Well, “that’s the way we’ve always done it”…
I value tradition when employing consideration of standards or when consistency is desired. However, when things are done a particular way because “that is how it is always done”, I feel we short- change ourselves.
Think about it, if we always did things “the way it’s always been done,” we would rarely see progress. Career options for women would be limited, things we consider a “no brainer” such as equipping work sites with a lactation room, or extending parental leave to both parents, would have never happened. Would it have been possible for Barack Obama, an African- American, to have been elected as President or Kamala Harris, a woman, be selected as a running mate for Vice President?
Let’s take a look at a story that demonstrates this concept (you may be familiar with it):
A young girl is helping her mother with Thanksgiving Dinner. She watches her mom prepare the ham and right before she places it in a baking tray to cook in the oven, her mother takes out a knife and cuts off both ends of the ham. Observing this, the young girl asks, “Mom, why did you cut off the ends of the ham?" Her mother responds, “Why, it’s the way my mother always prepared her ham”.
Still curious, the young girl, calls her grandmother to verify what her mother told her. Her grandmother responds, “Yes, dear. I cut off both ends, because that is the way my mother prepared her ham.”
Well, the fact finder this young girl was she had an opportunity to speak with her great-grandmother when she visited for Christmas. She asked her great- grandmother, “GG, I asked mom why she cut off both ends of the ham when she prepared it, and she said it was because her mother always did it. Then I asked grandmother why she cut off both ends, and grandmother says it’s because you always did it. GG, why do you cut off both sides of the ham?”
Great-grandmother smiles and responds, “Yes, child. That is how I prepared my ham”. She then demonstrates with her hands how big the pan was indicating that it was pretty small. “However, that was because I owned a very small pan, and I wanted my ham to fit.”
Humans are creatures of habit, and we gravitate towards routines. The adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, is a way we can continue doing what works for us comfortably, even when it is not necessarily better, effective, or considerate of others. This type of thinking sets limits for a business, and for humans, it limits opportunities and achievements. When I receive such a response, it just says to me, “this person is not interested in verifying whether there is a legitimate issue or this person fears the possibility of change (more or less, a disruption to a routine).
Sometimes, we may even fear speaking up and challenging the response so as not to rock the boat. That fear is worse than “that’s the way it’s always been done”. If you ask me, I say, create the waves that will rock the boat. It is important we examine and evaluate conditions and determine if the established structures are working. This is not just applicable to the work environment. This is practical in our personal lives as well.
Remember, our story? The young girl did three things that we should keep in mind when responding to “that is the way it’s always done”.
The young girl:
- Spoke up
- Identified the issue
- Did her research
Your response to “the way we’ve always done it”, should be backed by research. I am not talking about master’s level thesis research. I speak of research that could be as simple as speaking with other employees or other family members (as was done in our story) to gain insight and solicit ideas.
The main take away from this message is we should not become comfortable with the way we have always done it. It does not hurt us if we are challenged to look at current practices and determine if there is something we could do better.
Vice President, Montgomery Women