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Welcome to the July 2008 issue of Alignment Solutions! Summer in the U.S. seems to be a good time to step back and focus on how well our structures and processes are aligned with our desired business outcomes. Often we can improve organizational effectiveness by jettisoning unnecessary “baggage.” This type of examination can be illuminating in our personal lives as well.

The premise of the Feature Article, Clearing the Organizational Clutter, is that organizations often accumulate “clutter” in the form of unwieldy structures or processes that prevents them from optimizing their business results. We offer some insight into this issue and provide suggestions for de-cluttering.

In Two Questions that Eliminate Organizational Clutter, the Business Solutions section provides a simple tool to aid in releasing some of the clutter that results in a misalignment of actions and goals.

In the Personal Solutions section, Why Losing My Luggage Was the Best Part of My Trip describes a valuable lesson about choices and perspectives I re-learned recently. This lesson might resonate with those of you who travel by air or otherwise entrust your personal belongings to other people for safe transport.

I invite you to visit my web site at www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com to find articles and resources that may be of value to you and your colleagues. I welcome your feedback!

 

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Clearing the Organizational Clutter

I see a lot of “clutter” in organizations that has nothing to do with piles of paper or disorderly desks and offices. Organizational clutter can take many forms. See if any of these resonate with you:

  • Layers of bureaucracy that stifle creativity and innovation
  • Maze-like organizational structures created to avoid confronting
    unsatisfactory employee performance or dysfunctional workplace relationships
  • Hierarchies that slow decision-making and obstruct efforts to serve customers well
  • Disengaged employees who serve as a drag on productivity and profit
  • Programs that drain resources and do not support organizational goals

Whatever form such clutter takes, the consequences are misalignment with organizational goals, and barriers to optimizing business results.

Organizations can be notorious pack rats. My observation is that many of them tend to grow by collecting layer upon layer of “things” – e.g., structures, processes – without reviewing what’s in place and how well it’s working. This is especially true when organizations are growing rapidly and there seems to be no time for anything other than taking care of day-to-day operations. In other cases, people simply work around dysfunction by creating additional processes or structures. In doing so, they create misalignment with desired outcomes.

Recently an executive asked me to help re-structure his organization because he felt it was not serving its customers well. What quickly came to light was that as the department had grown, the structure was designed to work around employees whose performance was problematic. Collectively, the dysfunctions were like the proverbial elephant in the living room: everyone knew they were there, they were taking up all the room and sucking up all the resources while making everyone uncomfortable, yet no one acknowledged their presence or did anything to remove them.

Here are four actions you can take to clear organizational clutter:

  1. Keep your goals front and center. When you are thinking about implementing new ideas or proposing new programs or re-directing resources, stop and ask yourself which goal(s) they support. If the reply is “none,” do not go forward.
  2. Review your organization structure. Does it still serve you well given the changes (e.g., increased size, technological advances) that have occurred? Will it serve the organization as it implements its strategy?
  3. Stop building processes and organizational structures around dysfunctional people and reporting relationships.
  4. Consider zero-based exercises – e.g., budgeting, staffing – that begin by taking a look at what is needed and utilizing only those resources that meet the needs.

What steps will you take today to begin to clear the organizational clutter that is preventing you from maximizing business results?

For examples of organizational clutter and a list of ten ways to clear organizational clutter, please see the complete article Clearing the Organizational Clutter on my web site.

 

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Two Questions that Eliminate Organizational Clutter

One of the reasons for accumulating organizational clutter is that people are afraid to get rid of things. All kinds of scary implications come to mind: What if we discard something we later need? What would people think if we discontinue this program? What if that is the wrong program or process or structure or action? Rather than reviewing what we have and what is needed, we take what often seems to be the easier course of action and just add on to what is there. The result, of course, is an inability to optimize business results.

There is a simple tool you can use to do away with some forms of organizational clutter by allowing you to confront the fears that prevent you from releasing things that no longer serve you or the organization well. It consists of asking and answering these two questions:

  1. What is the worst thing that could happen (realistically) if we did XYZ?
  2. Can we live with that outcome?

For example, what is the worst thing that could happen if you confront an employee who is not performing? Perhaps he or she would sue the organization. How likely is that scenario though, particularly when there is no legal basis for the action? A more plausible outcome is that the person will be unhappy, and perhaps will leave. Can you live with the loss of a non-performing employee?

My observation is that people often blow their fears way out of proportion. Thus it is important to be realistic when considering what the worst thing that could happen would be if you take, or fail to take, a given action. Consider the likelihood that this outcome will occur as well as the risk that it poses to the organization.

In my experience, once the anticipated negative outcomes are examined realistically, they generally turn out to be quite acceptable. In fact, they often result in positive outcomes, though people may not have considered them because they were so focused on the negatives.

I challenge you to take one fear that could be preventing you from dealing with an aspect of organizational clutter and ask yourself the two questions above. Your answers could be liberating!

 

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Why Losing My Luggage Was the Best Part of My Trip

I experienced a major “aha” during a recent trip to the Bahamas when what I initially perceived to be a nightmare taught me a valuable life lesson. The purpose of the trip was business, but since I had never been to the Bahamas I decided to go two days early to spend some time relaxing at the beach. When I reached the Nassau airport, however, I discovered that American Airlines had lost my suitcase. So there I was in Paradise, with only the business clothes I had traveled in to my name. Stores already had closed for the evening, and I was told my choices were to take the bus downtown the next day to shop for appropriate beach wear or to hope that my luggage showed up in the next two days.

My first reaction was to focus on the loss and the inconvenience it was causing in my life and the plans I had made. Instead of going to the beach, I would have to spend the morning shopping for replacement clothes. (Since shopping is possibly my least favorite pastime, this task did not represent a sliver lining to me.) You might imagine some of the unkind thoughts about American Airlines that were going through my head! As I continued fuming over what felt like a personal affront, I became more and more upset. Suddenly I thought, “Wait a minute; time out! What am I doing? I have a choice here!” I remembered that though I had no control over others’ actions, I always have control over how I choose to view them.

By focusing on the injustice of the situation, I had lost sight of my goal of enjoying the beach. This perspective caused me to dwell on the past, which I couldn’t change, instead of identifying a Plan B that would get me to the beach as soon as possible. Once I became aware of my unproductive point of view, I chose to release my attachment to my lost clothes so I could re-focus on my goal. Lo and behold, obtaining suitable replacement clothes was not as onerous a task as had been described to me! In addition, I experienced several other positive outcomes: (1) I talked with several wonderful people I wouldn’t have met otherwise, (2) they went out of their way to help me, and (3) most importantly, I realized how my unconscious attachment to easily replaceable things was keeping me from enjoying the Paradise that surrounded me. As a bonus, my new perspective enabled me to realize that I didn’t need all the clothes I had packed: for the vacation part of the trip, shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals would take me wherever I wanted to go. In fact, the realization that I didn’t need MY clothes was very liberating!

For those who like happy endings, I am pleased to report that this adventure turned out quite well: in addition to the positive experiences listed above, I love my new board shorts, my suitcase finally showed up, and the lesson learned almost made me forgive American Airlines.

 

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Date of Publication: July, 2008
Pat@BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com
www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com | 562.985.0333
Copyright 2008 - All rights reserved, Pat Lynch