Because that’s the way we’ve always done it!

There’s an old story about a man who is watching his wife make pot roast for dinner. As he’s watching, his wife prepares the meat and then just before she puts it into the pot for roasting, she cuts off both ends of the meat. The husband has never noticed this before so he asks, “Why do you cut off the ends of the meat before you put it in the roasting pan?” She thinks about it and replies, “Because that’s the way my mother did it.” Still confused, he asks the logical question, “But why did she cut off the ends?” Now both the wife and husband are very curious as to why, so they call Mom and ask her about cutting off the ends prior to putting the roast into the pan. Her answer is, “Because that’s the way Nana did it.” Realizing that they are not going to get any farther with Mom, they decide to go directly to the source, so they call Nana. “Nana,” the wife asks, “why is it that when you make pot roast, you cut off the ends of the meat before you put it in the roasting pan?” Nana answers without hesitation, “Because that’s the only way it will fit in my pot.”

So what’s the moral of the story? Just because something has always been done a certain way, doesn’t mean it’s the right way! Unfortunately, many businesses operate the same way by clinging to outdated processes and procedures because that’s the way they’ve always done it.

See if any of these sound familiar:

People are the process – Do you have any processes that you can only explain using some version of the line, “Bob then takes the order and places it in the queue”? The problem here is that there is a process that doesn’t work without Bob. What happens if Bob quits or is out sick or goes on vacation? Why do we allow this to happen? Well, it’s always been done that way. Pot roast!

Vendors are part of the business – Have you reviewed your vendor list recently? You might be very surprised to learn that a long-standing, trusted resource is no longer offering the best prices or the best service. Over the years, businesses just get in the habit of accepting what they get from a “preferred” vendor. Vendors can get complacent. They have no incentive to offer better or even in some cases competitive prices, because they are the vendor of choice. Why do we allow this to happen? Well, they’ve always been our vendor. Pot roast!

Work-Arounds – Have you ever watched employees enter information into a computer system or application? You may notice that at times, they have to perform manual steps in order to complete specific tasks. If you asked them why, they would say, “Well, the system doesn’t allow me to do that so I have to put it in a different way in order for the system to accept it.” They have a system that is supposed to help increase their productivity, but have created manual processes to make up for the limitations of the system. How long has this been going on? They probably don’t know, but it’s always been done that way. Pot roast!

“If you want it done right …” – Do you have people in your organization who insist on double-checking everything? Or, even though they have subordinates, still insist on doing some tasks that they could and should very easily delegate? These are people who can’t let go of the way they’ve always done things and they wonder why they can’t get any of their own work done. Pot roast!

Save, save, save – Do you have people in your organization who save every file in multiple places? They save them on their personal computers, on a flash drive, on a network drive and then they print them out and save them in a file cabinet. At some time during their tenure, things changed so that they no longer needed to keep so many copies because the network drive was being backed up every night. So why do they insist on the multiple copies? It could be an unrealistic fear or it could be because they can’t let go of the way they have always done it. Pot roast!

Write it, then enter it – Do you have any processes in which someone records information on a piece of paper and then enters it into a computer system and then files the paper in a file cabinet? I would venture to guess that the reason it is still done this way is because somewhere along the line a system was created to eliminate the paper handling but someone told the employee to continue to write it down prior to entering it into the system as a double-check for accuracy. As time went on, there was no need to continue this process, but no one questions it because it’s always been done that way. Pot roast!

I’m sure that you could add to this list with your own stories and examples, but let’s take a look at some of the reasons why these things occur. Why does a company continue to do things the way they have always been done even when there are better and more efficient ways to do them?

One of the reasons is fear of letting go. The old ways are comfortable for many people. Technology is scary. Trusting technology is even scarier. Sometimes it’s a fear of “lack of knowledge.” Some managers feel that they need to know and control everything, but they don’t always know what they don’t know. They reject new things so that they can hang on to what they do understand.

Another reason is the lack of measurements and monitoring. It’s hard to break a bad habit or to ensure a new way of doing things is being implemented and used if you don’t have a measurement and monitoring structure in place. This is especially prevalent in small businesses. Of course, if you want to implement measuring, monitoring, and improvements, then you need to hire the people to do that. Many businesses, especially small businesses, only have the resources that they need to run the business, but not the resources they need to improve the business.

Another reason is time. Businesses just don’t have the time to improve. It’s like trying to teach someone a new swimming stroke when they’re just trying to keep from drowning. Someone in the company may know that they need help, but it always slips down on the “to-do” list. What many managers and business owners don’t realize is that the seemingly little problems associated with “pot roast” type stories steal time and money from the company on a daily basis and they can lead to much more severe problems if they are not addressed.

How much time is wasted by duplication of effort, redundancy, work-arounds, etc.? How much counterproductive time is taken up by checkers checking the checkers? How much does it cost to retrain a person who is the process? How much revenue or how many opportunities are lost while this training is going on? How much money has it cost because no one has been reviewing the vendor list? How much extra effort and lost time is there in saving every scrap of paper that ever existed in the office? How much does it cost in time and money because of processes with bottlenecks, extra steps, or additional manual effort or intervention?

These are the questions that businesses should be asking. Then they can assess the total wasted or lost time and money against what it would cost to either hire the full-time resources necessary to improve the business or obtain outside resources that possess the knowledge and experience to review, assess, plan, and improve the business.