in Considerations, Innovation

We Always Did It That Way

If you ask me what is the worst statement I could hear from a client I would answer “We always did it that way” is the one.

This sentence is the biggest problem that prevents change in an organization.

I have been speaking a lot about this. In one of my latest presentation, eI spoke about why companies are organized the way they are, and I did some extensive research to support the talk.

I will make a long story short.

In the long past, companies did not exist as we know them today. Business was home based businesses where artisans were selling their products or services to their clients.
When the business grew, artisan would bring in their home new apprentices to help them and learn the job. Apprentices were living in their master house and were not supposed to have a salary. The housing and food, and the privilege to learn a job was their salary.

As the economy evolved the need for factories raised. People had to reach the place where they worked and for the first time the concept of salary was introduced.

A big shift had occurred. Business owners had to deal with the management of a number of people that had to be organized to perform their work in an “efficient” and “profitable” way.

No models were available to deal with such a situation.

The closest model available was the one of the army.

This is the basic reason companies were built to resemble the army and managed like an army. If you look at business communication, especially in the sales field, you will note that even today an army like language is often used. Sentences like “we need to conquer the market,” “we need to kill our competitors” and so on.

We have been using the same for for at least the last three centuries and not much has changed since today.

This is the “we have always done it that way” syndrome.

Only in recent times we have that paradigm broken, even if in isolated cases.

When I think about this I always remember a brilliant article written by Gary Hamel on Harvard Business Review: “First, lets fire all the managers.“. In this article, new organization models are described, and the most impressive case study is Morning Star Company.

Morning Start Company is the world largest tomato processor with more than 400 employees and $700 million a year in revenues.

This company is managed by a basic set of principles:

  • No one has a boss.
  • Employees negotiate responsibilities with their peers.
  • Everyone can spend the company’s money.
  • Each individual is responsible for acquiring the tools needed to do his or her work.
  • There are no titles and no promotions.
  • Compensation decisions are peer-based.

Does it work? Yes, it does, and very very well. Have a look at the article, and you will found out.

There are always different ways to do things. Some will be less effective than others; others will be more effective.

The key thing is that if you want to evolve you need to stop doing things as you always did them. This statement is true both from the company and personal perspective.

Think about it when you will ask yourself why you are doing something. Even starting to ask that question to yourself is a very good starting point for innovation.

Original photo by Nina MatthewsOriginal Photo