There is a benefit to habit.
On a personal level, creating and following habits allows for focus and efficiency. You don’t waste time thinking about what should come next, you just do it. It works on a company level too. Having established procedures that everyone follows allows for cohesiveness that produces stability.
But that stability can become a cage when we cling to our habits so tightly that we aren’t open to new ways that might be better. As companies grow, they can too easily develop a particular syndrome that can stall progress. It’s called “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”
It is essential for growing companies to establish routines and procedures that can be shared as new people are brought into the company. Building a strong brand requires presenting a unified front that accurately reflects the company’s core vision. It includes everything from where the logo is placed on a page to how calls are answered. Having standard methods of doing things helps to keep everyone moving in the same direction. There are two ways, however, that this can create a chokehold.
The first is when the habits and procedures are developed ad hoc and haphazardly without intention. We start doing things a certain way because it’s easier or it seems to make sense at the moment. For whatever reason, we don’t rethink it. Maybe because it works well enough and there are other things more urgent grabbing our attention. Over time, these methods are passed along to others who keep doing it the same way without realizing that there is no particular reason. They don’t question it because they don’t know they can or should.
The second issue comes as companies outgrow a habit or procedure or when there is a change externally that would allow for a better option. Change is difficult. Transitions can be hard and unpleasant. We cling to what we know and find comfort in repeating the actions we’ve seen work in the past. Too often we do this long after the benefits of our actions have diminished.
There is a one-word solution to this seven-word syndrome. It is “Why?” Simply asking this question helps to weed out the useful actions from the less than helpful ones.
For a followup question, ask “Is there a better way?” Maybe the answer is no. There is no benefit in changing for the sake of changing.
Doing things the way you’ve always done may be the foundation of your business. the bakery that’s been making the same bread for 50 years or the company that has offered 24-7 support since it was founded. Customers certainly are attracted to and count on these unchanging features. But knowing why you are doing something and whether that it is the best option allows you to be more committed to the method and can help strengthen your team’s dedication to doing things in the best way possible.
This type of evaluation is especially important in times of rapid change such as the current responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. With shutdowns, reopenings, and pending shutdowns, our daily lives have been transformed in unpredictable ways. While we strive to reestablish routines and the connections we have always had, it’s not the same. Doing things the way we’ve always done them is less likely to fit what really should be done.
Be aware that answering this question of “Is there a better way?” honestly requires both boldness and humility. It can be difficult to question authority and tradition. It also means admitting that you aren’t doing things the best way possible and that someone else may know more.
If you want your business to thrive and grow, be open to considering whether there is a better way. Make this a part of your culture. Encourage your team to examine what they do from different perspectives. While it’s not helpful to constantly be changing and trying new things just to do things differently, it is vital to be open to innovation and new opportunities.