The Ghosts of Business Past

Posted on Mar 1, 2012

This month I sorted through a large box of personal items. Whilst it was an interesting journey into the past, I wondered why I’d hung onto so many of these things, as I hadn’t used or looked at them in years.

We do the same thing in business. We hang onto practices, processes and attitudes which are out of date. They even become reasons for resisting change. How often have you heard someone say “we’ve always done it that way” or “we tried that before and it didn’t work” – neither are valid reasons for not considering another option.

If you think you’re in danger of hanging onto your “business past” or want to make sure you don’t, take the time to run through this checklist and make it something you do regularly.

1.  Is the process still achieving a positive result for your business? That is, is it driving revenue, retaining existing business or satisfying regulatory requirements? If not remove it.

2.  Are you overcomplicating a simple piece of admin? Some classic examples are creating additional ways to record data (when it could be easily added to existing files or software) or inputting handwritten notes electronically in a particular format – as long as your handwriting is legible, save some time and scan it instead!

3.  Am I resisting an idea because of past experience with it? Remember that everything including your business is changing all the time. An idea which mightn’t have worked in the past may now produce positive results. Never dismiss any idea (new or old) without proper analysis or you may miss an opportunity.

4.  Am I keeping an idea because of past success? Basically the opposite of the above but an equally easy trap to fall into. If a good idea from the past is no longer producing the results, then it’s time to rework or remove it.

5.  Am I narrowing my focus too much? Our brains are adept at creating rules for reviewing information to make things quicker and easier for us. However, this sometimes results in what’s called a ‘cognitive bias’ which skews our perspective and can prevent us seeing new opportunities. Be wary of it and always challenge your viewpoint or allow yourself to be challenged by others and their different ways of thinking.

6.  Are your staff hanging onto the past? Be aware that your staff may also be hanging onto past practices and behaviours. Ensure you share this information with them and allow them to remove things which no longer help them achieve their results.

7.  Are you keeping something just because you invested a lot of time and effort into
it? We can all fall in love with our own work and it’s hard to throw away something you are proud of, especially when it took so much time and effort – believe me I know the feeling! However, be aware that removing items (which no longer serve a purpose) will improve your business and you will build equally great things in their place.

Removing or changing past processes is difficult and it’s amazing how attached we can become to our business history. Ultimately though, we need to measure our efforts in results rather than paperwork and by freeing ourselves up from our business past we will open up the way to a successful business future!