Cleaning out Closets, Part 2–Workplace Closets
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When you move into a new house or apartment, everything is fresh, and you’re able to organize items that fit the space and are useful in your daily life. After a few years, you notice that the space has filled up with things that may be broken, forgotten or otherwise unusable.

The same thing happens in workplaces. Over time, as customer requirements evolve, as process and technology improvements are made, as people and reporting structures change, the workplace soon becomes filled with stuff that no longer works, is inefficient, or requires “work-arounds”. Certain reports continue to be produced, even though no one reads them. Meetings that have long out-lived their usefulness are still held, with attendees late, unprepared or multi-tasking during the meeting. Procedures, approvals and technology may have become out-dated, but no one has the time to revamp or update them.

You often hear the phrase “cleaning house” when changes are made at work. A savvy executive once shared her philosophy on how she “cleans house” when stepping into a new role. She likened it to spring cleaning–you take everything out of the closet–policies, procedures, reports, activities and technology, and evaluate their usefulness against what is needed now. Rather than accepting the status quo “because we’ve always done it that way”, assess every activity against key priorities and customer needs to determine what is useful, important and worth time and energy. Then, only put back the things that fit now, and add in new things that will add value. She said this is the most important and most difficult step, because it’s hard to let go of things that have become routine.

Some tips for cleaning out workplace closets:

Identify your top 3-5 priorities. What is most important to your company and to your customers now? What do you need to do to stay competitive? Where is time and energy best spent?

Take everything out of the closet. Review how work gets done by examining policies, procedures, skills, equipment, metrics, goals, roles & responsibilities, organizational structure, reports, and meeting formats.

Conduct an honest assessment: How and on what should we be spending time? What are we doing that doesn’t fit now? What is outdated? What would be usable, if updated? What is missing? What low priority items could be eliminated to free up time for higher priority activities? How do we know that certain reports and meetings are no longer useful? What has to be done to get rid of stuff? What needs to be communicated within or outside our department about our closet cleaning?

Retain or add activities only if they are aligned with current priorities. Put a plan in place to enhance processes or skill sets, to eliminate or revamp meetings, to restructure how team members collaborate, and how important information will be conveyed in a timely and effective way.

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