Why “the way we’ve always done things” is good for a change agent.

Throughout my career, the objection, “because this is the way we’ve always done things” has been frustrating. Probably because instituting positive change at the organizations I work for is always a personal goal of mine.

changeIn 2009, I was hired to be a change agent for the National Association of REALTORS®. Effecting change at an organization with a century of momentum behind is challenging. Early on, I found myself spinning my wheels quite a bit. The way they always did things was effective, and I found it very difficult to convince certain factions that my way would be better.

Then I realized that it was my fault. I didn’t own NAR’s values yet.

The National Association of REALTORS® is an organization that owns their values. They don’t just own their values, they own the foundation that supports their values. They own the land below the foundation. They own the freaking mineral rights. In reading Jeff Turner’s blog post, “What Are Your Go To War Values,” I realized that I had never worked for another organization that more deeply owned their values. There were values of the organization that I disagreed with, but those values were so thoroughly justified that I never felt uncomfortable working within the values they established.

As I learned more about the organization, I began to see why NAR always did things the way they always have. I learned to align the nature of the changes I wanted to institute with the values of the organization.

One would think that an organization so entrenched in what they’ve always done would be the hardest to change. Not true. It just takes patience.  A small change of course may not seem like much right away, but when you have the momentum of a century old company like NAR, the change becomes big over time. When a company lives its values, all can trust that a change, any change, is how it will be going forward. The change eventually becomes institutional.

Conversely, companies that are quick to change can be just as likely to move backwards as forwards. When the organization has never established “what they’ve always done”, their clients and staff have a hard time trusting that any change will last.

Being a change agent in a company that owns its values and is resistant to changes is actually a really good thing. Don’t let the frustration of “the way we’ve always done it” get to you. Before long, your peers will defend your hard work the same way.

Photo: Creative Commons license via Flickr user adam*b.

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