For some reason—Labor Day, back-to-school, fall housecleaning—people tend to look at September as the time to say, okay, now I have to get organized. The “decluttering” begins!
Given that we are fans of increasing simplicity and reducing complexity, we enjoyed a particularly timely piece in the Economist about decluttering your entire organization. Illustrating how simple it really is, “decluttering” has only three steps.
1. Reduce organizational complexity. The Economist article cites a recently published book, Six Simple Rules: How to Manage Complexity Without Getting Complicated, written by members of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Authors Yves Morieux and Peter Tollman note that increasing and often conflicting customer demands and regulatory requirements, as well as intensifying global competition, are making business increasingly complicated.
BCG research shows that in 1955, businesses typically committed to between four and seven “performance imperatives.” These days, companies commit to between 25 and 40—a huge increase that is further complicated by the fact that up to 50 percent of these business imperatives are contradictory. High quality, but low prices. Innovative, yet efficient. Fast, yet reliable. Globally consistent and locally responsive.
Tastes great, less filling. No, wait, that was something different.
Moreover, companies deal with these increasing and conflicting demands with . . . more complexity, such as by setting up new procedures and departments to deal with them.
2. Reduce meetings. Big-company managers spent 15 percent of their time in meetings and senior executives spent up to 40 percent, according to Bain & Co. research that was cited in the Economist article. While it’s true that some meetings are required to coordinate the work and communicate among people, there have to be limits. (Looking for more ideas on how to reduce meetings and conduct them more efficiently?)
3. Reduce email. The Bain statistics also show that the number of external communications managers receive has increased from about 1,000 a year in 1970 to around 30,000 today—much of it in email. And each message takes up more time, both in writing it and reading it. (Looking for more ideas on how to reduce email and use it more effectively?)
The worst part about clutter is that it tends to feed upon itself, the Economist warns. For example, adding a new mid-level manager creates enough work for half an assistant, while adding a new senior vice president creates enough work for one and a half assistants. Organizations such as GE, Siemens, and Ford are all taking steps to eliminate corporate clutter—including levels of managers—to reduce their overhead and operate more efficiently.
Another way? Make managers justify the bureaucracy they introduce, the Economist suggests. At some companies, executives are accountable for the organizational overhead they impose on staff in terms of “meetings, memos, and initiatives,” and their performance is graded against that of their peers. That sort of accountability would help take care of some of the “unfunded mandates” that come down from corporate. Perhaps it’s the sort of “sweeping initiative” that fall housecleaning should include.
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