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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