Several years ago when I was a realtor (ok, a little more than several—it was before MP3 players), I attended a sales technique seminar. It was mostly the kind of bullshit that I’ve come to expect from this kind of event, but there were a few ideas I took home that I still consider useful. One of these ideas came from a story our instructor shared with us.
Once while eating at a restaurant, an employee asked our instructor if he could please lift his feet so that he could finish mopping the floor. “Why are you mopping?” he asked.
“It’s my job. I mop the floor every day at this time.”
“Well, if I don’t, they’ll fire me.”
“Nope. Try again.”
“Because the floor is dirty?”
“Maybe, but why should it be clean?”
“Because if it weren’t, no one would want to eat here.”
“So what your saying is, the main goal is to ensure that your customer has a good experience and will want come back?”
“I guess so.”
“And how will having me lift my feet so you can hurry and finish your job help to reach that goal?”
“Exactly. Then why don’t you come back and finish after I’m done eating and gone.”
I understand the effect that good process can have on direction, efficiency and productivity. One-offs could make us constantly busy and utterly worthless. But it’s just as dangerous to stand defiantly behind an existing process as if it came down from the top of a stormy mountain on stone tablets. It’s not incontrovertible law, it is a means by which we better serve our customer so they’ll want to come back. In other words, process is just a tool, and we are its master. We should be extremely careful to not switch roles lest we become tools ourselves.