Organized abandonment

According to American business historian Robert Sobel, the British government created a civil-service job in 1803 which called for a man to stand on the white cliffs of Dover with a spyglass and to ring a bell if he saw Napoleon coming. Napoleon died in 1821; the job continued until 1945.

Insanity surrounds us:

  • Arizona – It is illegal for donkeys to sleep in bathtubs.
  • Florida – If an elephant is left tied to a parking meter, the parking fee has to be paid just as it would for a vehicle.
  • Kentucky – One may not dye a duckling blue and offer it for sale unless more than six are for sale at once.

Peter Drucker coined the phrase “organized abandonment” to describe the process whereby we can free up resources that are committed to maintaining things that no longer contribute to performance and no longer produce results.

According to Drucker, the change-leader puts every product, every service, every process, every customer, and every end use on trial for its life. The question to ask is, “If we did not do this already, would we, knowing what we now know, go into it?” If the answer is no, abandon it. The change-leader must also ask, “If we were to go into this now, knowing what we now know, would we go into it in the same way we are doing it now?’” [Drucker, Management Challenges for the 21st Century, pg.74]

The term organized means doing this regularly and on a systematic basis.

Over time, organizations and individuals become burdened by unproductive and unnecessary actions. On a regular basis we must ruthlessly evaluate all functions and jettison those that no longer contribute.

In your personal life, organized abandonment might probe these areas:

  • Do I still benefit from reading a physical daily newspaper or should I get my news digitally?
  • Is there a healthier alternative to my typical breakfast?
  • If I was not currently living in my neighborhood, would I choose to move here?
  • Have some of my relationships grown stale; would I benefit from new, more invigorating relationships?

In your organization, probe these areas:

  • As I consider every position in my organization, is each one still needed?
  • Do I have the right people in key positions?
  • If I had the opportunity to fill a position, would I hire the same person who is presently working in that position?
  • As I analyze every line item of the budget, are all expenditures still justified?
  • Are our products still viable?
  • Are there any customers we should “fire”?

Another approach to this topic is to regularly adjust your life using the Keep—Stop—Start formula:

I want to keep doing, or do more of _______.
I want to stop doing, or do less of _______.
I want to start doing _______.

“We’ve always done it that way” is a feeble justification for any activity.

[reminder]What are your thoughts about this essay?[/reminder]

12 Replies to “Organized abandonment”

  1. I enjoyed this essay. I would say that it is the unexpected things in life that are more detrimental than the failure to assess and adjust on a regular basis. There is no way to plan for the things we cannot see coming our way from around the corner other than making sure we are emotionally, financially and spiritual grounded at all times.

    1. Tye, you’re right: unexpected events are time consuming. It’s best to build in time to handle those inevitable interruptions. Thanks for taking the time to write. Don

  2. Don, I still enjoy reading the daily newspaper because there is information I would probably not get digitally like details on sports stories, baseball box scores conveniently laid out on one page, locations and offerings of farmers markets etc. I like the feel of holding a newspaper, Wall Street Journal and others. And it enables me to do crosswords which I like to do.

    1. Jim, I understand. I still like paper in hand. I have cancelled my subscription to my local newspaper but get the weekend edition of the NYT. Take care, Don.

  3. This is where new employees can be really useful. If we give them the freedom to ask why we do a particular function, it will help us think through whether we should continue doing it.

    The “change leader” does, however, need to make sure they have assessed all the effects of abandoning a particular process. How many people beyond the immediate employee rely on the process? Is there an obscure legal reason why we have to record that particular set of data? Does this present a risk to the organisation even if that is a once in ten years risk? This is similar to repealing legislation which was originally put in place to safeguard the country against a particular risk for example repealing the Glass Steagal Act in the US or the repealing of gambling laws in the UK.

    I am sure there are some employees who know that some of their daily tasks are a complete waste of time and “change leaders” might be wise to ask the employee first if there are some tasks that seem pointless. If it comes from the employee, rather than the “change leader” it does not smack of criticism of the employee’s time management skills.

    Thanks for raising this issue Don.
    Best wishes

    1. Angela, your thoughts are very insightful. What do you do professionally? You would be a good manager. Don

      1. Dear Don,

        I am a Recruitment and HR Officer in a small childcare chain in the UK. Previously I ran a small business with my husband for 32 years. Much of my learning is from the “school of hard knocks”!
        Best wishes

  4. Well said. These practices should be done on a regular basis. Unfortunately in business, they are many times labeled “cost cutting” and everyone heads for the hills. There is also a tendency to consider your importance measured by how large of an organization you manage or what your title is rather than focusing on real productive improvements, which could include doing away with ones own position or organization. The world is in constant flux and organizations must flex, adapt, and know when to hold’um, know when to fold’um and or know when to change’um.

    1. Thanks, Tom, for taking the time to write. I like your thought that sometimes the right thing to abandon is the leader’s position. Don

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