News and How-tos

Inheriting Stuckness

Ever hear, “this is the way it has always been” at work? Sometimes your stuckness is not your own. Sometimes it belongs to your predecessors and has been passed on to you, with or without your awareness. This insidious form of stuckness can be harder to understand, uncover, and rectify.

Onboarding and Inculcation

Organizations have both formal and informal onboarding practices. You may have attended New Employee Orientation at some point in which you received formal onboarding information (policies, general practices, the formal Organization Chart, and resources regarding your benefits). You may also have attended specific trainings on ethics, diversity, and so on.

Separately, and often during the same timeframe (i.e. your first 3-12 months on the job), you receive informal training and onboarding from teammates, supervisors, managers, co-workers you run into at the water cooler or in the break room, and even customers. This is where you learn how things are actually done, how people interact with each other, which people to avoid, which people to befriend, which policies and practices from your formal onboarding are actually followed, and you begin to learn the ghost Organization Chart– the people with influence, the people you go to when you need resources or support, the gatekeepers, the people who hold the historical knowledge and culture of the organization, etc.

During this onboarding period you may also fall into pre-determined patterns of stuckness, patterns that existed well before you arrived.


Signs That Your Stuckness is Not Your Own

If you are wondering if you inherited your stuckness, here is a list of signs that your stuckness is not your own. *Note: There may be a variety of other signs. Feel free to add a comment at the bottom of the article if you think of others.

  1. You do things a certain way because you learned “this is the way it has always been done around here.”

    This is a good sign that your stuckness is not your own because you are stuck in someone else’s process flow that was established so long ago that people can talk about it as existing that way “always.” Have you considered other ways to do your processes? When was the last time they were updated? Is anyone blocking you from changing them? Why? What investment do they have in the historical processes?

  2. You feel tension with certain people or groups at work, even though you do not really know them.

    If the people around you only have negative things to say about those people or groups, there is a good chance that you have walked into a historical drama that has nothing to do with you. If it is an old enough drama, it may have nothing to do with anyone that even works at the place anymore. Someone at some point created an adversarial relationship between people at your workplace. And now you are just filling a role in the workplace drama that has been carried out for years.

  3. You do not ask for resources because you ‘know’ it will do no good, even though you have not tried it.

    If everyone around you is cynical about the ability to get resources they need, and you have been told not to even bother asking for anything, you probably learned pretty quickly not to ask. Co-workers have probably explained to you their theories on why it is impossible to get resources. If, in addition to this, you see people in other teams or departments are able to get new resources and your team or department is using outdated tools that are less than useful, this could lead to feelings of resentment and anger. This may even be causing some of the stuckness described in #2 because the unfairness is feeding resentment and adversarial feelings between teams.

  4.  You do not provide feedback or make suggestions because you have seen others give feedback and make suggestions with unpleasant consequences.

    Or, as with #3, you were told providing feedback and making suggestions is pointless. It is hard to create connections, forge new paths, and be engaged in your work if you are not providing feedback and input. And without those activities, it is very easy to get stuck in the connections and paths that were there when you started. There is nothing wrong with keeping those connections and paths. In fact, it is a good idea to maintain them a lot of the time. It becomes stuckness when you are unable to add connections or move to different paths.

  5. You have not been in the job for very long and you already feel burned out.

    Although there are other reasons for early burnout, being stuck in someone else’s stuckness is a common reason for feeling burned out sooner than would be expected. Are you frustrated and/or bored? Do you feel apathetic because there is no point in caring? If you have considered and ruled out personal issues, you may be experiencing inherited stuckness.

What now?

If you realize you have inherited some stuckness, congratulations. You have just taken the first step to getting unstuck by becoming aware of it. As cliche as that sounds, one of the hardest parts of getting unstuck from inherited stuckness is actually uncovering where it comes from and that it does not actually belong to you.

Inherited stuckness can be rather tricky because in all likelihood the system is unaware of why the same problems keep coming up no matter who they have working for them, and you may or may not have enough influence to create change on your own. It can be overwhelming to think that you are not only working to get yourself unstuck, but that you are also working to relieve stuckness in the whole system.

To make organizational change happen, you need a good sponsor– someone who has the authority to make the decisions that need to be made in order to get the system unstuck. It also helps to have some people to champion your cause (aka advocates). For more information on sponsors and advocates (plus targets and agents of change), check out Daryl Conner’s book, Managing At the Speed of Change.

And if you decide you need an agent for change, I would be happy to help. Contact me for more information.


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