"We've Always Done it that Way" - Changing Culture
“We’ve Always Done it that Way”
This quote has stuck with me for an incredibly long time. Maybe because I have taken over many restaurants and this phrase had haunted me in those tough times of transition.
Quick google results for “most dangerous phrase in the English language”
My response to a question posed to Cy Wakeman
Change as a concept is something I truly believe many people hunger for improvement until they see their own comfort being challenged. You find yourself comfortable in the familiar process, maybe you like the drama that comes with the cynicism of the breakdown, and perhaps you’re burned out and have no desire to put the hard work in to contribute to the solution.
Either way, overcoming this challenge is insanely difficult without a clear direction. First and foremost if you are the leader or have a direct line with the leader the first thing you need is a vision. If you cannot begin with the end in mind it is difficult to navigate the path of the unexpected nature of people in the middle of a shift in culture.
Knowing who is on the bus and who isn’t is incredibly powerful. Failing fast. Often times your energy is drained by those who you are trying to drag through the mud to accomplish something. It is their choice to be on board or not. You cannot apply enough motivation to change the root of the problem, their flat-out lack of interest in being a part of the process. By failing fast I mean identifying that this individual is in this state, they cannot be motivated, and part ways. It sounds cruel but you cannot drain yourself of the energy it takes to run your business while also dragging people along who are constantly making you look backward and pick up their pieces.
The challenges come from the ability to rise above in difficult circumstances. Some people don’t want to dig in and live in that tension of “figuring it out” and expect a “system” to be in place to prevent every single problem. You run a business, mistakes are going to happen and you have to respond. Mistakes well handled is a principle that gives your employees the power to step up and rise to the occasion instead of staying in the victim cycle and feeding into the negativity and drama.
The amazing restaurateur Danny Meyer also refers to this as moving the salt shaker (from his life-changing book Setting the Table). The idea is that when everything is perfect the salt shaker is sitting in the middle of the table. The day to day hurdles; employee decisions, guest issues, power outage, etc… anything that knocks off the “perfect” operations, all of these move the salt shaker off center. As the leader, it is your job to navigate the situation and get the salt shaker back to center and a lot of times it is a coaching (Danny also wisely says coaching is correcting with dignity) moment with an employee that is resetting the salt shaker. The punch line here is that if the salt shaker is being moved purposefully and maliciously it is probably time to fail fast and evaluate if this individual needs to be coached up or coached out.
Change comes in some many different ways, small everyday processes and up to an entire culture shift. One thing stays consistent, those at the top have a responsibility to hold fast to their belief and continue to bring their team up to greatness.