, cease to work at $4 million and then fail again at $8 million. The same is true with a companies leadership team. Leaders that can lead a 2 person department, may not have the skills or ability to lead and scale a 10 or 20 person department. This means that business leaders have difficult decisions to make. The leaders who have worked hard to get the business to $2 million are not necessarily the same leaders that will help get the business to $10 million. If the business is lucky these people can shift to another role, but sometimes that other role does not exist.
This may sound harsh, but the business leader’s job is to continuously improve the business and many times that involves changes in staffing too. The good news is that if a business fosters an environment of continuous improvement and candid feedback, most team members know when the role has outgrown their skill set. If they end up moving on, they have often picked up valuable skills and a mindset that will make them successful in their next opportunity. The openness to the possibility of change and looking at how anything could be done better is an asset in business and life.