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Why do we do the Things, the Way we do

We have just acquired a bottle of Italian craft, homemade and aged balsamic vinegar from a dear family friend who we think is trying to expose us to the wonders of dipping bread into the vinegar, for a total sensory experience. This is ironic because he is definitely not a fussy eater and is the epitome of ‘eat to live’. But, that’s a different story.

Over lunch today, the full-time chef of the household, or affectionately known as ‘mother’ had decided to inject some variety into the usual stir-fried xiao bai cai (baby bok choy) with garlic and 2 grains of salt, and serve some salad instead. And while she was at it, she decided to use copious amount of the fine balsamic vinegar to spruce up the dish.

During the course of the meal, the answer to my question of ‘I can smell it, but why can’t I taste the balsamic vinegar?’ increased in volume at the bottom of the salad bowl. A mixture of water and vinegar was reservoir-ing, and effectively, all the vinegar was going there, instead of on my iceberg lettuce! It was apparent that the aspiring chef had not grasped the idea that the salad needs to be free from water if balsamic vinegar is to be added, with “aiya, I don’t have so much time to dry the vegetables la, and you’re already drinking water as you eat too, so what’s wrong?“ as her defence.

We are like this in many aspects of our lives; religious rituals, work processes – and my personal favourite – festivities like Valentine’s Day and Christmas. We go through our lives doing the things we do, but not fully comprehending the rationale of our actions and deeds. When we enter into an organization, the ways we perform our tasks are already scribed in stone in antiquated SOPs, or informally in ‘we have been doing it this way, so you’ll just have to follow, ok?’. Maybe it is our Asian non-confrontational, non-rock-the-boat nature, or maybe it is due to our education system that crushes our opportunity to constructively question authority, but, not many ask the momentous question of why we do the things the way we do.

In order to be effective and efficient at our jobs, we need to truly and thoroughly understand the purpose and rationale of the tasks we are performing. Questioning processes, SOPs, and sometimes even directives and authority, respectfully, is a habit that might provide us with a greater understanding of jobs and tasks and even allow us and the management to rethink redundancies in process and procedures. This should be undertaken by everyone, at every level, of any organisation. Questioning processes, and asking ‘why’ could lead to astonishing revelations.

An example that many in the service industry fail to recognise is the cycle of service providing. We do not see the value of providing decent service, because it does not positively affect us; we are not working in a tipping culture. What we fail to draw the link to, is that we are subconsciously adding our workload, or indirectly making ourselves redundant if we keep up the mediocre service. Because of the substandard delivery of service, customers may have more questions and doubts, coming back repeatedly to find out more. A worst case scenario is that customers are so turned off by the service that they share this experience with 24 others (2012, 2012 Global Customer Service Barometer), leading to a drastic drop in sales that the organisation is forced to downscale or cease operations altogether. And, astoundingly, all these could be prevented if only one took the time to thoroughly think about why they are hired to deliver customer service.

As a concluding message, ask yourselves this every time you undertake a task: should I continue to bake the chicken in the oven sans its legs just because it is my family’s traditional recipe?

 

References:

Echo, 2012, retrieved from: http://about.americanexpress.com/news/docs/2012x/axp_2012gcsb_us.pdf