Boosting Productivity Slash ‘n’ Cut Style

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March 5, 2012

As a motivational speaker on high performance one of the ways I stay current is to read the daily blogs on and the following was a recent post.


Excerpted from Good Boss, Bad Boss a New York Times bestseller by Robert Sutton.


Making subtraction a way of life isn’t a theme raised in Good Boss, Bad Boss, but as I began thinking about many of the main ideas plus Matthew May’s great book In Pursuit of Elegance, I realized that great bosses have a “subtraction mind-set.” They are always looking to remove bad or unnecessary things.

As we know, “bad is stronger than good.” Getting rid of bad people is probably even more crucial than bringing in great people. We saw, for example how Paul Purcell enforces the “no jerks rule” at Baird. Removing selfish jerks has not only made Baird a civilized place but has helped keep it on Fortune’s Top 100 Best Companies to Work For list since 2004. And it has helped Baird grow and improve profits in recent years even as many other financial services firms faltered and failed.

When I speak to managers and executives rotten apples provoke especially strong reactions. At a gathering of high-tech CEOs, there was an interesting segment where each described “what keeps me up at night.” One said it was a star executive who brought in a lot of business but was driving away good people. There was consensus among his fellow CEOs that “we’ve seen  this movie before” and they all learned after firing someone like that, “Why did I wait so long? Things are so much better now!”

Another way some bosses deal with rotten apples–especially those with skills that are tough to replace or who have so much job security they are impossible to fire–is to “subtract them” physically, to isolate them so they don’t infect others. In one organization, there was a deeply skilled and incredibly nasty engineer whom leaders could not bring themselves to fire. So they rented a beautiful private office for him several blocks from the building where his colleagues worked. His coworkers were a lot happier–and so was he, since he preferred working alone.

Bad apples aren’t the only thing great bosses remove…

Cumbersome rules and procedures waste time and energy–so great bosses find ways to simplify and eliminate them. After the General Motors bankruptcy in 2009, CEO Rick Wagoner was fired and replaced with Ed Whitacre. He immediately started slashing away at GM’s maze of irrational and ingrained procedures—such as cutting the number of reports prepared by his research group from ninety-four to four per year. Whitacre’s blazingly obvious belief in doing so would allow researchers to spend more time researching and less time writing reports.

 The lesson here isn’t so much about these specific subtraction stories. Rather, it is about the subtraction mind-set that every boss ought to keep searching for things to remove and simplify- ways to make life less frustrating and annoying.

Great bosses live the motto “When in doubt, take it out.”


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