To Grow a Company, You Need to Be Good at Killing Things
The hardest thing to do at a company is to kill things
Companies are all about building things, not destroying them. When your company is growing, you add lots of things to build the company: employees, investors, products, features, meetings, benefits, processes, reports, code, and more.
While it does not come natural for a company (or any organization) to toss things out, every so often you need to look at everything and focus on getting rid of things that are no longer needed, important, or helping the company grow.
Timing is also important. Recognizing and throwing out things is hard enough, but doing so early truly difficult. The biggest flaw of most CEOs (including myself) is that they don't kill things fast enough (or ever).
Maybe every company over a certain size should have a CKO -- a Chief Killing Officer. That person's entire job would be to look at everything the company does and try to kill it.
Being able to kill things early is essential to the long-term growth and success of any company. But recognizing that you should be searching for things to kill is the first step to building a better company.
- Save time and money - Getting rid of something early enough can save a company countless hours of headaches and resources. This is especially important for startups that have both time and financial constraints. It can also be the difference a between thriving company and a dead one.
- Renewed clarity and focus - By continually re-visiting the various facets of your company, you will streamline not only resources, but also overall goals and strategies since it will force you to weigh the various pros and cons of what you do now and how to prioritize efforts moving forward.
Going for the Kill
- Products - A company can only do so many things well. For example, PayPal is great business that makes it safe for people to buy goods and services online. But they initially developed and kept a Palm Pilot beaming application and supported it for many years, way past when they should have killed it. This does not mean you shouldn't start things -- you can start lots of new things as long as you kill them. Google recognized this when they killed Google Answers in 2006.
- Features - Your products may have features once thought to be important, but are no longer necessary or demanded by customers. Slay them.
- Code - Software code is worth re-visiting because they can be optimized after their initial implementation. Also, not reviewing code regularly can cause setbacks and long debugging hours after a lot more code has been written on top. Rapleaf holds "Sweepleaf" days semi-monthly where engineers do nothing but cleaned up and streamline code.
- People - Check-in on employees at set intervals to look out for bad hires or people that are not adding the value they once were. Doing so can help guide people back on track and save a lot of headache later on. Never settle for "average" people. As Reed Hastings is famous for saying: adequate performance deserves a nice severance package.
- Meetings - As companies grows, so does the number of internal meetings. Internal meetings are important for communication and to make decisions, but some are legacy meetings that were created for a particular past purpose but are no longer massively beneficial. Strive to kill these meetings. Only keep meetings that are very beneficial to all attendees. There is also attendance creep in meetings where non-essential people are often in attendance. Focus on keeping meetings short, on topic, and with as few people as possible.
- Reports - Sometimes the CEO or a board member asks for a report and it keeps getting produced for years after it is valuable. Work to kill these reports, even if they are automated.
- Investors - Even investors and board members should be on the chopping block. Some early-stage investors don't add much value as your company grows. Buy these investors out -- many of them will be happy to give up their stock for a decent return.
- Processes - Many internal processes (like performance reviews) are really useful. But many of these processes that once were important can later be burdensome. Slay these processes before they kill your company.
- HR practices - A lot of HR practices are vestiges of the past or should have never been implemented in the first place. Try to kill all non-essential HR policies and practices as these can be cancers which can turn your company from a fast moving start-up to a bureaucratic maze. One of the first things to look at is all the forms a new employee has to fill out.
You might be thinking "wow, we're really in bad shape because we are really terrible at killing things." You're not in as bad of shape as you think because very few companies are actually good at killing things. So just by recognizing that this is important, you'll have a leg up on many of your competitors.
As your company grows, you'll have more things -- both big and small -- that either weigh down growth or are not core to long-term success. The companies that work proactively to get rid of these issues and devote resources to the areas that matter are the ones that will be able to remain nimble, innovative, and win.
(Special thanks to Michael Hsu for his help in writing and editing this piece)
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To Grow a Company, You Need to be Good at Killing Things