The toughest part of improving how organisations do things isn’t identifying the problem. Or finding a new way of doing things that addresses the problem. Or even getting people to do things the new way. The toughest part is stopping people from doing things the old way.
I work quite frequently with my clients to find new ways of doing things. This might be because the existing way of doing things is overly resource intensive. Or because it no longer meets the organisation’s evolving needs. Or because, quite frankly, it just doesn’t work.
Exploring the issue and finding a new, more efficient and more effective way of doing things is fun. We can get people involved and work with them to explore options, to consider how different options might work in practice and to agree what the ‘new way’ will look like.
We can then get into the nitty-gritty of designing the new approach in detail, developing anything that needs to be developed, and embedding it in the way that the relevant people and teams do things. Excellent. Job done. Or is it?
Because I’d argue that we’re done not when the new approach is up and running, but when the old approach has been consigned to the bin. And while getting an organisation to start doing something new can be challenging, getting an organisation to stop doing something that it’s already doing can be nigh-on impossible.
As I see it, the ‘old way’ acts as a sort of comfort blanket. Even if we recognise that it’s not working very well, it’s something that we understand and are familiar with. It offers certainty. It’s reassuring. ‘New’ ways are, well, new. They’re uncertain and unfamiliar. We don’t trust them. Not yet, anyway.
And so it’s all-too-common that we end up operating the new way and the old way in parallel. And that’s really not helping anyone.+
So how do we counter this challenge?
1. Make it clear from the start that the aim of the ‘new way’ is to replace the ‘old way’. Don’t take it for granted that everyone knows this.
2. Ensure that those involved have confidence in the new way of doing things. Being sufficiently confident in the new way to give it a try and being sufficiently confident in it to stop doing things the old way are two very different things.
3. Make it clear that if the new way doesn’t work, those implementing it won’t get blamed. As long as they’ve implemented it conscientiously, they’ve done their job.
4. Consider running the old way and the new way in parallel for a defined period, to make the transition more comfortable. And just in case the new way doesn’t work as well as you’d hoped.
5. Make ‘stopping doing things the old way’ a critical success factor for the implementation of the new way. Because you’ve only brought about change once things have, well, changed.
Stopping people, teams and organisations from doing things that they no longer need to do is the number one way to embed positive change. But it’s not easy. And it needs to be approached deliberately and with compassion. But the rewards are well worth the effort.
Simon Perks is the founder and director of Sockmonkey Consulting. He helps organisations with a social purpose to make better decisions, to improve their performance and to drive positive change. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter here.