Decluttering your organization — taking the lead

Simplicity is not that simple. Some ideas on how to declutter your organization.

How scary is change? I wrote this post six months ago — but was reluctant to publish it.

Beth Comstock, CMO of GE, wrote a great post on simplicity. Last year she sold her house and most of her physical possessions to declutter her life — much the way that GE is attempting to make simplicity the hallmark of the company.

But simplicity is not that simple.

Whether it’s your company, or your personal life, you will need to deal with other people around the issue of simplifying and decluttering. I’d say the biggest challenge is not just doing it yourself (and that’s big) but motivating others to follow you in that direction.

Many people lug around huge piles of clutter that is not physical, but intellectual. The phrases “But we’ve always done it that way!” “What if something goes wrong?” and “What if someone yells at me?” are symptoms of that clutter.

businessman in red tape
“But that’s the way we’ve always done it!”

It’s tempting to dismiss these folks as too lazy to declutter. But, if you watch closely, many of these people are incredibly hard working. They are working extra hours, at a frenetic pace, to use old, cheap, flimsy and ineffective (but familiar!) tools to do things just the way they have always done them. Even as the world around them changes.

A great example of this is the newsletter editor who insists on printing and mailing a newsletter that 95 percent of your customers toss into recycling (noting, as they do, how you’re wasting paper, money — and their time). Meanwhile, the grudgingly produced electronic edition of your newsletter is a PDF that no one clicks to open — or, even worse, a poorly designed, seemingly endless email message. Soon you’ve trained your customers to automatically route any electronic communication from your organization to the Spam folder — even the fundraising appeal from your executive director. If your new marketing consultant dares to suggest an updated communications plan using postcards and short, frequent emails — out come the garlic and wooden stakes.

It’s not just the newsletter editor. It’s the nonprofit events person who plans the same old fundraising auction every year — even as more and more of your donors tell you it’s a pain to drive downtown to the same old hotel and park (for a small fortune) in the hotel garage. These days, they’d rather go to a more intimate event at the home of a board member in their neighborhood. You’ve gotten the feedback, but your events person gets the look of a deer in the headlights at the thought of doing Something Different. He or she will hurry to mention to you the name of one donor who “really likes the auction,” and trudge down the same old path, holding that person’s (extrapolated) dislike of board-hosted events in front of them like a shield.

The motivation here is fear — of failure and criticism. And it’s a huge barrier to decluttering.

You’ll see this most clearly when one of the Old Guard suggests that instead of decluttering your business processes, you add to the clutter by doing it the old way and the new way at the same time. That, they assure you, will keep everybody (meaning them) happy. It ignores the reality that it will double either your costs or your staff time to run the two processes simultaneously — plus have everyone in the organization (and customers) now interacting with two projects or systems instead of one.

If you want to declutter your organization, you, as a leader, need to take the responsibility for removing the fear of failure and criticism — theirs and yours.

And that’s the toughest decluttering of all.

See Comstock’s post for inspiration.

Some previous posts on organizational change:

Practicing change

Change, part 2

Why there’s nothing funny about your website’s photos

Tips for finding a corporate photographer for your company’s website and executive headshots.

The comic strip wife wants to replace the shabby living room set with all new furniture. Her cost-conscious husband proposes a compromise — why don’t they just freshen up the living room with a new coat of paint?

“Aieeee!” the wife shrieks at his cluelessness. “Then our old furniture will only look worse!”

Hilarious? Not if that’s what’s going on with your corporate website.

outdated COO photo
Is this your COO photo? Let’s hope not.

You freshened up your website with all that beautiful stock photography showing friendly customer service representatives, sleek professionals, and happy corporate customers. But on the website’s “About Us” page, you still have a off-kilter picture of your headquarters that looks like it was taken during the Reagan Administration. Let’s not even talk about the blurry headshot of the COO with a blow-dried pompadour and the grin of an axe-murderer.

Which brings us to the question: Why is it that companies are willing to spend thousands of dollars to launch new websites with the latest SEO and social-media bells and whistles but then go all Scrooge when it comes to spending $1,000 to get  one photo of their building and basic headshots of their four top executives?

The answer is simpler than you think. It’s because the web designer went out and got them the stock photography, but to get the building photo and executive headshots, they’d have to…well, what would they have to do?

  • Find photographers
  • Schedule their colleagues to get executive portraits

Apparently, they’ll do anything to avoid this.

What’s the real cost?

All too often, the marketing department deals with the photography issue by calling in the IT guy’s wife or the CEO’s nephew—someone who “just loves to take photos” and will do it for free. And that’s why so many company websites end up with a poorly-lit shot of the reception-area front desk with their (barely readable) logo on it—and the receptionist’s gym bag poking out from behind the desk. It explains “About Us” pages with a headshot of the CEO with his bald spot shining like a search light.

Really, isn’t it time to call the pros?

Tips for finding a professional photographer

For head shots, it’s pretty easy. You’ll find photographers by searching under the keywords “(city name)” “photography” and “headshots” (or “corporate headshots”). Ask for their pricing for “onsite headshots with backdrop and lighting” and tell them you want high-resolution digital copies and full rights to one or two images for each executive.

professional photo setupA photo session for four people should take less than an hour.

Two tips:

  • If you are trying to control costs, don’t start adding in photos of lots of other employees or setting up those ghastly, fake-looking group photos in the reception area or conference room. (Group shots are cursed: someone in the photo will quit within days.)
  • Schedule the shoot for a day when the executives are going to be there and dressed professionally (such as the day of a meeting or sales presentation).

For an exterior building picture, it’s a bit more difficult to find a photographer. That’s because most of the corporate photographers, even the affordable ones, fill their sites with dramatic “feature” shots from pricey shoots that required tons of equipment and lighting — the exact opposite of what you are looking for. Don’t panic. These same folks will do basic pictures of your building or lobby (or your company van) if you stress that you want something very simple, with two or three final shots with high-resolution digital files (and full rights). This way you’ll have what you need for trade show posters, brochures, and the website.

To find a good photographer, search under your city’s name and “corporate photography”—plus the magic keyword “affordable.”

I know this all sounds painful and time-consuming, but when you get those great pictures on your website, it will be so very, very worth it.

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