We live in a time in which it seems that everyone is trying to “think outside the box.” The result is constant change, sometimes merely for change’s sake. First, know the box you are stepping out of.

The nature of the fast-paced global marketplace has created a business atmosphere heavily focused on constant innovation and beating your competition to the next great idea. But when it comes to proposing changes to internal operations, sometimes it’s best to show a little restraint.

If you’re like most managers, you want to do your best, contribute to your company’s success, and gain a reputation as a forward-thinking leader. When you stumble upon problems, the desire to innovate can be hard to resist. Your first instinct may be to think outside the box and change how things are being done.

Rather than immediately trying to think outside the box, perhaps you’d be better off hitting the pause button and trying to understand the “box.” This doesn’t mean accepting the status quo. It merely means being intentional about not pursuing change unnecessarily.

Gather corporate knowledge

So how do you determine if change is necessary? By investing time and energy into objectively assessing the current situation.

It’s unwise to suggest sweeping changes if you don’t really understand how and why your company has chosen to do things in a certain way and whether or not they have already considered making the changes you would like to propose.

Do some homework and learn all you can about your company and how it got where it is today. By knowing more about your company’s history, values, and culture, you are sure to have a better understanding of existing processes and practices.

It’s especially important to gain insight into your company’s current priorities. For example, if your division is moving towards a major new initiative, it’s probably not the time to suggest changing how your department is run. On the other hand, if the change you are considering might lighten the load of some key players, that change may be seen as supporting the new initiative.

Build bridges

Before you concern yourself with pushing for any changes, you need to build rapport. You exist within an organizational hierarchy, and you need to remain mindful of that. Your relationships matter.

Being an agent of change requires that you build bridges with your higher-ups, horizontal colleagues, and employees. It’s especially important to talk to those who have been around for a while and may have rich insight into the rationale of various operational strategies.

Don’t just ask about why things are the way they are—be sure to ask what else has been tried over the years. You may discover that a practice that seems rather redundant may be that way for very strategic reasons related to risk management. Or you may find that a practice that seems unnecessarily archaic is actually the most efficient way to get the job done.

On the other hand, in talking with people, you may learn that others share your frustration and concern over an operational weakness and that they, too, see the need for change.

By being intentional about valuing the collective wisdom and experience of your team, you build mutual respect and a sense of collaboration. By reaching out and including others, you are more likely to be viewed as a leader who has the best interest of the company in mind, instead of a maverick who’s only trying to make a name.

Move forward

Equipped with a solid knowledge base and improved relationships, you’ll be in a much better position to determine if change is necessary.

Your newfound insight will help you articulate the need for change in a compelling way that builds buy-in and momentum. It will also help you to successfully motivate others to willingly participate in the change process.

Most importantly, by doing all that initial legwork to really understand the need for change, you will be more able to formulate sensible proposals that are well-calibrated to the nuances of your company’s needs. By taking some time to think inside the box, you’ll build the mutual respect needed to propose meaningful, well-calibrated changes.