Nothing can stifle innovation faster than a work culture that discourages looking for new ways to improve an organization. As leaders, it's your job to challenge that corrosive "we've always done it that way" mindset and create an environment that rewards new ideas and risk-taking. We need to coach our teams to avoid using phrases such as "this is what we have always done" or "that will never work."
We must help them understand why such talk can be detrimental to adopting and accelerating the change that's essential for growing and getting the organization to the next level. By coaching our people in such a way, and encouraging them to nix negative language, and, importantly, leading by example, you'll naturally nurture a culture that's open to and supportive of change.
There's no question that it's easy to slip into this mindset and get comfortable with it. In fact, it's rare for an organization not to have this issue rear its ugly head now and then. However, even more unique, are the leaders who learn to spot this organizational threat in its early stages and know how to prevent it from spreading and harming their entire organization. Why is this, you say? Because people, including some fire service leaders, tend to prefer keeping things the way they are for several key reasons:
Competence – when employees are comfortable at what they are doing and how they are doing it, they can't see the forest through the trees and why changing anything that is already working could have any added benefit to the organization.
Control – for some employees, change poses a real threat to the amount of control they feel at work. You see this most often when there's one employee who knows how to do something that's critical to the organization and they fear change because it no longer means they're irreplaceable or as secure in their job.
Disengaged – this is an employee who consistently says self-centric things like, "I'm not doing it because there's nothing in it for me" or "I'm not doing it because I could care less." This employee or employees need to be ignored or fired as they are toxic to your organization.
We need to take the phrase "that's the way we've always done it" and re-frame it to embody a standard of quality rather than an act. When we re-frame the statement, we can spend more time challenging outdated practices, more time learning the tools at our disposal, and less time carrying on with practices which worked in a by-gone era. I understand that change is difficult, jarring, and even frightening. On the other hand, change can be magnificent and even enjoyable.
If we look to the past for examples of doing the best they could with what they had, we also throw down the gauntlet to generations to come. We issue the challenge not to carry on as we did mindlessly, but to build on our accomplishments. Our circumstances change, and our procedures must change with them. Our ancestors understood that. Do we?
Jo-Ann Lorber is an Assistant Chief with Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue. She is currently the Chair of the EFO Section. She has been a member of the IAFC since 2005.