The following meme is shared around LinkedIn and it goes something like this:
“The worst phrase in business is ‘We’ve always done it this way.’”
This has to come from somewhere. Not the meme, but the sentiment behind the meme.
The sentiment has to do with three areas that are critical to people becoming (and remaining) culturally competent in their organizations:
The presence of social proof: Whenever people get together, they begin to form tribes, cliques and in/out groupings. We can’t help it. Social proof allows some people to be “let in” to a culture, a way of doing things, or even a language–and encourages others to leave or get pushed out. Social proof is so strong, that when an individual violates it (either through ignorance or malfeasance), people in a group are more likely than not going to avoid confronting the behavior and wait for someone else to do something. This is why we have police officer and the Bystander Effect.
The need to be liked: Whenever people get together, there is an instant “shaking out” of the pecking order. Who is up, who is down and inside of those constructs, who is in and who is out. When people in the group don’t have an internal need to be liked by other members of the group, the group either ostracizes them or shames them into submitting to the group. This is why pre-school, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and Dr. Seuss matter between the ages of 4 and 6, and standardized curriculum, rigid conformity and social norming don’t.
The desire to obey authority: Whenever people get together, they automatically seek to assign power to one (or several) members of the group. In smaller groups, this may be based on skillsets, acquired knowledge, or even personal, physical power. In large groups, this desire to obey will be conveyed to people with titles, degrees, certificates and other pieces of paper that have been deemed to have social worth (there’s that proofing thing again). This is why a car mechanic has more authority carrying a clean overcoat and clipboard, than a car mechanic does with grease all over their hands and in their hair.
So what does all this have to with organizational culture?
Well, since culture in established organizations is driven by inertia and supported by social proof (“there’s evidence everywhere that the culture is working…we all still have jobs”), the need to be liked (“the culture can’t change because that would require someone to stand up and not be liked”) and the presence of an authority figure (“that guy over there in the suit and tie says ‘no’ so we’ve gotta follow him”), the idea that “we’ve always done ‘X’ this way…and we aren’t changing because that’s the culture” is a logical, rational, emotional statement.
But, it’s not an innovative one.
And it’s not a statement that’s going to disappear any time soon.
Better to distribute the meme around LinkedIn that goes something like this:
“The best phrase in business is ‘That person was a rebel, took a risk, changed things, and got fired for it.’”
Would that fit on a shirt?
-Peace Be With You All-
Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: firstname.lastname@example.org