This post is the third is a five-part series covering the five corporate values of my company, Humana. As a reminder, the values are:
I’ve also written about the helpfulness of using these values in decision making.
Today’s subject: Rethink Routine – what does it mean to live out this value personally and professionally? What are some challenges in doing so?
Most of us are creatures of habit. When we find something that works for us, we tend to stay with it. We have our favorite places to eat and our favorite meals at those places. We purchase our preferred brands of clothing while stocking our kitchens, garages, closets and bookshelves with the familiar. We drive the same path to work. We go to the same places for fun over and over. We carry out the same routines in our schedule from when we get up to the order in which we get ready for work in the morning to where we relax in our favorite places before going to sleep on the same side of the bed facing the same direction every night.
For those of us who are largely task-oriented, driven by checking things off our to-do lists, it can be difficult letting go of well-worn paths for the uncertainty of new trails. An image from my years growing up on a farm comes to mind here – the image of a line of cattle following a beaten, narrow path of dirt to their destination when wide open acres of green pasture are all around them.
At work the story is no different. We follow processes and procedures whose origins and reasons for being we can’t begin to explain. We can’t explain them because we’ve probably never openly questioned or challenged them. Consequently, we allow ourselves to be boxed in and hindered by ineffective, inefficient, time-consuming, costly and ultimately unjustifiable processes and routines that keep the business from moving forward at the speed of life necessary to have a competitive advantage.
Whether at home, living in our communities, or at work, we are creatures of habit and breaking those routines is not easy. Of course, it isn’t necessary to change every routine in our lives just for the sake of change. Not all change turns out well. However, we must encourage the thinking and creativity that asks, “Is there a better way to do this?”
A few decades ago I worked in a bookstore and I recall seeing a book title that I thought was brilliant. It has stayed with me for 30+ years. The title was The Seven Last Words of the Church: We’ve Never Tried It That Way Before. If I was to write a book for businesses today, the title might just change the word “church” to “business.” How many times have you heard some variation of the statement “We’ve never done it that way before?” Have you said it or thought it yourself when presented with new ideas from others? You probably have. I know I have, although I try to catch the words before they roll off my tongue. New ideas are not necessarily bad any more than old ideas are necessarily good. Each has to be evaluated to determine its appropriateness for the present and future.
In my personal life, I’m sure I’ll hang on to some routines, especially those which flow from the core of who I am as a person and from the values nearest and dearest to me. But there are other routines that I ought to call into question because they just don’t bring real value any more. They should probably be replaced by new activities and ways of doing things that might bring a freshness, excitement, and enthusiasm along with the change of pace.
At work, it may be time to join with others and pick one routine, process, procedure, policy or tradition and take the time to talk about how we can change things for the better. We don’t have to try to change the whole corporate culture overnight; that won’t happen, anyway. But each of us can have influence over at least one thing at a time if we are willing to listen to others and speak ourselves of new ways of getting from where we are to where we want to be.
I love the fact that the enterprise social network I manage (called Buzz) sees many posts and suggestions every day about what we can do to improve. So many people at all levels of the org chart have fresh ideas they share daily that can help us improve our products, services, and processes, both for ourselves as employees and for the consumers we serve. Not all ideas get implemented, but some do. Simply having the courage to put the ideas out there, engage in discussion with others about them, and massage them into a form worth implementing is a valuable endeavor that we must continue to do as we rethink routine.
Obviously, not everyone gets excited about rethinking routine, especially when it’s someone else trying to change our routine rather than a self-initiated effort. I have witnessed several occasions where the candor about dissatisfaction with policies and processes is met with great resistance rather than helpful dialogue. I recall an email recently, for example, when someone partially responsible for a process that is frustratingly long and convoluted replied to the criticism on Buzz about that process in an email chain with an email that simply said “I hate Buzz.” Really? That’s your response to repeated frustration with your broken and unreasonable process – to criticize the channel of communication by which those frustrations are made known instead of addressing the concerns expressed? That isn’t rethinking routine. That’s guarding your perceived turf without regard for the good of the business. We can’t afford that kind of thinking and attitude. The thinking that got us here won’t get us there.
On the flip side, however, I love what I’m hearing lately from leadership at my company in this regard, from my manager to our new Chief Consumerism Officer whom I heard in person for the first time yesterday, to our President/CEO. The message is clear, consistent and encouraging: To get to a new place requires that we be open to doing new things as well as to doing old things in new ways.
Whether in my personal or professional life, I don’t want the aerial view to look like me being in a long line of cattle following a well-worn path to the same ol’ destination day in and day out. There is a lot of green pasture out there to explore.