Short Ham Rule and Data Governance

December 6, 2008
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One of my old bosses, a long time IBM VP who was trained in the traditional Big Blue executive training program, used to refer to the “short ham” rule quite often. With my apologies for its lack of political correctness, the story goes something like this:

Sarah is recently married and for the first time decides to cook the Easter ham for her new extended family. Her spouse’s sisters, mother and grandmother are all coming to dinner and as a new


One of my old bosses, a long time IBM VP who was trained in the traditional Big Blue executive training program, used to refer to the “short ham” rule quite often. With my apologies for its lack of political correctness, the story goes something like this:

Sarah is recently married and for the first time decides to cook the Easter ham for her new extended family. Her spouse’s sisters, mother and grandmother are all coming to dinner and as a new bride, she is nervous. As the family arrives, she begins preparing it for dinner.

Sarah’s sister-in-law Debbie helps with the preparation. As Sarah begins to put the ham into the oven, Debbie stops her. “You must cut off the back half of the ham before it goes into the oven.” she says.

Sarah was nervous, but somehow musters the courage to ask a simple question – why? Debbie is shaken for a moment at the nerve of her new sister-in-law. How dare she question the family tradition?

Debbie pauses then says, “Well, I’m not sure. My Mom always does it. Let’s ask her why.”

When asked, Mom also hesitates. “Well, my Mom always cut off that part of the ham. I’m not sure why.”

Finally, the group turns to Grandma, who is sitting in her rocking chair listening to the discussion. By now, the entire party has heard about the outrageous boldness of Sarah. The party turns silent as the elder slowly begins to whisper her answer. “Well, I grew up in the depression and we didn’t have a pan big enough to fit the whole ham. So, we’d cut off part of it and saved it for another meal.”

Three factors in the short ham story caused change. First, Sarah’s courage to take on the project of cooking the ham started the change. Second, Sarah’s willingness to listen and learn the processes of others in the family gave her credibility in the eyes of the family. Finally, Sarah’s question – why – that created change. It was only with audacity that Sarah was able to educate and make the holiday feast more enjoyable.

The same can be said about leading your company toward of data governance. You have to have the courage to take on new projects, understand the business processes, and ask why to become an agent for change in your organization. A leader has to get past resistance and convince others to embrace new ways of doing things.

Building credibility is the key to overcoming the resistance. If you were to sit down and work for a day in the billing center, call center or purchasing agent job, for example, people there will see that you understand them and care about their processes. At the very least, you could invite a business person to lunch to understand their challenges. The hearts and minds of the people can be won if you walk a mile in their shoes.

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