The Value of Fresh Eyes
A family friend once told me the difference between East coast roads and West coast roads was memory. In the West, people drive in straight lines forged with dynamite while in the East they drive around trees that haven't existed for 400 years! In a way, East-Coasters remember those trees by driving around them each day without knowing the reason for the detour. The same can happen within a company: employees are handed processes that were needed at one time but no longer add value; they follow those processes because that's the way it's done. Decisions are made to avoid trees felled long ago and no one thinks twice about it! To succeed, a company needs both native knowledge and an eagerness for innovation. It is hard to maintain a mindset of constant questioning and improvement, though. Luckily, that's where the value of fresh eyes comes in.
What is Native Knowledge?
Native knowledge is what your veteran employees have: how the company approaches problems, industry experience, details of past failures and successes, and what is needed from them each day. These employees are often responsible for training new hires and are looked to for opinions when planning a new project. Their knowledge lends them a certain prestige within the business.
Positives and Negatives of Native Knowledge
The upside of having a solid team with native knowledge is their track record. They have experience on their side and know how to overcome most challenges. This team can get answers from a clunky database when no one else can and knows exactly who to call when things break. They can train others and pass along their wisdom to a new "generation" of employees to keep the native knowledge ever-present. The negatives of native knowledge are the flip side to the experience coin. A company relying on native knowledge will default to its own experience and fail to innovate. Why fix what isn't broken, after all? Also, the training process is never perfect. While an individual may know the why's of certain steps in a process they will train the steps instead. So new employees are left following a process without understanding the reasons behind it. This leaves them unable to improve even if they want to.
The 'New Guy' Opportunity (AKA The Value of Fresh Eyes)
In every industry I've worked, hiring someone new was both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge was in getting them trained and the opportunity was in their fresh perspective. When someone new comes in they view all processes with fresh eyes and can ask questions that make us pause. For this opportunity to be seized, though, you need openness on the part of the trainer and a mix of courage and curiosity in your new hire. This effect is more successful when you go the consultant route and particularly strong with analysts. An analyst knows their value lays in asking and answering questions. These curious people are instantly trying spot inconsistencies and will point out any they notice. Sometimes there are solid reasons for what they've noticed and other times it's a chance to make a positive change for the business. So if your business is experience-rich and looking to improve, working with an outside group can really add value and accelerate innovation within your business.
Don’t let your company’s past hobble its future! Having industry-experienced professionals working for your business is invaluable when supplemented by those with fresh perspectives and an incentive to ask questions.