When Should You Change Tradition?

When Should You Change Tradition?

I spoke this week to a group of leaders from organizations that value “tradition” quite highly. I, of course, was talking about some of the big changes in society (social media, the Millennials, decline of traditional management, etc.) that will be challenging many traditions. These leaders are by no means blind to these changes, but they were unsure about when they should challenge some of the traditions in their organizations and when they should rely on those traditions as a strength, since they are deeply rooted inside their organizations. So here’s a rule of thumb for you:

Traditions must provide value–and beyond simple nostalgia.

If your traditions exist simply because they remind people of the past in a way that makes them happy–but really provide no other value–then they are ripe for change. That doesn’t mean that you HAVE to change them. Thinking about the past and being happy is not evil. But in this day and age, the bar has been raised for organizations when it comes to value creation, so we have less wiggle room than we had before. We can’t afford to do things just because we’ve always done them that way (and I feel like I might have said that ten years ago).

So the advice I gave this group around their traditions was simple: run the numbers. If you can make the case that sticking with traditions will bring in the business, the engagement, and the growth that your company needs, then by all means stay the course. But if those traditions end up making your market segment too small or interfering with the delivery of value that translates into sales/growth, then you should change them. Find another way to connect to the past, because those traditions are holding you back.

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  1. 15.10.2015 at 10:54 am

    Jamie – in principle I agree. How could I not? Jettison what doesn’t work! is a good strategy in the best of times and the only strategy in the worst of times.

    There is one subtle difficulty when it comes to getting rid of a tradition. Sometimes? We have no clue WHY we’re doing what we’re doing we’ve just always done it that way. The ancient rituals surrounding how traditional Samurai swords comes to mind.

    To use another silly example? There MIGHT be a very good reason for banging on a particular pipe every time we leave, and enter the boiler room…. Nobody in the entire organization might know what that reason is… but if we STOPPED banging on that particular pipe? We might soon find out…

    I’d add one step to your good advice… figure out what value tradition is providing you…if any.

    Good article