When Subtraction Adds Value | Harvard Business Review

Leadership & Culture

HR teams continue to evolve their operating models, processes, and practices to provide a more compelling employee experience and add business value. One way to achieve this goal is through simplification—or simplifying what is complex while creating and/or preserving value. However, as noted in this article, those responsible for improving a product, process, or service usually have an instinct to do so by “adding” versus “subtracting.” This instinct may translate into adding more features or extraneous information that can unintentionally diminish value and overall experience. And while adding might be the best solution in some cases, it should not be the default tactic. The article explores why people overlook subtraction (eliminating things) and offers suggestions to overcome the tendency to add. One tip mentioned is for teams’ to develop a list of ways to achieve the group’s goals by subtracting. This technique provides implicit social support for employees who may otherwise avoid offering helpful subtractions, especially if people are withholding subtractive ideas because everyone else is adding.” I also believe that managers can reinforce the power of subtraction by recognizing workers that simplify what is complex while preserving or adding value; otherwise, workers might think the level of sophistication of a practice, idea, or process is the measure of success. At your next team meeting, ask: where are there opportunities to simplify practices and processes, and how we operate as a team? The answers might alleviate employee burnout and work overload—which often results from unnecessary complexity. For a good read on making it easier to do what matters the most, check out the book Effortless by Greg McKeown.

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