This is how we do it…

Or, that’s the way we have always done it. How many of us work in a place where we see a process or a policy that doesn’t make sense? When we challenge or inquire about said protocol, how often is the response, “well that is the way we have always done it?” In my experience, this (sometimes infuriating) response is given 75% of the time. So, if we are committed to our workplaces and their vision, why do we let these things continue? In my experience, fear is a key reason why people don’t challenge the status quo. Data suggests that people don’t speak up when they think something is wrong out of self-preservation. They are worried about rocking the boat for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is due to what type of employee they are and concerns over whether they will be heard. They don’t have the position capital necessary to really make a difference or enact meaningful change. In some instances, there is genuine fear because they have had their ideas shot down before. It is imperative as leaders, peers, and bystanders to call this out. I maintain that engaging all levels of employees is crucial to an organizations success as it builds trust and strengthens collective vision.

Another reason people are hesitant to call out inefficiencies is because seeing change through to the finish line (or even a pause point to reevaluate) is hard, and it takes a long time. When I was new in my role, I inherited a hodge podge of administrative staff who managed complex functions related to millions of dollars of grant funding. I assessed the situation, focusing on the people doing the work first, and proposed a centralization of support to enhance standardization of processes, and continuity of service.

This was not the way it was done. I had a chair of a department who was very upset and challenged me every step of the way (publicly, in meetings and emails, all the time). What he didn’t realize is he helped me identify flaws to make the system better. However, the process of continuously explaining, defending and advocating for what was best for the institution was exhausting (not to mention demoralizing and soul crushing). This happened two years ago, and he continues to make passive aggressive comments.

Having the resilience to see the change through hasn’t been easy, but it has been worth it. The productivity and efficiency is better than any unit on campus. My team is happier, appropriately classified and compensated, and people can actually go on vacation without a disruption to service.

Organizations are typically change averse, because they are comprised of people who won’t always see (or want to see) your point of view. What is important to keep in mind is if we are really walking our talk as authentic leaders, then we need to be brave enough to challenge the way things are done so we can continue to innovate and improve. Think about how you are communicating the change, know your audience, and be sound in your motivations so you can listen and pivot based on good feedback. I read a great book on change management that provides guidance on making it more digestible. Check it out and let me know what you think.

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Danielle Eaton

Administrator champion who believes strongly in advocating for those who are doing the behind the scenes work to accomplish great things in their organizations.

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