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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

"Historically, Nothing!"

Published October 4, 2009 4:50 PM by Glen McDaniel

Just about everyone knows someone in the workplace whose mantra is "that's the way we have always done it here." People like that are usually afraid of change and so cling desperately to the status quo long after it has outlived its usefulness.

There is also an inherent element of power. A new hot shot technologist/scientist/director joins the work force and the "old timer" immediately feels threatened. In their mind the only sort of power they can exert is having historical knowledge. These are the people who know how to order an obscure test, access the old computer system, and who in the organization to call to iron out a sticky situation. Regardless of their official title they do maintain some informal power simply because they act as a valuable reference in very select situations.

Yet such individuals can be a royal pain; not only because they resist change, but because they often wield their power brutally. How do you deal with such individuals?

First, acknowledge their value. Thank them sincerely when they step up to the plate. However, do not reinforce their lop-sided importance by allowing any crucial knowledge to reside exclusively in their head. Have them make a list of contacts, passwords, procedures as necessary. These are the intellectual property of the organization, not a personal possession.

If they resist change and claim "historically, that's what we have done", do 2 things. First, remind them of all the things we did in the lab historically: mouth pipetted urine, sodium hydroxide, picric acid; picked up mercury with bare hands; ate and smoked at the bench; handled body fluids without gloves; spent hours doing enzyme assays.  As far as personnel actions, many organizations "historically" selected individuals for hire or promotion using factors other than qualifications. They freely discriminated based on age, race, gender, or sexual orientation with impunity.

Then ask if the "historical" actions are still in sync with best practices, legal and regulatory standards, organizational policies.

Next ask if the change contemplated is more efficient, cost effective, strategic, or mandated in some way. History is to be respected, but change is essential for progress.

Please share with us examples from your own lab.

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5 comments

I definitely can related to all of you. That is how I feel now. I have been with them two years in December. They are definitely resist on any new change and not even new suggestions. If I come up with a different ways of doing things and have the same results. They are still not satified because that is not the way how their do. Quote to Quote, it says the way I did caused confused on the technologist that follow because they don't understand. They are stick to new way on how they do certain things. Even now to this day, they are using the same old methology to train the new employees. Personally, i think that is bull sh*t..Exercise me on my french. There are better ways of doing it; however, I was not there long enough. My words are note creditable yet. I don't think I will even be since they are all friends for each others for so many years and work side by side for almost twenty years.

Anna November 16, 2009 12:07 AM

Jonathan and Lu: This is really a pervasive problem that many people simply skirt. My suggestion isnt the only viable one, but I certainly think demanding that knowledge be shared is reasonable,  reduces frustration of staff and prevents the sort of "I have something you all dont have" mentality.

With the impetus on cost reduction, and generally doing more with less, management will often support any change which is likely to make them look good, Lu. It is sometimes hard to fight the battle alone or 1:1, but if the suggestion is couched in terms of  "here's a suggestion to save us money" it is more likley to be adopted.

Rhonda: I applaud you in your effort to learn as much as possible from wherever you can. It doesnt matter what someone else's motives are, soak in the knowledge and no one can take it from you.

Many new grads are all bright eyed and bushy tailed, then quickly become disillusioned.  I encourage you to continue to learn, to use your knowledge unapologetically and continue to push the envelope. One person can make a difference.

Glen McDaniel October 10, 2009 12:39 PM

Man, this sounds like every lab I have worked in.  I always wondered how to handle people like that. You like them when you need them, but otherwise they are very annoying. You give good advice about making them write down information for everyone to see.

One woman I knew kept notes from years ago in old tattered notebooks in her locker. Most just have the information in their heads. I would also say as much as possible get rid of stuff that you have to rely on oldtimers to do. That is not always possible like doing a blood bank look back on a patient from 8 years ago using an old computer system. Most of us was not even given a password for that system when we started.

The worse ones are the ones who make fun of everything new and say "we used to do so and so". Everything that doesnt work well, they blame on the fact that we have changed it from back in the day. Now that's frustrating.

Jonathan CLS (NCA), MLS (ASCP) October 10, 2009 9:21 AM
Atlanta GA

Are you sure you haven't been to my lab??  I can definitely relate to your story.  I can say that I absolutely value the experience that the "older" techs have and I feel like a five-year-old sometimes constantly asking "Why?"  Since I am so new, I'm definitely in the "learn as much as I can" mode and I hope to see some changes in the future.  There are definitely areas where my lab could use some improvements!

Rhonda Daily, Microbiology - MT(ASCP), Affinity Health October 9, 2009 12:14 PM
Appleton WI

I was told specifically when I was hired that I was to find a way to get rid of some very outdated and time consuming practices.  I've been working there part-time (2 days a week) for the past year and still have not managed to talk the person in charge into making the changes.  I don't have power because I'm PRN.  I'm appreciated for my knowledge, I'm retired from another place where the practices were up to date.  However, it's been difficult just to keep up the friendship without ruffling feathers when I attempt to bring up change.  It's a small place and all in the lab get along well, I certainly don't want to be instrumental in causing a rift.  I'm fresh out of ideas on how to cajole some forward progress from the person in charge of the blood bank.

Lu Hubert, Blood Bank - MT III, College Station Medical Center October 5, 2009 1:44 PM
College Station TX

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