In the process of trying change to renew or invigorate an organisation a lot of things get ignored. In the rush to move forward what gets left behind is the legacy.
Every organisation and the resulting brand has a legacy; the result of promises kept over time, the cumulative wealth of the actions and decisions behind those promises, the cultural foundation of the organisation.
And while not all aspects of a legacy are worthy of saving, to ignore or deny it wholesale is also a mistake. One place where legacy lives most strongly is with the people who have worked there for the longest. Yet often when change is on the agenda, these people are seen as a barrier that must be removed.
So, let’s take a minute to consider how much of a barrier those people are. Sure, there are a percentage who just don’t fit any longer—after all organisations are never static, change is already happening all the time, and like any relationship sometimes it just doesn’t last.
However, that same constant change is exactly why, for the majority of people, they have long gotten used to shifting with the times. Contrary to popular belief, I would characterise them as resilient not resistant.
A friend and colleague made this distinction for me over lunch last week. It was a great point. People who have been around for more than five minutes have worked through many changes. Back to the point that change is always happening—if they were truly resistant, they would have crumbled.
So why is this important?
In addition to their obvious staying power, if you ignore (or get rid of) the people who know the how and why of things, you take away a powerful tool for understanding what and where to change—and what to leave alone.
New people coming in will always want to change things. They will have ideas about how to do things, books they have read, that latest Harvard Business Review article, things they studied, and examples of the way things worked in their last company. And all that is fine and useful up to a point.
What’s not great is when those things (and people) are valued above the legacy.
Legacy gets a bad rap. Thanks to technology it has come to represent something that is clunky, slow, or outdated. And when it’s thought of that way, it’s easy to forget the upside.
A legacy creates connections across time. It gives us foundations of character that we can count on to help guide us into the future and when times are tough.
It helps inform our decisions.
Even the information in much-derided legacy databases gets used and built on. So think of the people who hold the legacy of the organisation in the same way.
Here’s an idea. Before you embark on any kind of deliberate change (as opposed to the changes that just happen all the time), grab a group of your longest serving people (you could even throw in a few long time customers for good measure).
Ask them what they value most about the organisation.
What will they fight to preserve?
Then look around—what gets honoured in the way people do the little things?
From there you can decide what to continue to honour and what to give up on. And that’s how you build on your legacy.
Michel is an Independent Brand Thinker and Adviser dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. You can find Michel at michelhogan.com or you can follow her on Twitter @michelhogan.
This article was originally published on SmartCompany.