My son was telling me last night about a Virginia Tech football tradition that drives home a great point about change. Apparently, when there is a “key play” in the football game, the fans are supposed to take out their car keys and shake them. In the past, people used to have so many keys the sound was a powerful addition to the game.
However, my son said that currently two things happen that kind of kill the thrill of the tradition:
1. Most people have sensors now for their cars, and they don’t make any noise when shaken.
2. Many fans have gotten older and don’t have car keys, so they just hold their hands in the air as if they do.
Needless to say, there is currently very little benefit to this tradition, and yet it refuses to die. Why? Because we love our traditions. Because they used to work. Because sometimes the association with the event is more powerful than the event itself. However, like many traditions this one is losing the young people. They just look around and see a bunch of older people holding their hands up and contributing nothing.
In organizations, we often have new employees that, metaphorically, see the same thing. They attend meetings that are no longer necessary, but haven’t died. They are given annual performance appraisals that are outdated, but they receive them anyway. Sometimes those of us holding our hands up in support of a tradition that no longer has any power need to listen to the ideas of the young.
For example, the key tradition could turn into something else. Maybe they could:
a. Hit their “lock” button and see if the horns would sound in the parking lot.
b. Get the iPhone to create an app that sounds like a bunch of keys jingling.
Think about it – how many traditions does your company have that are obsolete? Are there too many face-to-face meetings when one single e-mail would suffice? Do you provide annual performance appraisals that should be replaced by monthly coaching sessions?
Ask your younger employees what seems ineffective or obsolete to them. Then look at the hand you have raised in the air as a manager and make sure there are actually keys in them!