Which has been your favorite Time Mag cover – Michael Jackson? Steve Jobs?  Mine was the vindicabuttertion of butter – and its fat-saturated cousins – in June 2014. Life’s just been better with butter.
But be warned – while the dietary fat-fad has been bringing joy to dining tables everywhere, an equivalent vindication has not happened in the workplace. No – in business, “fat” remains a drag.   And I dare Time to publish the story that says otherwise.

So what is this organizational fat to which I refer? Before you send all of your middle managers packing (and consoling themselves with bread and butter) note this: while excess bulk on the org chart ribute to organizational fat, it is not your only smoking gun. Sure, companies like Zappos have shown us what a flat structure can do. But that doesn’t make flat the universal ideal.   In many companies, hierarchy serves great purpose. It evolved for reasons that should be preserved.can contbutter

So if org structure isn’t the magic bullet … what is? What’s the secret to unclogging our corporate arteries? OK… don’t shoot the messenger here. Because there isn’t one. But there are some levers that – when pulled effectively – can positively impact your organization’s health:

  1. Find the D: As in: who’s in charge here? Who’s the decision maker? Decision-making can be one of the greatest drags on organizations of any size. The key is accountability. For core processes and action items, who is responsible for making the decision? Who needs to weigh in on the decision, and who needs to be informed afterward? And perhaps most importantly, who does NOT? Identify anyone – including yourself – who’s not adding unique value to a decision, and get them, or you, out of there! Here’s the math: Clear Accountability + Fewest contributors to a decision = Enhanced speed and efficiency of decision-making.
  2. Grab the Extinguisher: But then throw it out the window. Because things have got to stop being on fire!butter OK – the reality of business is that sometimes fire strikes. An angry client, an employee emergency, a system breakdown – emergencies happen. But when they’re happening daily – when your team’s priorities are constantly being juggled around because sudden “emergency” presentations must be delivered by 5pm– then your team loses both the opportunity and the ability to really think. To reflect and be insightful and put forth their best work. So be the 9-1-1 dispatcher on behalf of your team. And triage the cat-in-the-tree calls appropriately.
  1. Stand up your telescope: And find your North Star. Most leaders with whom I’ve worked “check the box” on goals. They write them and put them in that place where goals go. Then they get to work.   But rarely are those goals providing light and direction, guiding the team in its journey.   The result? People spend lots of time doing things not moving your business toward its goals. Having goals that are meaningful, well thought out and articulated, and cascaded down and across teams, allows leaders to thoughtfully prioritize how and where time is spent – and more importantly where it’s not Strong goals can be our greatest prioritizer.   And yes- I’ve now added “prioritizer” to the leadership lexicon.
  1. Let TPS reports go cover-less: To this day, I don’t know what a TPS report is – but that scene in Office Space has become iconic for those of us minding the workplace dynamics.   What’s the real lesson in this? Don’t engineer processes that drive people to stapler theft. Be mindful of what your business really needs to achieve, and then engineer the most basic and beautiful systems to get you there. Does the TPS report cover really add value? If so, make sure your team understands the how and why. And if in your heart of hearts you know it doesn’t, please for the love of Office Space, cease covering them immediately. The gifts of time and sanity to your team will deliver value in spades.

So what’s the take away? Step 1: Drop the org chart, and put both hands where I can see them. Step 2: Ask yourself – and more importantly your team – where the greatest opportunities for fat reduction may lie. Step 3: Start cutting.