How many times have you heard it – the notorious phrase, “We’ve always done things this way”? For both newcomers and veterans in nonprofit organizations or NGOs, encountering the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality is sadly a common challenge. This (often frustrating) mindset gets all up in the way of the progress we could be making as a team or organization.
You typically hear it pop-up when trying to introduce new ideas, process improvements, or things like new technologies and software. Sometimes the reason is fear, sometimes complacency, and sometimes it’s simply a lack of information about the benefits of the new approach.
Whatever the root cause, this mindset needs a course correction. Staying stuck in “the way we’ve always done it” stunts growth and also kills creativity. It hampers adaptability too, and definitely sours team morale. And as we know, that’s a path leading nowhere good for anyone.
Navigating Resistance to Change
Here’s how to break through what’s holding your team back and keep momentum and positivity.
Emphasize Common Goals:
We all know how easily the day-to-day grind can make us lose sight of the big picture. Help remind your colleaugues and team why we all got into this—our shared mission and vision. Rally your team around common goals and the bigger purpose behind the work you do. Explain the “why” behind proposed changes to help everyone see the potential for positive outcomes. Paint them a clear picture of a future enriched by a collaborative approach.
Be Patient and Empathetic:
Patience is golden, especially when navigating through the emotional turmoil that can accompany changes. Change can be scary for some people.
When people are anxious about change, what they’re looking for is a leader who gets it. So, put yourself in their shoes. Understand their fears, but don’t stop there—talk them through it. Be that voice of calm and reason that says, “I hear you, and we’re going to get through this together.” You’re not just making changes; you’re making things better, and your consistent reassurance will make the journey easier for everyone.
Acknowledge and Respect Tradition:
While we’re all eager to present that fresh new idea and innovate, there’s also value in keeping the good stuff that’s always worked. It’s okay to listen sometimes when people say, “But we’ve always done it this way.” There’s wisdom in experience! So, hear them out, but also show them how new ideas can actually make things better for everyone. It’s not about throwing out the old; it’s about making room for the new while keeping what’s still valuable.
Offer Training and Support:
Think of training as the trusty toolkit your team needs to embrace changes or new challenges. With the right skills and knowledge, their confidence will grow, making it easier to adopt new ideas or processes. So, plan out the training that’ll help your team not just cope, but excel, BEFORE things start to shift. With this, you’ll experience less resistance in the process.
A Few More Actionable Strategies
- Transition to Coaching: Be a coach, not a boss. Help your team understand not just the ‘how,’ but the ‘why’ behind every task. Transitioning from a managerial to a coaching role offers a new dynamic, helping team members to feel more comfortable with change. A coach doesn’t just dictate; they guide, inspire, and most importantly, make connections between the “new way” and organizational objectives.Instead of just giving orders, guide your team through the changes. Show them how adopting a new software tool, for instance, could save hours every week and align with the company’s new efficiency goals.
- Champions of Change: Ever heard of social proof? Identify a couple of team members who are usually quick to adapt, and make them the faces of the change. Let’s say you’re introducing a new client management system; these champions could showcase how it’s made their work easier and more effective. Have them lead the meetings even, or otherwise allow them to be the ambassadors. Their excitement will get other peers on board.
- Try Pilots: Before a full-scale launch of a new process or project, run a test version first. For example, If you’re contemplating a new project management tool to improve workflow efficiency, consider introducing it within a single team first. Measure its impact on project completion rates and team communication over a month. If you see a noticeable improvement, this real-world example will help you make the case for implementing the tool across the organization.
- Regular Updates: Use your weekly team meetings to celebrate small and big wins that came from embracing change. These positive stories help create a culture where change is not just okay but something to be celebrated.
- Idea Box/Zone: Create an easily accessible physical or digital space where your team can toss in their suggestions for improvement. This makes the whole idea of ‘changing things up’ less intimidating. The box acts as a safe, ongoing outlet for challenging old ways of doing things without rocking the boat too much. Periodically review these, and you might find gems like a suggestion for a new tool or workflow that saves time.
- Be the Example: Remember that your enthusiasm is contagious. If you’re excited about a new marketing strategy, share your results and insights with the team. Your attitude can change the whole team’s perspective.
- Get Everyone Involved: Repeat after me. “Buy-in, buy-in, buy-in”! Let your team have some input into upcoming changes, projects, or processes. If you’re considering a new meeting format for example, let them vote on a few options or contribute their own ideas first. Buy- in works wonders!
- Celebrate the Good: If your team somehow streamlined the creative design approval process, resulting in projects getting greenlit faster, make that achievement front and center in your next team meeting or even a senior leadership email. Acknowledging wins serve to solidify the idea that breaking away from the “we’ve always done it this way” mindset can yield significant improvements. You might also consider offering a small perk, such as a ‘casual dress day,’ or even just hand-written thank-you notes to those who were instrumental in implementing the change.
As we know, a little thanks, goes a long way.
Why Settle for Good When Great is Possible?
Change is essential for progress, and we’re all in it together. If we all focus on common goals with a touch of empathy, we can shift from a mindset of resistance to one of collective advancement. Involve everyone, respect the past, and courageously embrace new approaches. This isn’t just about making changes; it’s about creating a work culture where progress is the norm, not the exception.
Maybe one day, our rallying cry will shift to “How do we elevate from here?” instead of “But, we’ve always done it this way”. Or maybe even, “Why settle for good, when great is possible?!”.
Okay, maybe not. But, a girl can dream.