I just want to say, I love traditions. They make so many things wonderful. My son is named after his grandfather just like my father and I. Auburn screams War Eagle! as our battle cry during sporting events, or just when we want to greet a fellow alum.
The thing about traditions is that they need to exist for a reason. In the above examples, remembering those that made us who we are and providing a means of unifying a diverse group are two good reasons. All traditions have a reason when they are started, but do those reasons apply years after the fact? More importantly, do they even have a place in business?
Creation of a Tradition
College fraternities are a GREAT place to study traditions. Membership turns over every few years and there are lots of variables that change every year from football schedules to campus construction to the personalities in the fraternity.
Back in the day, I was a pledge to a fraternity. Our pledge class was behind on requirements so the brothers decided to “scare us straight”. We were instructed to arrive together at Graham McTeer Park. When we were arrived, we were all “dressed down” verbally to try and make us realize that we needed to focus if we wanted to become brothers.
Fast forward two years. Due to some conflict, the “McTeer Talk” had to be cancelled. Everyone was in a tizzy because it was a tradition and we were at risk for being the ones who dropped the ball.
That’s when an older brother stepped-up and told us that it originated with my pledge class. It wasn’t a long-standing “tradition” and if we felt that the current pledge class was progressing well, we could skip the “talk”. The total debate took almost an hour.
Two years. That is all it took for something to be revered as a tradition. If it hadn’t been for the scheduling conflict, no one would have ever known.
Now when I go to events in other organizations and I hear “I’d like to start a new tradition!” I just shake my head. It is okay to just start something new and not burden it with the label of tradition until it has earned the moniker.
Enter the Business World
I cannot count the number of times when I would walk into a client and we would ask them why a process was executed in a particular fashion and the answer would be blank stares. Many times the reason is unknown, though it is usually assumed to have been a good reason once.
Sometimes research would reveal a reason, at which point we’d decide if the reason still applied. More often, the reason was “tradition”. It was never expressed that way, but it was a tradition. It had always been done that way and if nothing stops it, it always will be done that way.
Look around your organization. Think of the things that you do on a daily basis. Is there a reason for everything beyond a policy or process definition? Is that reason still valid?
I’m not saying that everything done at work which has no explanation is wrong. Just that sometimes it makes sense to stand back, look at something, and ask yourself, Why?
It helps to do it before someone charging $200 an hour comes and asks that question for you.