Stutzman: Sometimes you can’t skip steps to get desired results

I grew up on a rock farm. Every year I spent more hours than I can count out walking back and forth across fields, sifting through the dirt, filling my arms with loads of rocks, walking to the wagon and throwing them on, repeating the steps. Any rock bigger than a potato was wiggled out of the soil and stacked in the crook of my arm. When I had so many rocks in my arms that I could barely stand up, or hold them without dropping any, it was time to head over to the tractor bucket or wagon and unload them. Then turn around and harvest another armful. By the end of each day I was caked with rich brown earth, hair lightened by the sun, hands nicked with red cuts and scrapes, and sore from carrying heavy weight for hours on end. Not really a fashionable look for a young girl but it was life as I knew it.

It wasn’t really a rock farm. It was a regular family farm with horses and cattle. But it sure felt like a rock farm sometimes. The rocks had to be cleared from the field before planting could begin. If the rocks were left on the field they could damage the planting machinery. So picking rocks was a critical element of the food growing process every year as well as an important financial step to reduce repairs. And every year the earth’s rotation kicked out a whole new crop of rocks close to the surface that would once again need to be removed. I never understood how such a small field could produce so many rocks in one lifetime. Some years it felt like all I did was pick rocks.

Now I live in town. It’s been a decade since I spent hour upon hour in a field, squinting against the sun and wind blowing dust in my eyes. I don’t really miss it but I will never forget the value of picking rocks.

Today I’m not a big fan of processes that have a lot of steps. In fact, a large part of my college education involved the analysis of business practices to make them more efficient while increasing productivity. However, some steps just can’t be skipped; like picking rocks.

I see businesses all across the community skipping valuable steps in an effort to make more money. Often this is at the detriment of customer service or quality of product; which inevitably, leads to loss of money when people stop using or buying the services or visiting the business. It’s not entirely their fault. We’ve become a society obsessed with instant gratification. We say, “I need it now and I won’t wait. If I have to wait I will not be understanding; I will be crabby.” We’ve forced ourselves to cut out the extra value. We’ve become intolerant and our intolerance has in some cases led to poor business practices that make us crabby.

So how do we take it back? How do we learn how to go back and pick the rocks? How do we make sure we are not eliminating important value from our lives, our customer experience, and our business procedures?

We go back to doing business with people. We connect with people. We put names with faces and stop thinking of impersonal customer counts, transaction tallies and year-end totals. We think about what we would want out of the experience. How we would like to be treated. We make each moment personal. When we make it personal, we place higher value on each and every element and will be far less likely to skip the steps that matter. And if it takes a little bit longer, and quality service comes with a smile, we say thank you.

Mary Beth Stutzman’s Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays.