Tom Peters, one of the foremost gurus on business leadership, wrote this years ago. The actual quote is, “There are no excellent companies. The old saw ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ needs revision. I propose: ‘If it ain’t broke, you just haven’t looked hard enough.’ Fix it anyway.” Now I started in college as an engineering student. This flies directly in the face of an engineer. Most would have no desire to fix items that are not broke. After all, there are enough broken things in the world to fix; why bother with those which seem to work well?
This quote speaks about the importance of continual improvement. Everything that is man-made can be improved upon. Think of how our world would be if we were satisfied with items like the horse and buggy, the whale-oil lamp, or the UNIX computer. Again, on this principle, I go back to my gardening Aunt Lil. She used to say, as she looked at her tomatoes, “Always stay a little green in life. Because if you have ripened the next step is for you to rot!”
I also believe Peter’s quote also speaks about perception. It is easy when we are on the inside of an organization to believe that things are working well. Maybe we have created work-arounds, cheat sheets, and shortcuts to get the job done. But do your members and customers have those same pieces of information? And furthermore, why would they bother with it? Imagine if you had a page of steps to work around core system flaws posted on your on-line banking page. Who would want to use it? Most would just find another institution that does not offer the same hassle in exchange of their services.
Now I understand that changing major systems and processes involve substantial investments of time and money and I am not saying that we have to all run and do that right away. But we must be willing to step outside of our world and see how we look to others who are on the outside. This should be done with each department and each product or service we offer.
I once used the on-line banking services of a financial institution. I am a busy person and I tend to sit down once a month and schedule bills to be paid over that month. I sat down and scheduled to pay a plumber 29 days in the future. The institution took the money from my account immediately, and I encountered an overdraft fee. I don’t know if they ever fixed their system (it was explained to me at the time this was how their system worked and I would have to live with it), but I have not used their on-line banking since.
I have also called up some financial institutions and get dropped into the perpetual computerized phone answering system hell. You have to push buttons to answer questions until you can finally leave an answer for someone named Mabel, who is not the person you wanted to speak to in the first place. I may be a little old-fashioned, but I like talking to a person when I pick up the phone.
I know this concept will wreck some of you. It will also challenge you to release the sacred cows you hold onto. Some of you may find meaning in the work-arounds, without realizing how hard you make it for others to do business with you on the outside. Sacred cows make great steaks!
I say to fire up the grill, bring on the sacred cows, and be willing to look at any internal or external process, program, or system in light of efficiency for those within and ease of use for those outside the organization.