But They Do It, Why Can’t We?

I work in a large division of an international organization. My division includes dozens of locations throughout the state of Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In our organization, we have regular annual moves of some of our leaders. Many times new leaders will come to locations in our division from other states and other divisions. Likewise, we sometimes hire managers from other organizations.

It is not uncommon when an HR issue arises to receive an email from one of the newcomers, or to hear one of them say, “but this is how it’s done in other divisions we’ve been in!” Or to say of similar businesses, “this is how it’s done by____” (insert a name or industry).

It reminds me of when I was a kid and wanted to justify my request to do something, I would tell my mom that a certain one of my friends (or all my friends) got to do the certain something, so why couldn’t I? To which mom would reply, “and if they jumped off a cliff, would you?” Depending on what I was asking for, mom’s response was a bit more diplomatic than plainly saying to me, “well that’s a stupid thing for them to do. Why would you want to do that?”

I often find that when I’m presented with that argument, at least one of three things holds true:

  1. They don’t have the big picture
  2. They aren’t comparing apples to apples
  3. They are withholding other important information from me to make their case for why we should do things the way they want

Sometimes there are other things at play that result in a situation being handled a certain way in one place, but a different way elsewhere (1). Sometimes a job may have the same title as someone else’s, but the content of the duties may look very different (especially if a job description is from another organization) (2). Sometimes the supervisor knows why there’s a difference, but they hope we won’t find out (hey, I gotta let you in on something…HR folks talk!) (3).

Usually I’m going to tell you (in so many words) that I don’t care how it’s done somewhere else. I’m going to evaluate your situation or your issue based on what is right, here. If it has to do with a labor law, I’ll evaluate it on my interpretation of the law and on the interpretation of the law by trusted legal minds, and that interpretation might look different to you because sometimes my state’s laws look different than those you are used to. And sometimes the way you experienced something being done may not have been a best practice. It may have been done elsewhere without the knowledge of the HR folks, or against their recommendation.

But be honest with me and don’t try to hide something. We can have a discussion, but don’t insist that it has to be done the way you’re used to, because that may not have been the right way.

After all, if your former way of doing it or someone else’s way of doing it ends up taking you off a cliff, I’m not going to follow.

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