“We Should” is Said a Lot
I’ve worked at a handful of companies throughout my career. If you split the years out, half of my time has been working within an agency and the other half has been in-house. The agency work has allowed me to see dozens of other companies as well. I’ve been able to participate in high-level business strategy sessions, company culture discussions, branding efforts, and advertising campaign planning and execution.
The phrase “we should” is something that all teams say. I hear it in almost every brainstorming or work session. It’s used in various forms, but it is all the same concept. No matter how it is said, the intent is the same.
- We should change how we do this.
- Wouldn’t it be cool if we did this instead?
- Why haven’t we been doing this?
- If we were to do it right, this is what we’d do.
“We Should” Seldom Becomes “We Will”
There is a problem with “we should.” It is a veiled attempt to suggest a change that is inherently non-committal. It is not intentional. It always comes off as a half-suggestion. You’ll hear people say these phrases in jest, everyone will laugh and agree, and then they move on to a “safer” and less impactful option.
- We should do this, but management would never approve.
- This unexpected solution would work, though it’s risky.
- We’ve not been doing this correctly, but what we have is easier and good enough.
- This is the right way to do it, except our other department won’t support it.
There is always a “but” at the end of the thought. It softens the blow, degrades the idea, and prevents the conversation from continuing.
Worst of all, it plays into common biases that pit “us” against “them” – hero versus villain. It’s a psychologically comfortable place to be! I have a great idea, but “those in power” keep me from doing it. It’s a way of saying, “I had this idea,” but then not taking ownership of it. These are terrible ruts to get stuck in. This and other idea blockers are discussed in my post about the psychology of innovation.
Doing is Difficult
We must get past these common pitfalls if we want to see true organizational change.
Within every “we should” is a spark of desire. A desire for innovation and continual improvement. It is plainly there to see, but in its delivery, we lessen its value. It is a team member who wants to make a difference, but they either lack the courage to mandate it or they feel reduced within the organization.
Business owners and shareholders don’t want to be stagnant. They are thrilled to find employees who take the initiative and make things happen. They have a bias toward action.
But here’s the rub… Business owners believe that it is rare to find such an employee, while employees feel stifled and unable to push ideas forward. Both want the same thing, yet they feel that the other party is their limiting factor. Ironic, isn’t it? Us versus them.
Breaking the Barrier
I won’t sugarcoat it… Breaking the barrier here is not easy. You’re fighting against human nature, biases, and years of conditioning.
You probably have employees who feel like they tried and couldn’t get the backing they craved. You probably have company leaders who have seen associates who just want to collect a paycheck.
It is not easy to calm the emotions that have built up over time. Solid logic will fall victim to the whims of emotion – it’s human nature.
But you must strive for that psychological safety where a team can be open and honest without fear of embarrassment or retribution. If past experiences were subpar, then it will take even more effort to earn back trust. It can take a while to do, but it will be worthwhile. My experience suggests breaking the ice in two ways:
- Own Your Humility – In front of the team, admit past faults and poke fun at yourself and the boss. The butt of these jokes should fully know they are being used this way, and ideally, they would be present during it. Avoid blaming “them” in a session like this.
- Drop a Bomb – To show how open-minded you are trying to be, toss out an unrealistic idea at the start. This allows people to realize that their boundary-pushing idea is more acceptable than they thought.
You’ll still want a strong mission and vision. You’ll get further with a North Star Goal. These things can align teams at all levels and help identify which “should do” items are moving in the right direction. With some psychological safety (as opposed to blaming and shaming), your teams can take their “should do” suggestions and implement them to the delight of your employees, customers, and shareholders.
The “we should” problem is rampant in our work cultures. It allows someone to say, “I see an issue that needs to be fixed,” while not placing ownership or assigning responsibility to anyone to solve the problem. It really just sets someone up to eventually say, “I’ve been telling you this for years.” Recognizing these common cues and addressing them in a more productive way will bring better business results.
If you’re ready to turn your organization’s “we should” into “we will”, then reach out to your Perficient account manager or use our contact form to begin a conversation.