Sharing Success

Never Stop Improving!

Our family is pretty big on tradition. As a family of farmers with a passion for food, we still stick to many seasonal food traditions that my grandparents brought with them from Italy.

For example, for as long as I can remember, the Cortopassi family has gathered together in early December to make sausage and salami.

We strictly follow the exact same Cortopassi family recipe used for many generations in Lucca, Italy. Every step is carefully executed, down to how evenly we portion and hand-tie each natural casing. After proper aging, the results are dependably consistent and a great source of family pride.

What a great day! Our family bonds while working. We enjoy a fantastic lunch with stories honoring our ancestors. And we end the day feeling good about a job done well.

There was one part of the sausage and salami process that we really disliked. That is the step where we had to hand-knead the seasonings into the ground meat. Not only is the meat extremely cold, it is physically hard to mix evenly by hand. So, none of us looked forward to this part of the day.

We often asked ourselves, “Why don’t we use a mixing machine?” Our answer: This is how we have always done it. “If it is not broken, don’t fix it!” Deep down we were uncomfortable that any change might somehow change the finished sausage and salami.

Then a couple of years ago, we stepped out of our comfort zone. After much discussion and thorough research, we concluded that using a mixer should be at least as consistent as hand-mixing. So we decided to try it.

Our hands thanked us. But we were still nervous that our beloved sausage and salami might end up tasting somehow different.

After waiting for the end of the curing process, we tried the finished sausage and salami. We breathed a collective sigh of relief. Each had the same outstanding flavor we loved.

Mixed by hand, our sausage and salami had been reliably consistent. But as each of us enjoyed our personal share, we individually came to the same conclusion. The flavors were not just consistent. They had become identical across the entire batch.

Had we imagined the improvement? To be sure that it was not merely “in our heads,” we thought through whether the new method should lead to the new outcome. Our conclusion? The mixer was distributing the seasonings even more thoroughly than we could by hand. The difference was real!

Our family’s reason for always doing things exactly the same way was a good one. That is how we achieved consistent results, year after year, generation after generation. But there is a big difference between maintaining the status quo and making a change for the better.

Finding a way to improve the finished product is just plain smart. Here is what I mean. Early in my business career, I had a boss/mentor named Bob Ilse. Whenever production people debated the merits of different preparation methods, Bob would remind everyone “It’s all about the food, stupid!” In other words, no matter how you choose to make a food, the only thing that ultimately matters to the eater is how it tastes!

Bob’s saying is so right. Our sausage and salami are enjoyed by our extended family and friends. They could care less how each step in the process works. They just like that it tastes really good. And our change helped make it even better.

Here is what I learned about change:

• Focus on the finished outcome. If a change might improve it – try it out! If it works, your product is even better. If not, return to the old method and quality will remain at least as good.

• Be careful about making changes to save something like effort, time, money, etc. Being efficient is good but never at the expense of quality.

• When the finished product improves, verify the underlying reason. If the reason is not just wishful thinking, then adopt the new method.

• Especially in business, don’t fall victim to a “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” mentality. When considering a new method or approach, sticking to the status quo may feel safer. However, avoiding potential improvement while your competition is stepping up their game risks falling behind.

I truly cherish our family tradition of making authentic Italian sausage and salami. I am also proud that we embraced a change that made it better!