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Deconstructing the ‘Sacred Cows’

Letting Go of Outdated Processes and Policies

Originally published
Originally published: 12/1/2022

Over the years people have addressed the concept of “sacred cows” – a critical factor or idea that by definition is “an item that is unreasonably immune from criticism or opposition.” We see these “sacred cows” every day via policies and procedures. The types that are in place “because things have always been that way.” 

More than just leading to a stale, rigid system of processes, “sacred cows” can be disruptive because we spend so much time trying to make improvements to areas that have become problematic instead of letting the old ways go. 

In my most recent article, we mentioned the Six Sigma program. Developed originally by G.E., it is a very detailed structured methodology for making significant improvements in process management and workflow. To address the problem of a protected interest or the immovable “sacred cows”, I suggest we go further and embrace the concept of deconstructionism. To do this, you don’t try to improve a policy or idea, until you have studied the validity of the existence of that item. 

In other words, look at the processes or procedures and manage them as if you were starting with a blank piece of paper.  

Here are multiple real-world examples:

    1.    A company buried in excessive paperwork. 

Several years ago, I visited a very large HVACR company that utilized a combination of computer dispatch and a point-of-sale paper invoice. As was tradition, the invoice had three color-coded copies, white for the original customer copy, yellow for the customer file, and green for a third numerical file. The computer kept records of all calls including a listing of the numerical service ticket for each customer. This company was buried in paperwork and had two people dedicated to maintaining and filing these documents. They were adamant that they needed this system. The reason: it had always been that way. By starting with a blank sheet of paper, I defined their goal as being able to quickly assemble the original documents of the service ticket. Then in questioning the actual dispatchers, I noted that when they had to pull history, they looked up the service ticket numbers and went right to the numerical file. They NEVER looked at the customer file. I had them completely stop creating and using a separate customer file and instead, only keep a hard copy in the numerical file. Everyone reacted wildly as if this was pure sacrilege, but after a few weeks, no one missed the file. This change not only preserved the position of one full-time employee, but the company was then free to reassign the staff member to other duties. A final interesting twist to this story is that the only reason there were three copies was that many years ago their local printer only had three-part invoices in stock.  So, this “protected interest” was established and cost them tens of thousands of redundant dollars because of an outdated printer’s stock.

    2.    The first impression left by a CSR can be a real moment of truth. 

In looking at organizational charts and budgets over the years, conventional wisdom always had the person who answered the phones as a fairly low-paid, unskilled position. However, this is the first introduction of many people to the company and the impression left by a poor initial response leads to lost business. Jan Carlzon defined this in the early 1980s as the first MOMENT OF TRUTH or “Any time a customer comes into contact with a business, however remote, they have an opportunity to form an impression.” The person answering the phone should be the most professional and skilled customer relations person and therefore, properly compensated. The most extreme exemplative situation I recall involved a small HVACR company in Tennessee where the owner had his mother who was in her 60s and partially deaf, answering the phones. She enjoyed that role and had been in that position for over thirty years. However, she constantly lost customers simply because she could not hear them. This was an example where the role had to be deconstructed and reassigned.

    3.    When software or incompatible business billing, affects the bottom line. 

I have been a true believer in the service contract concept (also called memberships, energy savings agreements, plans, etc.) since my early days with Ron Smith. However, over the years, I have discovered two items that were carved in stone and needed to be rewritten. One was that implementing a prepaid annual contract as opposed to monthly billing, improved the cash flow of a company. Proper accounting (and state law in some areas) requires you to take the payment and escrow the entire amount, then transfer only the monthly portion to revenue. or tie the payment into a related service item. Secondly, it became necessary to create a system for renewals which seemed to be very costly and over time, resulted in low renewal rates. Since I firmly believe in the model of low monthly billing on a credit card, doing it the new way reduced the cost to a minimal administrative expense, and the renewal rates remain very high. Ask yourself when was the last time you thought about your Netflix account payment or did it automatically just renew? 

The second issue is that many companies did not have adequate software to easily allow monthly billing. The bottom line is, never allow the software to dictate anything related to your business model. If the idea you have, works better for your business, figure out how to make it work.

Take the time to do a deep dive into your procedures. Adopt the mindset that you are starting with a blank piece of paper and be a deconstructionist. The only thing that can come of this exercise is a positive change, a better understanding of your workflow processes, and improvement.

David Dombrowski started his career with 15 years at GE with their international leasing division and then joined Ron Smith’s original team with Service America. He holds a Master HVAC license holder for North Carolina for the past 35 years and has been in the management team with ARS of Raleigh, a $30 million location. 

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