There Are Things That Are Better Left Unchanged
One of the subjects I took in the CEU Graduate was Total Quality Management (TQM) under Professor Flordeliza Anastacio, Ph.D., Vice President of CEU-Malolos. Like in any other lesson, experience is the best way to understand the concepts and principles we learn in the classroom. Hence, she organized an educational field trip to Malolos, Bulacan to visit micro and small business enterprises for us to have first-hand experience on how these businesses operate. The end objective of the trip was to review their business models and come up with recommendations on how to improve their business operations to enhance productivity and enable and prepare their businesses for expansion and growth.
Among the small enterprises that we visited, in which I took a special interest, was the maker of religious images. As we enter the small shop, one would not expect a factory that operates at the back of the property. As we were led in, there was nothing fancy or spectacular about the business. There were no state-of-the-art high-tech types of machinery that were operating. The area where the works on images were undertaken was beneath the old, dilapidated building made of wood that was open on all sides, making the air flow freely (which I think was good considering the substances they use). Most of the work was done using their bare hands and simple tools of the trade, and some were even make do materials from used plastic containers. The people that worked were all relatives, whose houses were located inside the same compound of the business enterprise. Thus, they could go home for breaks, even take a siesta when needed.
The business process was pretty simple, similar to a regular manufacturing production line. The processes were divided into sections, starting from raw materials located at the outmost area (near the entrance), to the molding area of the images using resins, going to the final painting, then finishing touches ending up with the quality control and packaging of the images. What was noticeable and remarkable was how each of the people in each of the sections/processes intricately, meticulously, and with much dedication do their assigned work. I speculate the workers were Catholics who genuinely understood the value that religious images play in expressing devotion and faith among the laity. I could sense a relaxed and happy atmosphere that pervades among family members working in the factory.
Photo for visualization only. Photo Credit: https://statues.com/
At the time of our visit, they were already exporting images abroad, and one of their major markets is in the African continent, where the Catholic Church is thriving phenomenally.
As we rode our vehicle on our travel back to Manila, Dr. Anastacio started the informal discussion when she posed the questions, “What can you say about the business model, and what business improvement would you suggest or recommend for the business enterprises that we visited?” Each one of us was given a chance to share our thoughts and insights about our experiences.
While the questions brought forth were expected, I was caught unprepared for the kind answer I had given. Early on with the trip, knowing the objective of the trip, being the smart ass that I was, I already had anticipated the probable questions that would be asked for our discussion. I had the framework of my answers developed in my mind, which I would tweak and tailor-fit depending on the specifics of the business we would visit. Any business student worth his/her salt would know that there are general standard templated principles and concepts available in books that can be “taken off the shelf,” so to speak, for use at any given time and place.
When my turn came, all the responses that I had prepared suddenly vanished in thin air. Out of the blue, I blurted out, “I would not recommend any business improvement. I would rather suggest that they maintain their business model and the way they do it.” They all looked at me. It seems my professor and my classmates also did not expect and were also unprepared for my answer. Seeing the looks on their faces, I said in confidence, “Yes! I would rather not change the way they undertake their processes and let the business remain as it is.”
My thoughts and insights.
While I am not personally against business innovations and improvements, some enterprises are better left alone.
First, the entrepreneurs were not even trained to be businessmen. They are not even familiar with the concepts of business models, frameworks, business process rein-engineering, and all that jargons that business schools teach us. The business came about from nothing but sheer knock and gut and the innate God-given talent of those who established it. Unlearned as they were, they were able to develop something good that they themselves were not even aware was a business model, a system, a process. And importantly, it worked, and it worked very well indeed. They don’t even have manuals, written policies, and procedures that many of us in the corporate arena are familiar with. But they know their business by heart, much better than many of us who claims to be “learned” or “educated” from institutions of higher learnings.
Second, allowing the business to remain as they are would be more sustainable in the long run considering the low cost involved in the production, making the products marketable and competitive in the world market. To effect a significant shift in how they do their business would be too much of a gamble. It would involve additional expenses, and the uncertainty of how things would turn out at the expense of the family members who might end up jobless if the changes were later proven to be unsuccessful, or even if successful would probably displace them by the entry of new workers, and even managers.
And lastly, to change the way they do and conduct their business would be to demolish the rich heritage by which the business was founded – as a family enterprise in the truest sense of the word “family.” Brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews and nieces, uncles and aunties working together in an atmosphere of collegial fun and family friendship. To change would be to destroy the family culture already embedded in their operations (consciously or unconsciously), including a balanced work-personal life and collective well-being. This is a unique value proposition that the business enterprise can offer to the outside world. Given the chance, I would have wanted to document for the upcoming entrepreneurs to learn from.
In summary, just like in business, there are things in life that are best left alone to evolve on their own. Let them thrive based on the intuitive, natural course of events. Allow the changes to be undertaken in ways and manners that they see best based on the context of their rich heritage and the culture which they were founded and came about, for they are “the true experts” of their own enterprise. While they may seek professional assistance, let not the intellectual arrogance of the learned (whose only claim was being “educated”) get in the way of how the core values and beliefs by which their business (personal or otherwise) was instituted. Not all have to change. In the end, the best way to start a change is just to remain unchanged. (104)