I hate clutter. If I see clutter, my natural instinct is to clean it up, get rid of it, and/or organize it. I hate clutter so much that I have volunteered to help clean apartments and homes of people who were messy. When I begin a new job, one of the first things I do is to cut the clutter of the individual who came before me and then proceed to declutter unnecessary and/or redundant tasks.
Peter Drucker, the father of management, said that the most serious symptom of poor organization occurs when there’s an increase in the number of management levels. Drucker said it’s best to have the fewest possible management levels and build the shortest, viable chain of command. In other words, cut the clutter.
The crazy thing is that poor organization doesn’t just happen in large, multinational corporations. It can also occur in small to medium-size organizations. I have seen this in the private and nonprofit sectors, from organizations with 10,000+ employees to churches with just 100 parishioners.
I once asked employees at a mental health clinic why mail took so long to arrive at their office. Their answer was that all mail was routed through the central office located in another city, which are then sent to their office. Although one would think that sending and receiving mail should be a priority when it comes to the mental health and welfare of patients, this clinic continues to stick to its “pony express” method. Ironically, while everyone hated that mail took so long and they hated that it “needed” to be routed through the central office, no one ever did anything about it. So the senseless, extra step continues and the clutter lives on.
At another organization, a multinational financial services company, mail delivery is a daily challenge. At one large office complex, there are three buildings with a ridiculous numbering system that employees and mail staff alike cannot seem to figure out. The problem: The rooms aren’t number correctly but rather entails a fondness for decimal points, such that a room number looks something like this: 100.578. In addition, there doesn’t seem to be a rational, logical numbering of rooms. What’s more, there are cubicles with no numbers at all. Thus, every time the mail room staff drops off mail, mistakes are made. The craziest part is that the mail room staff are not employees of the company but rather employees hired by a contractor.
I’m sure there must be sane, reasonable explanations (I’m being sarcastic here) to why there is so much clutter in organizations. And for those who work in such environments, it may be status quo. But if you don’t stop and figure out why something that seems unnecessary, redundant, or nonsensical (like the mail being routed through one office before being sent to another office) is done, then you’re not taking the time to help declutter your organization. It’s easy to say, “Hey, it’s not my job.” The problem is that this type of mindset does little to help an employee thrive in the organization.
Again, we can turn to Peter Drucker for insight and wisdom. Drucker said that employees need to succeed and achieve, and can do so by learning to manage themselves. One question that Drucker advised us to ask ourselves is, “What is my contribution?” If we see that our role in an organization, any organization, is to ask and answer this question, then cutting the clutter and getting rid of the nonsense should be everyone’s job.
Drucker, P. F. (2008). Management (Revised ed.). New York: HarperCollins.