Less is More

Everything wants to be efficient. It is a law of nature and a law of business. The path to efficiency is to eliminate waste. And waste comes in two main forms – Steps and Stuff. This post is about Stuff and the virtuousness of getting rid of as much stuff as possible. We will talk about getting rid of Steps in another post.

We all are comforted, in some part, by our stuff. It has a way of making us feel safe, or well off, or not alone, or something. Americans in particular have a love affair with stuff. Witness the $20+ billion self-storage industry. But Stuff is not free. Stuff needs space, it deteriorates, it gets stolen, it rusts, molds, gets eaten, needs to be insured, hides other stuff, occupies our mind and requires our attention. Stuff sits and a lot of it is waste. Stuff needs to go.

One of the untold stories of the last century of enterprise and technology is the dramatic reduction in use of stuff. You heard that right – dramatic reduction. Before I explain that, remember that efficiency is a law of nature – “Over the long haul, the most efficient wins”. Let me rephrase that by saying “Over the long haul, she who uses the least amount of stuff to accomplish the same end, wins”.

So how can I say that less stuff is used today? Think about the most obvious example of media. Digital media has almost completely replaced the hard material, space consuming CDs and DVDs (which by the way replaced previously even more Stuff). Kindles and eReaders are dramatically reducing the number of bookshelf hogging, dust collecting paper books. In fact, all of my music, movies and books can now fit in my (Relax Fit) front pocket. Smaller house anyone?

And what about those smaller houses? Houses, and skyscrapers for that matter, now require considerably less building materials than they did 100 years ago (on a square foot basis). Material engineering and innovative design have allow us to building much trimmer, graceful structures that would have been impossible previously. All with less stuff. The list of industries goes on and on: the computer industry, agriculture, transportation, energy – all do more, create better products, deliver more value – using less stuff.

So how does this relate to the administration of your personnel function? I thought you’d never ask. The inevitable march toward Less Stuff includes your department as well. Your department – payroll, HR, benefits admin – wants to use less stuff. It needs to use less stuff. (It wants to do less Steps as well, but as I said, we’ll get to that at another time).

Here is a list of stuff that you can, and should reduce:

1. Computer (IT) Stuff. Managing payroll and HR requires big, beefy computer systems, right? Not anymore. Systems to manage your personnel function are moving to the cloud meaning less stuff in your business and office. Less computers, less cabling, less backup devices, etc. By moving your systems to the cloud, you reduce your IT footprint in your business significantly. Your business just got more efficient.
2. Paper Stuff. Yes, you need a document retention policy, so don’t take this to mean you don’t. But by intelligently digitizing documents and records (converting paper to electrons) and sharing them, you dramatically reduce the cost of storing files, protecting files, shipping files, copying files, and looking for files. All of these actions cost you real money. By reducing paper waste, you dramatically reduce your costs, gain office space and clarity of mind.
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