Leadership

The seven most expensive words in business

Catherine DeVrye /

Catherine DeVrye

Catherine DeVrye. Source: Supplied.

The seven most expensive words in any organisation are ‘we have always done it that way’.

How often do you hear those words in your workplace? Wasn’t it only last week when a senior manager blocked a new employee’s suggestion with that exact phrase and added: ‘You just don’t understand how we do things around here.’

If this sounds familiar, it’s time to seriously examine the way you operate in today’s fast-paced environment.

‘Disruption’ may be the current buzzword — previously referred to by management gurus as ‘transformation’ or ‘paradigm shifts’. Yet, whatever you call it, change is still change! And, be wary of those who say they always embrace it. They’re likely the ones trying to convince you to alter your actions for their own advantage. Let’s be frank: the only person who always welcomes change is a wet baby.

Most people only modify behaviour if and when they perceive a personal benefit to do so.

Yet, change is vital for progress and past success is no guarantee of future success. Take a look at the computer giant that dominated the global market for generations. IBM enjoyed respect, rising share prices, and boasted one of the highest paid workforces in the world. When I joined in the 1980s, we were told only three computer companies would exist by the turn of the century. Never was it considered even a remote possibility that IBM might not be one of them.

It was admittedly arrogant but widely believed that PCs were only a fad and not a serious contender in the market of the future! Meanwhile, a little backyard startup, Apple, rose to become a new force. Over the years, both company’s fortunes have fluctuated with the influx of global competitors.

Adaptability applies to large and small business as technology, among other factors, continues to have an ever-increasing influence on the way business is conducted, both domestically and internationally. It’s vital to combine the ‘high tech’ with the ‘high touch’, and to never lose sight of the importance and uniqueness of individual human beings, both customers and staff, within your own realm.

It is still important to build your brand on past success but remain open to new ideas amidst increasing client expectations. It’s a recipe for disaster to continue to do things the same old way without at least occasionally assessing if that mode of operation is actually working or you simply think it is working.

It’s not just the banking sector in Australia under the microscope for practices once considered the norm.

No one wants to end up like Kodak — a century-old, iconic, global brand which declared bankruptcy a few years back because they could no longer compete in the digital age where fewer photographs are now printed. Ironically, Kodak actually invented the digital camera which later caused its demise. Get the picture?

To succeed, enlightened employers and employees will view processes and products through the equivalent of a wide-angle lens and look for better and more customer-centric ways to do things.

They will comprehend that complacency is a curse, but beware, because so is change for the sake of change! Trend chasing is often a futile and costly exercise in itself which loses sight of the strengths of your core product.

Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.

Often the more things change, the more they remain the same in terms of human response to economic variations and vagaries. Clients tell me of unbelievable change, unprecedented compliance requirements and record budget cuts. Colleagues and I admittedly lamented likewise decades ago. Certainly, the pace is faster in today’s’ high tech’ environment but challenges remain much the same in managing the ‘high touch’ of human response to disruption.

Whether in Sydney, Singapore or Seattle, it’s a new world where old obstacles still overshadow unique opportunities. Yet, I ponder the paradox that my great-grandfather rode a horse to work but was frightened of that ‘new-fangled’ technology called a train. My grandfather rode a train but was frightened of the horseless carriage we call a car. My father drove a car but was frightened of the innovation of a plane. I fly to conferences all over the world, but can’t ride a horse. (At least, not very well!) Yes, some things may go full circle, but it remains constant that you can’t be tethered to old paradigms or drive into the future if you only look into a rear-vision mirror.

No one is immune from fluctuations and much of today’s disruption will become tomorrow’s norm while other revolutionary products and services will already be forgotten by next year.

What course of action will you take? Fret or focus forward? Resist, accept or drive change? This is always a choice we have — whether in tough or turbulent times.

The good news is that difficult times offer a greater incentive to re-think our standard modus operandi. There’s no better time to eliminate waste and stimulate value — without sacrificing quality, of course.

Try to look at the benefits of change as a positive force to help everyone feel empowered and more confident to be victors — rather than victims — of inevitable change. And to avoid that deadly phrase ‘we have always done it that way’.

NOW READ: Four disruptive trends you can’t afford to ignore

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Catherine DeVrye

Catherine is the owner of CDV Management and the author of nine best-selling books translated into multiple languages. She was one of the Australian Financial Review's Top 100 Women of Influence in 2016, is an Australian Executive Woman of the Year award winner and was twice voted Keynote Speaker of the Year.

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