Addition By Subtraction Works

innovation management

Before you can add, you must subtract.

Canada's parliament has just enacted that it believes may be the world's first 'One for One Rule' where for every regulation added, one must be deleted. As reported on NPR's Morning Edition, doing such, the lawmakers hope, will make Canada more business-friendly.

While U.S. legislatures can certainly learn from our neighbors to the North, business here are already enacting the add/subtract model of management. A senior executive with whom I once worked asked members of the organization to become more entrepreneurial. At the same time, he was fully cognizant of the workload his people had so he wanted to make certain they had the time, as well as the energy, to think and do differently. It was a practice that worked.

Another company with whom I work is taking it one step further. As part of its strategic planning process, managers are tasked to remove two projects or processes before they add anything new. Such a practice sends a clear message that management is serious about change; it also communicates that management realizes that when you add, add, add, you get less in return, not more because people do not have to do their jobs properly. Worse, morale tends to ebb and cynicism sets in. Employees begin to regard the new stuff as simply another 'flavor of the month' and best to be ignored because it will pass soon enough.

When you remove tasks from a task, it demonstrates that the same old same old is not working. At the same time, it enables employees to have the time to think and do differently. Examples of doing differently including finding new ways to serve customers, developing new products, engineering new time-saving processes, and finding ways to eliminate bureaucracy that clutters every organization.

While the process is liberating, it can be time-consuming and so must be considered carefully. Here are some suggestions for making the 'subtract before you add' policy work.

Itemize tasks.

Add up all the activities and tasks people on the team are doing. What tasks add the most value? Which tasks are most time-consuming and which have the least value. [Note: There are some compliance rules that may be time-intensive but required by regulation to remain.]

Eliminate roadblocks.

What tasks are most onerous? Can they be simplified or eliminated? What must remain and why is it important. Questions like this require forethought and debate. Once you decide, move swiftly. Don't dawdle. Decisiveness is necessary.

Evaluate consequences.

After a period of time, look at how things are doing. Is there a negative effect resulting from what you have eliminated? If so, find a way to fix it. If not, keep moving forward.

These steps are not one-of's. Successful organizations keep themselves vigilant to eliminating waste and bureaucracy as well as open to the possibility to change that results from doing less.

Albert Einstein once opined, 'Out of clutter, find simplicity'. It is always easy to add things to do, finding what to eliminate can be difficult. But doing so leads to simpler and better ways of doing things. It also enables employees to feel better about what they are doing because they have a say what they do and why they do it.

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