How to Declutter Your Business

As a company grows, it's all too easy to accumulate processes, systems and even people that no longer fit. That's when it's time to purge

Written by Phoebe Fung

This New Year’s Day, as I was clearing the clutter from my overgrown clothes closet at home, I reflected on how useful it would be to do the same for my firm. Think of all the unnecessary and unused “stuff” that can accumulate as a company grows—practices, processes, tech systems, even employees. Recently, I’ve set out to purge my business of the things that are no longer useful or relevant (a process I’ll admit is easier said than done). Here’s my approach to decluttering a company.

Step 1: Restore order

Much like my closet had grown through purchases made by impulse decisions, as my business grew from one unit to three units last year, it also started being cluttered with ad-hoc processes and systems. If left unchecked, the lean and fit-for-purpose systems that so beautifully fit a business in the startup phase can morph into a beast of mismatched processes.

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So I decided to start by restoring order. Just as I really don’t need 10 black jackets, I decided I really don’t need two different ways of reporting weekly financials. Yes, our different locations have different requirements, but if we’re going to get all parts of the business running on the same strategy, we need to use the same processes. So, I got my managers to agree on one reporting system and one template. This seems minor, but just think how having one unified system cascades into data collection, tracking and the message it sends to your organization that we’re all on the same team.

Step 2: Purge items that no longer fit (even sentimental ones)

We’ve all done it—kept that beloved old t-shirt long after it ceased being something wearable in public. Such sentimental items stay in our closets collecting dust because we’re waiting for the fad to come back or, more accurately, we can’t bear to get rid of it.

The same goes for the “sacred cows” in our organizations.

I’ve had to ask myself: are you keeping certain policies, rules or employees just for sentimental reasons? Do they really fit in our growing organization? There is nothing wrong with admitting that a policy or employee that was a fit for a startup does not fit the culture of a growing organization. After all, at one point, even the founder will no longer be the best CEO of a growing organization. We all have our time and place. That’s why it’s so important to critically examine people and policies in your organization and make the right cuts—whether it be re-shifting or shifting out—as tough as it is to do.

For me, this was a difficult process, but it’s had some major benefits. In my regular sit-down meetings with our key players, I had frank discussions with each about how they fit in with the changing organization. It was an eye-opener, informing me of both each person’s changing personal and career aspirations and their fit with the changing organization. For the most part, these discussions were beneficial, as people either “self-selected” (read: opted to leave) or chose to make adjustments.

Crucially, the managers I spoke with cascaded these important conversations with their staff, which will ideally lead to a situation where we’ll be left with only the right people who really want to be there. This takes time, but I know it’s worth the effort for both staff and the company.

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Step 3: Find your 20%

I read somewhere that the average person wears 20% of their wardrobe 80% of the time. I think this is a good analogy for our business processes. So I decided to reevaluate the important 20% of my activities that I spend 80% of my time on.

Our growth in the past year has been challenging.  Moving from one unit to three, I spent too much time on operational items and too little on strategic issues. I knew it was time to make a change. I got my key managers involved and I admitted my mistakes in the past year. They’ve been charged with taking over most of the day-to-day operational tasks, so I can spend most of my time on strategic ones. As a result, I’m left with more engagement from my key managers and more time to focus on my business.

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Having rid my business of much of the superfluous stuff, I’m left with streamlined processes, a hyper-engaged staff and more time to do what I love doing. I’m starting to like this decluttering gig!

Phoebe Fung is proprietor of Vin Room, a Calgary-based wine bar with two locations and that ranked No. 25 on the 2011 PROFIT HOT 50 list of Canada’s Top New Growth Companies, proprietor of VR Wine, a boutique wine store, and a former financial executive with a multinational energy company.

More columns by Phoebe Fung

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