Nick Powills: Subtraction Is Hard, Addition Is Easier
Nick Powills: Subtraction Is Hard, Addition Is Easier

It’s not difficult to understand the value of the addition, but, even with that understanding, that doesn’t mean we can undervalue the art of subtraction.

When building a business, the saying that subtraction is hard, addition is easier is a phrase we should really aspire to follow. In people, in process, in sales.

In people, it’s hard to remove folks from your foundation. One card off and the house shifts. As leaders, no matter how many times we are told to fire quickly and hire slowly, we struggle, because even when someone isn’t providing a ton of value, there is still a contribution to the entirety of the foundation. So, addition ends up being the easier route. With addition, we can prepare for the shifts first and then make change second. Right? Probably not, yet it is often the pathway.

In process, it’s hard to remove pieces of the puzzle without creating disruption, and disruption has a trickle-down effect. Process changes cause fear of unknowns. With the addition of communication when changing, odds of buy-in goes up.

In sales, we know that competition drives results. If you have an organization of low to medium performers, a higher performer (not a BS one), can drive others to pick up their pace and see what is possible. Sure, there are some situations where maximum potential has been reached, but in many, a great executor will drive better results even from those who you may have deemed on their way out. In order to pump up your sales team, addition, clearly, is easier. Additionally, even with marketing, when you are taking a holistic approach to telling your story, often times you will not be able to quantify the value of each impression, thus, addition remains easier.

Take this to an even larger scale with layoffs. Layoffs very rarely fix culture. They hurt. They create fear and the perception that the business is struggling – even when done for strategic purposes. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that a layoff is a strategic play by the leadership team to create more budget room for addition. That story probably won’t be told internally, thus creating a decrease in morale, whereas a company that is announcing new hires typically wins the positive media.

It’s not difficult to understand the value of the addition, but, even with that understanding, that doesn’t mean we can undervalue the art of subtraction. In fact, the statement doesn’t say subtraction is not the solution – in fact, it could be the most valuable option for your business.

As you think about your business objectives for 2019, bucket your subtraction and addition plans. Knowing the subtraction part will be more difficult may help you adapt your addition strategy.

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