You know the scene. You’re sitting in a meeting discussing process improvement, strategic planning, or the price of tea in China—and someone pipes in with this handy statement:
“We’ve always done it that way.”
Also known as:
“That’s the way we do it here at XYZ Company, and we’ve been successful doing it. So why fix what ain’t broke, people? Get used to it. End of discussion.”
Those words make my hair stand up.
Everywhere I go, millennials tell me they’re hearing this statement from their superiors in the workplace. And these superiors aren’t ashamed to admit it.
For example, I held a training session recently for a group of leaders in manufacturing. During the wrap-up, a mechanic spoke up and said, “I really enjoyed the presentation, Chad, but this topic of millennials? It doesn’t really affect me.”
I thought for a second and then asked him, “So you don’t work with any individuals that are younger than you?”
He replied, “You mean these whippersnappers?”
“Yes,” I smiled, “those whippersnappers. And do you have any issues connecting with them?”
He said yes, he often gets frustrated with the fact the younger employees are constantly challenging the process. He explained how one procedure his team performs takes five hours and has always has taken five hours. Now these younger workers come in saying they can do it faster.
“So,” I said, “have you asked them why they think it could take less than five hours?”
“No,” he replied. “Because it has always taken five hours, and it will continue to take five hours, period.”
In his mind, the millennial employees were either unteachable or looking for lazy shortcuts.
But perhaps they were actually offering a solution—to improve efficiency and productivity.
Have you faced a similar situation? Do you automatically dismiss new ideas simply because they’re different from “the way it’s always been done”? Perhaps not every suggestion is a good one, but how will you know if you never explore it?
I challenged this mechanic to go back to his team of younger workers and have an open conversation. Why do they think they could do it faster? What skills or technology would be required? What will it take to implement this new approach? Share your tribal knowledge of the machinery and the existing process, then be willing to hear new ideas. Process improvement is a win-win no matter what generation you land in.
Shortly after this incident, I followed up with the organization’s training manager and asked for an update on the five-hour process. She said they had already shaved half an hour off the job and were working toward more.
Well, now. Isn’t that interesting.
See, the really cool thing that I have learned sitting in the middle of the generational collide is that when you put a problem in the center of the table, create an environment in which everyone has a voice and is respected for their ideas, and invite multiple generations to address that problem together, the result is multiple solutions that benefit the organization as a whole.
So. Can we all agree? No more “We’ve always done it that way.” Creative problem solving across generations is the secret sauce that will keep companies in the game. Try replacing that old way of thinking with this new mantra: “Let’s discover new ways to get it done.”