You Get What You Pay For

Growing up, my family remodeled two different houses while we lived in them. In addition to learning how to do most house repair jobs, I also learned about the value of buying good tools. When it came time to do a new project, my dad would buy the right tools for that job, and he would buy good ones. He claimed that doing the work himself paid him back for the tools and the next job he did would save him money.

Recently, I was having breakfast with a friend, and we were talking about tools. He said, “Better to be unhappy about the price you pay once than to be unhappy every time you use it.” I realized that was also part of my dad’s core values. He was willing to pay more for a well-made tool if it was designed to do the job correctly and would last. The small sacrifice of spending more was quickly offset with the joy of using the right, well-made tool.

We are often presented with a choice between quality and cost. While there are exceptions, you mostly do get what you pay for. However, not everyone subscribes to the “buy the best and keep it forever” philosophy, which is why there is always a market for low-quality, low-cost items. As for me, my experience as a young person has impacted my buying habits my entire life.

Interestingly, this same concept applies not only to tools but to the systems and processes we put in place. Usually, the currency that we spend on a process is time rather than actual money, but since time equals money, it works out to be the same thing. The principle is this: a small extra investment in time at the start often results in significant savings over the life of the system.

This is why we invest in continuous improvement (CI). CI is simply spending a little to improve the tool and then reaping the benefit as we repeat that function hundreds or thousands of times. We experience some pain, or cost, in acquiring a better “tool” so we can enjoy the way that tool works every time we use it.

An example of this is 5S, a methodology, or tool, for keeping the workplace clean and organized and thus safer. 5S is five words that define the cost we are willing to pay: Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain, in order to gain the benefit of working in a clean and therefore safe and efficient workspace. 5S is just one of many tools we can “buy” to make the work we do safer, more efficient, and more effective.

When my dad needed a new tool for a job we were undertaking, he would buy it and bring it home and we would get to work. However, we never called our home “The Tool House” or the “Miter Saw House” or anything else that would relate to or acknowledge the newest tool in our toolbox. No, our home was always “The Hill House,” because the Hills lived there. Everyone knew the Hill House was a great place to find the right tool for a job, but that was because of who the Hills were.

As leaders, we should be ready and willing to seek and adopt the best practices, or tools, that are available for the tasks we do. However, those tools are not our identity. We seek to utilize the best practices available, and even at times to pioneer best practices, because of who we are. Our identity defines our practice; our practice does not define our identity.

Likewise, what we do as individuals, the skills we acquire, the accomplishments we achieve, are caused by our character and identity. We are not defined by what we do; our actions are the result of our beliefs and identity. Ironically, we can change our beliefs and our character over time, and the easiest way to do so is by choosing to act in accordance with the belief or character we wish to build in ourselves.

Communities that clearly communicate their beliefs have the best opportunity for the members of the community to make small, but important, adjustments to their individual beliefs so the community functions better and better. When we invest in improving the way we respect each other, the way we value each other, and the way we care for each other, we actually get more than we pay for. We get a community that allows each of us to live our best life and experience the Bison Way.