Because We’ve Always Done it That Way

Category: Processes

Many years ago I worked for a not-for-profit organization that had many inefficient processes. One of my responsibilities was to improve those processes and procedures so I spent a great deal of my time shadowing employees. As they performed their jobs, I kept asking: “Why do you do it that way?” and the answer I consistently received was: “Because we’ve always done it that way.”


Initially I accepted this answer. While it was not wildly informative, it did answer my question. However, after about the 37th repetition of this answer, I started getting frustrated. And everybody learned that if they answered my question with: “Because we’ve always done it that way,” the process was about to be changed.

 

You see, this company was in transition. It was rapidly moving from being a small company to a much larger and complex organization. Coincidentally, increased usage of the personal computer was happening at the same time. Between these two changes, doing things like they had always been done rarely made sense.

 

Therefore, while my fellow employees initially groaned about the myriad changes I was quickly introducing, in the long run they were grateful for the many ways I simplified their jobs. Over time, the line “We’ve always done it that way” became a standing joke in the company. And whenever a new person answered my question in that manner, they would look knowingly at each other, snicker, and walk away.

 

I challenge you to start asking people: “Why do you do ______ that way?” If they give you a reasonable explanation, all is well. If, however, they answer: “Because we’ve always done it that way” it may be time for a change.