Standardization ruins organizations. Once we get to the point that we are trying to make everyone do the same thing, without thought, we are doomed. Most organizations and the people within them get into a rhythm. They have the same annual events, traditions, and these events are rarely discussed with any serious intent. The members of the organization are expected to uphold these traditions, and the leaders often expect everyone to participate. But do these traditions do anything positive for the organization?
It depends. Most of our traditions are no longer providing value to our processes but are more about culture. But even traditions that contribute to culture can be problematic. The military’s Change of Command Ceremony is one such example. When the ceremony was created, it was done so out of necessity. Most personnel in a military unit did not know who the commander of the unit was, and it caused much confusion on the battlefield. This ceremony was designed to show everyone who the new commander was to alleviate that problem, and it worked. Fast-forward to today, and we continue the tradition, but there is rarely an occasion where members will not know who the unit’s commander is, but we still spend weeks preparing for these ceremonies every two years. The commander’s and their families enjoy them, and it is a great honor for them to earn a command, but almost everyone else is there because they are required. The officer/enlisted structure is also antiquated and has lost its usefulness. On the positive side, the military’s uniforms, many of the customs to include saluting, standing for senior members, reveille, retreat, taps, and countless others add to the discipline and positive culture of the units.
And what about the senior members of the organization? Could they be holding back innovation? Much like standardization, continuity is a term we must be careful with. There is a point that continuity stops helping and starts holding the unit back from progress. Something that was tried in the nineties may very well work now. Not because we are better, but because technology may have made things easier than they were in the past. We need to ensure our senior members value change and progress over standardization and continuity.
We must be cautious of sacrificing any future progress for short-term gains. It might be tempting, but the short-term gains that too much standardization and continuity provide are addictive and will become the culture your organization begins to form around. Soon enough, your organization will become irrelevant because short-term gains cannot compete with long-term progress. Of course, this is not easy, and nobody has the perfect answer, but we must be brave enough to have the conversation. It may feel bad to say the DoD no longer needs a separate officer and enlisted core, especially from the officer’s perspective, but it’s a conversation we must have, or we risk becoming too caught up in tradition.