One day, Emma watched as her mother prepared dinner. Carrots and potatoes were boiling away on the stovetop as the mother took the ham from the fridge, put it on the cutting board, cut both ends off, then put it into the pan and into the oven to bake.
“Mommy”, Emma asks, “why’d you cut the ends off of the ham?”.
“Well”, says mom, “This is the way your grandmother did it and her hams always came out sweet and juicy, so I just follow her recipe.” Emma accepted that answer and left to watch cartoons, but it began to eat at the mom… Why did she cut the ends off? She decided to call her mother to ask.
“I don’t know the reason”, said her mother. “Your nana always cut the ends off, and you know how good her hams were, so I never questioned it – I just did it.”.
Even more curious now, the mother calls her nana to ask the same question, hoping against hope that she’ll finally get her answer.
After some small talk and pleasantries, the mother asks the big question. “Nana, why did you always cut the ends off of your hams before you cooked them? I always do because that’s how mom taught me, but when I asked her the reason why, she didn’t know either. She just said she’d learned that from you. So, I’m really hoping you can explain the reasoning behind it. It’s driving me nuts!”.
Nana laughed out loud. “Honey, I had to cut the ends off! I only had the one baking pan, and the ham wouldn’t fit in otherwise!”.
In our lives and in our work, we do this same thing everyday. We take action based simply off of the “That’s the way we’ve always done it” mantra. We assume that the people that came before us were smart and made good decisions, so there must be a good reason as to why we do the things the way we do. We accept that as truth, and continue making the same mistakes over and over again. Often, it’s done with the best of intentions, but by not questioning them, we allow those mistakes to proliferate time and time again.
In your organization today, what actions are being taken; what policies are being followed simply because that’s the way it was when you got there? Are those helping your business to grow, or are they hindering your progress? Do they serve a purpose? Many times, processes are in place for a good reason and must be followed. When I was the Plant Manager of a medical device company here in Connecticut, we had to maintain a database for all of our product and customers, so in the case that we had a recall, we could account for the whereabouts of each lot of product, right down who inspected it and who packed it. This didn’t add any tangible value to the product necessarily, but it was something that we had to do to meet FDA regulations. Knowing that we couldn’t outright eliminate it, we looked for ways of making maintaining this database easier and less time consuming to maintain so that we could still meet the requirement, but do so in the most efficient way possible.
This week, pay particular attention to those things that you’re doing that you’d always just assumed were being done for a reason. Maybe they can be made more efficient, or better yet, maybe they can be eliminated altogether. In short – Look for ways to stop cutting the ends of the ham off!
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