Marcia Conner joined Megan Murray and Euan Semple on episode 9 of their Shift podcast. I've had the pleasure of working with both Marcia and Megan, and met Euan when I was a guest on episode 7. As Marcia described a key to her work with organizations, I realized that what she described as a spoiler to her full approach is at the heart of why I respect her work so much: Don't add before you subtract. That is, Marcia says the main rule is, "not to add more stuff to what you do" (around 20:08 in the show). Instead, focus on subtraction. "What can we do more systematically to remove all those things [unnecessary norms, meetings, policies, conversations] from our paths?"

This approach sounds very much like my first practice of a plugged-in manager: Stop-Look-Listen. Stop to reflect on the situation. Look at available data to narrow down the possibilities. Listen to feedback before you begin and throughout the process.

The trio talked about the human tendency to do something, anything, to put your mark on the organization's actions --- and how we must exert great will to instead do nothing or take something away. "You get more brownie points as a manager for changing things and being proactive than for stopping something" (31:10). Marcia says a clear first step is to step back (i.e., stop) and take a look at all the human, technical, and organizational process approaches that are already in play. In many cases, there will be obsolete tools or practices that should simply be let go. Then, after a period of watching how the subtraction has gone, perhaps add something back in.

Less May Be More

The key is to acknowledge that not doing something or taking something away can be at least as valuable as adding a new tool or practice.

When you do add something in, be clear that whatever is added can't just stand on its own. In my terms: You can never change just one thing. Instead, look at each addition as an opportunity to create a new blend of the full compliment of human, technical, and organizational dimensions. This is the second practice of plugged-in management: Mixing.

Let's Do It

The toughest thing about listening to a podcast from people you respect is that you wish you'd been part of every conversation. Take a listen to episode 9 of Shift, then feel free to join in here, on the Shift site, or on Twitter (@MarciaMarcia @MeganMurray @Euan @TerriGriffith), and we'll keep this great conversation going.