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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dealing with The Tyranny of "Uhm, We Don't Do That Here"

How many variations of the title have you heard? I've heard plenty; "that's not how we do things here;" that's not allowed; you can't do that; it has always been done this way; I really like your idea but... And the almost instantaneous NO!

A friend just moved to a big real estate company as head of Training. Having worked for a smaller, more nimble company where managers like him were clear about what kind of decisions they are empowered to make, he  felt constricted by some of the rules in his new company that it is making it difficult for him to make changes in practices even within the unit he leads because everything has to go through his boss... Well, two bosses actually who often give conflicting directions.  He also often find himself needing to confront resistance to change.

Being passionate about personal development himself, he told his immediate boss about his attending Toastmasters Club meetings every 2nd and 4th Thursdays of the month. This, he said is for him to continually sharpen his communication skills. Attending the meetings however will require him to leave work an hour early at the given schedules. Guess what the boss said when he asked permission, "Uhm, we don't do that here." My friend didn't give up there. He reemphasized the value of him pursuing and paying for the training that he will need to be better at his job. He said that he is even willing to offset the time or have the time off deducted from his salary just so he would be allowed to pursue the kind of development he believes he need for his job." The boss said he appreciates the effort but... "uhm, we don't do that here." He said, "go to HR, we have a lot of training programs here. Take the ones that are sanctioned by the company." my friend, now getting a  bit impatient said "if we keep saying we don't do that here, when are things going to change around here? We are going to grow dumb if we all keep saying  we don't do that here. The boss, now cornered said, go to HR, see what they will say about it.

Not everyone is as assertive as my friend. Some employees who will attempt to improve things at work and given that kind of roadblock will probably react with "uhm, okay" and will stop there. To have a dynamic culture where ideas for change are considered, put to test and acted upon, we need employees who are assertive enough to sell an idea and even go to the extent of arguing with the boss to impress a point. We also need bosses who have the humility to accept that practices, specially the ones they gave birth to need to be reviewed and eventually changed. They also need to realize that they do not have the monopoly on ideas and that their staff can provide perspectives that they are unable to see.

In a mature team, bosses and subordinates discuss issues passionately and bring needed changes. It doesn't matter where the ideas come from. When the boss learn to be assertive rather than aggressive, this is what happens. When staff learn to be assertive, this is what happens. Assertiveness kills the tyranny of the "uhm, we don't do it here." It's an important skill that I believe most of us Filipinos need to learn. It's also a skill that a lot of us are unwilling to accept we lack. For some, assertiveness is something... uhm, we don't practice here.

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  1. "we don't do that here"... this is the expression of people with closed minds... those who doesn't want to learn and just always "yes sir" even if its against his/her will. people who are afraid to talk back and be heard. in the corporate world, these are the people who are afraid to lose their jobs. i can remember what a famous industrialist once said, "succesful people are not afraid to speak and be heard, most of all they are not afraif to lose their jobs"

  2. Anonymous2:35 AM

    I think that it's better to be told that 'We don't do it here' than being promised a training program, only to find out later that they don't have the inclination of sending you. It's a bit heart breaking especially if it's overseas... imagine the anticipation ... and the frustrations right after.

  3. Hi Ed,
    Great and highly profitable organizations seem to share a company culture that is grounded in the values that seem to be lacking in the situation you described which are trust and interdependence.

    Dianne' Crampton's team culture book, "TIGERS Among Us:Winning Business Team Cultures And Why They Thrive" features companies that are more team-based rather than the command-and-control type that do not share info and decision-making or are closed to the ideas of their employees.

    But few business leaders or managers think of their company as being closed-minded or inflexible. Hence they need to spend more time with their people on the ground to be fully aware of their 'real' company culture and not what is just printed on their company brochure.

    Also check out this great idea from insidework blog dysfunctional culture .


If you have an opinion about this topic or a related experience you want to share, please feel free to leave a comment but please be respectful. No bad words please or I will be constrained to delete it.