Tradition will be the Death of Your Business

Tradition will be the Death of Your Business

Single malt Scotch whisky is something I enjoy. I don’t drink it often as the stuff I like is pricy. It’s pricey not because it’s good, but because of the 16 year long, 200 year old traditional process that is required before it is poured in to a glass. In the case of good whisky, tradition is great. For most other businesses, tradition is death.

You can provide a traditional product and you can even make it in a traditional way, but to be successful, you need to innovate ways to bring that traditionally made product to market differently than your competition.

Before WordPerfect, the corporate names of Underwood, Smith Corona and Olympia held a good portion of the typewriter market. Today they are gone. The only companies to escape the extinction of the typewriter were IBM who went on to make computers that hosted word-processing software and Brother who went on to be a major player in the printer market. Both IBM and Brother saw the change and found their niche.

As a consultant who has visited companies all over North America, I am dumbfounded as to why some businesses do things the way they do. It is my job to find money that is wasted in unnecessary process.

In many ways, we humans are creatures of habit. We learn a process and that’s how we do it until it becomes bothersome and we find a less painful process or someone questions it and brings it to our attention. But even then, once we know it makes no sense, we continue to do it because that’s what we are used to.

In one example I was observing an accounts payable clerk. She would receive invoices in a duplicate from with the payment. She would update the computer with all that data from the invoice and post the payment. Then she would separate the two copies of the invoice into separate piles. One copy went into the customer file and the other went into a chronological file. Intrigued, asked how often they needed to recall a file chronologically. Her reply was never.

What is most strange about human behavior is that the AR clerk also admitted that her least enjoyable task was filing but when I made the suggestion that they stop buying triplicate forms (the 3rd copy went to the client) and start shredding the chronological copy, the AR clerk said it was no big deal, and it only took an 20 minutes a day to do!

The mind set of “it’s only 20 minutes a day” is the type of tradition that kills a business. 20 minutes a day is 87 hours a year! That’s over two full work weeks filing something that is never looked at, takes up space and the form itself costs more to produce.

The trouble is most people don’t question why. Business owners included.

There is an old story about two newlyweds.

The husband always loved a good ham so on special occasions the young bride would cook up a nice ham dinner. The husband noticed that each time she cooked a ham both ends were cut off. So the young groom asked why she did that. Her reply was simple, that’s what my mom always did.

On a Thanksgiving the couple was invited over to the home of the bride’s parents. When the ham was served the groom had the chance to ask his Mother-in-law why she cut the ends off the ham. Her simple reply, because that’s what my mom always did.

Now the groom was even more curios and on Christmas was able to ask the brides Grandma why she cut the ends off the ham. Her reply was simple, “We did not have much money and I could not afford a pan big enough to hold the whole ham so I just cut the ends off so it would fit.

As a business owner question everything. If it makes sense, do it. If it does not, don’t. And if your staff is trying to convince you that it is no big deal, it is because they are afraid that you are either going to have them do something else of that they are not comfortable with or that the tack itself shows there value. Don’t believe it, push for change when change is needed.

Your product or service is something that you need to be very careful about changing unless it is going to improve the customer experience. Cutting costs because you do not think it adds value is dangerous.

In the Disneyland parks, the streets are pressure washed every night. This is a time consuming task that other parks find unnecessary. The result however is one of the things that make Disneyland special. Don’t cut out the things that make you special. Instead find ways to separate yourself from others. Break tradition where need, hold it close to your chest where you do.