MAXIMS OF MANAGEMENT
Rules to Rule: A New Idea Isn’t Automatically A Good Idea
New Isn’t Always Better, and New To You Isn’t Always New To Everyone Else
As a kid, you wonder why you can’t inflate your bike tires with concrete or wash the dishes outside with a broom and a hose.
As an adult, you realize there are fully grown humans who haven’t realized that a new idea isn’t necessarily a good idea, or that an idea that’s new to them it’s necessarily new to everyone else.
These are important realizations in any workplace.
Being open to new ideas keeps businesses competitive and insulated against industry changes. But to improve on a system, you should first have a working knowledge of that system and some level of respect for time-tested policies and procedures that made it successful.
New Doesn’t Mean Good
Businesses — like sports teams, armies, even species — must adapt or fail. Change is not necessarily bad. But often times we have a tendency to confuse “different” with “useful.”
We’ve all had new managers come in with new ideas to fix old problems. A few of us have been those managers. While most have good intentions and some bring genuinely new approaches, too many just want to leave their mark and flex their new managerial muscle. Plenty of processes need a fresh look, just beware of trying to change things for the sake of change rather than for the sake of efficiency and improving the bottom line.
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. What’s less often considered is the second- and third-order effects of each individual action. Understanding the systems as they are necessary first step to making changes to improve them.
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We once had a manager who had the idea to put division’s top producers on a special task force to identify problems in the workflow process. It wasn’t an illogical proposition. Higher production staff are capable of higher production because they are faster at identifying and solving problems, so focusing their expertise on the issues that impede their production is smart. The problem was that when you take the highest producers out of production, production plummets.
The goal was to improve turnaround overall time. The effect was to tank overall output.
New To You Doesn’t Mean New To Everyone Else
As a rule, those seeking to improve a process should not only believe themselves to be experts on the functionality of the existing process, but prove themselves to be such. Know what you critique.
We once had anew employee who quickly climbed to a middle-management role and decided to come up with an in-house rating system for internal communications. He created a five-star system and anointed himself judge and jury in evaluating each product order that went through the system.
The goal was to limit errors and improve quality. The effect was near universal mockery and endless complaints requesting explanations of individual ratings decisions. This new manager was so bogged down in justifying his ratings with pissed off staff that he had no time to do his actual job and scrapped the project after a week.
He had good intentions but a flawed approach.
Problems aren’t solved without new ideas. But neither are they solved with zero input and hasty implementation of untested systems. Had he asked, he would have learned the problem had already discussed, brainstormed, and resolved as best it could at the time. Reprimands and a bonuses system were discussed, but the problem of minor errors in product communication was not deemed important enough to warrant punishments or perks. Instead, we resorted to one-on-one conversations about one-off issues and division-levels trainings when the issues were more frequent.
This emphasizes the importance of education, expertise, and a value of humility. You earn the respect of your peers, and save everyone time, if you take a moment to question whether or nor your idea is actually new or just new to you.
Stand on the Shoulders of Giants
There will be times when the old ways are outdated and desperately in need of renovation. There will never be a time when respecting the men and women who created those old ways is a waste of time.
The actual process of building policy or improving procedures is fairly consistent: People learn a system, some become super-users, experts in their field. Those with dedication take notice of imperfections and put their heads together to identify problems, propose solutions, and test their proposed improvements. The aim of the new process is efficiency, ease, and saving time, all of which improve the bottom line. The goal is, in a word, success.
There is no one more aware of the benefits and faults of a system or process than the men and women who built it. Respect their struggle, their input, and their guidance, because it may be your struggle, your input, and your guidance that is sought, or ignored, when the system needs rebuilding again in the future.