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Posted: January 04, 2012

Toss the dead weight overboard

Bloat won't float your boat

Todd Ordal

A client recently asked me to read a lengthy document. When I asked why, he said, "I'd just like to get your thoughts on it." I'm not fond of "gotcha" activities, but I trust this guy. So I took it back to my office and sat down with a cup of coffee.

The beginning section read like a private placement memorandum - pitching a specific product. It was well-written, but I was confused about its purpose. The next section was apparently a sales pitch about how the product fit strategically with my client's business model. It then rolled into an update on cool pending product enhancements and finished with staff descriptions that sounded like Academy Awards® nominations.

No financial projections, no results.

At my next meeting with this client, I told him I couldn't for the life of me understand the document's purpose but that it seemed to be a verbose justification for continued existence. I watched the steam come out of his ears for a moment and then asked, "So what gives?"

The client said that this document, written by someone on his staff for an existing product, ended up on his desk, though he hadn't asked for it. Clearly someone took a great deal of time to write it (I found out later that two people wrote it). When he asked about its purpose, the VP in charge of that area said it was "just an update." The product had little revenue and wasn't profitable.

The client said there were many documents like this floating around his company; people trying to justify their existence, but adding no value. Further, as he looked at the company's centralized meeting schedule, which someone had to manage, he realized he had many people who spent half their time in meetings that had no real purpose outside of "updates."

The easy solution was to take out a red marker and start cutting head count. However, rash decisions often have unintended consequences. We talked further and he decided that he would start to engage more with people at all levels of the organization and ask two questions: What value do you bring to the organization? How could you design your job so that you brought significantly more value?

Some people add little value, but when given a chance, they might see how to change that. Regarding the "update" meetings, you might ask: What's the purpose of these meetings? How could we accomplish this more effectively? If you weren't in this meeting, what would you do that delights a customer, saves costs or brings in more revenue? It's about the end, not the means. Think output, not input.

Bloat is not only bad for our waistlines but also for companies. Unnecessary white papers and valueless meetings grow like barnacles on a ship and must be scraped off every so often -- or you're dead in the water.
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Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy LLC. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He speaks, writes, consults and advises on issues of strategy and leadership. Todd is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Follow Todd on Twitter here. You can also find Todd at http://www.appliedstrategy.info,  303-527-0417 or todd@appliedstrategy.info

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Readers Respond

Julia, I know that I squandered many hours and dollars on less than effective meetings when I was an executive, so am passionate about helping others be effective. I also know that I sat in many meetings--called by others--that I felt were a complete waste of time and talent. For several years, I had a weekly meeting in CA (I live in Boulder) that I had to attend. Sometimes it was an hour, sometimes many hours. 20% of my time spent in questionable activity every week... Cheers, Todd By Todd Ordal on 2012 01 09
Todd, Your client is lucky to have you- and they are smart to question the value of activity. I believe if leadership would take a look around the conference table and do the math that calculates the real cost of a meeting there would be a lot less meetings that go nowhere and a lot more meetings that added value. Stopping to determine what is truly important versus the 'cover my backside' to do list is well worth the time and effort. Julia Hill-Nichols By Julia Hill-Nichols, SPHR on 2012 01 09
Thanks Beth. I agree. I have seen, however, good people go unchallenged and turn into boat anchors in organizations. Put a talented person into a position where they add little value and you'll ruin their self worth. (Or they'll start writing unnecessary white papers to justify their existence, like the story above!) Cheers Todd By Todd Ordal on 2012 01 08
Dear Todd, This is great advice. Another action to take could be to revamp the interview process. Putting the right person in place from the beginning would definitely shift the company culture to more more cohesive and productive. Happy New Year! Beth Smith By Beth Smith on 2012 01 07

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