I don’t know about you, but those words are the bane of my existence. Part of our job as administrative professionals is to design office processes and to improve on old ones. The first step in improving an existing process is to understand why it’s being done as it is. That’s when the dreaded words appear. “Because we’ve always done it that way.”
Let me tell you a little story. I went to work for a large corporation in Houston, and my first week there I was delegated the task of delivering pay stubs to the employees in our department. Almost 700 pay stubs. I had to get the already sealed envelopes from payroll, sort them to the appropriate floor, and deliver the envelopes to the admin on that floor. The really bad part? Nowhere on the stub did it have the person’s floor, and we were growing so fast, people were moving every month or two. It was a nightmare job, and took me about 4-5 hours every 2 weeks.
When I asked why we did it this way, the answer was the dreaded, “We’ve always done it that way.” No one had any idea why we still did this. The admin I’d inherited the job from inherited it from someone else who inherited it from someone else. Payroll didn’t know; no other department in the company did this. Mail services didn’t know.
So I put together a proposal to mail the stupid stubs to each person’s home address, since they weren’t actual checks, just the stubs. Almost everyone had direct deposit. I showed that the number of hours we spent sorting and delivering pay stubs was much more costly than mailing them first class mail.
By now, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Is there a point to this story.”
Absolutely. The point is, never take “because we’ve always done it that way” as a reason not to update a process. Always investigate the reason for a process, but when no one can provide a coherent reason for it, go ahead and propose changes. Sometimes there’s a perfectly good reason it’s always been done that way, but you won’t know if you don’t ask.
Oh, did I mention that we started mailing the stubs, and I got a bonus for saving the company money? While improving processes can be it’s own reward, the rewards can sometimes be more tangible.