During college I worked in a restaurant that had just hired a new general manager. He had trained at one of the large hospitality companies and wanted to work at the unit level until he went off on his own.
He was what you would call a very “new broom” and the one thing he made clear on his first day is that if he heard anyone use the phrase “we’ve always done it this way,” he/she would be well advised to start scouring the classified ads.
This restaurant had been stumbling of late, and if we were to fast forward to today’s reality television it might have been a candidate for chef Gordon Ramsey’s trademark wrath to help turn it around.
Within one month, the new GM had let go three servers and two bartenders he felt weren’t pulling their weight and had changed both the meat and seafood purveyors. Within six months the business had done a near 180 reversal and was even written up in the local paper.
One day between shifts I got up enough nerve to ask him the secret of the turnaround. To my surprise he asked me in the office, sat me down and proceeded to draw a clock on a piece of paper.
The clock hands were directly at midnight. He then drew a third hand and placed it at five minutes past 12. He explained “people think that you have to go from 12 midnight to 12 noon to affect change. Five minutes past 12 is change.”
I sort of got it. Change can be just as effective in increments. It was something I tried to carry with me the rest of my working career. In truth, sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. When it didn’t was usually due to my direct reports subscribed to the age-old bromide of “we’ve always done it that way.”
I mention this only because I was recently at a CPA firm in the Northeast that was, oh about 30 years behind the times. Its technology was virtually non-existent and the closest the firm came to paperless was when the cleaning crew emptied the wastebaskets.
So, I asked the managing partner why they hadn’t begun the conversion to paperless he simply shrugged and said, “we’ve always done it this way.”
I thought about my long-ago manager and what he would have said but thought better of it. I even slipped on a piece of paper on the way out.
I guess that’s the way they’ve always done it.