How to Apply Marie Kondo’s Decluttering Strategy to Your Company Culture

If your company culture has become too cluttered to navigate easily, ask employees how to get the joy back.

Who could have imagined that a soft-spoken house-cleaning expert would be the Internet star of the moment, and all because she tells people it’s OK to throw things away? I’m speaking, of course, of Marie Kondo, whose KonMari Method asks people to hold up the objects cluttering their homes and ask a simple question: “Does it bring you joy?” The result, of course, is a cleaner place with less stuff you don’t want or need.

Chances are, if you were to contemplate decluttering your corporate culture in that way, things would be looking a lot different around the workplace. Imagine if you could hold your employees, colleagues, and bosses in your hand–not to mention most of your assignments and projects–and ask, “Am I feeling the joy?” Chances are, a whole lot of them would be headed for the (imaginary) recycling bin.

Obviously, in most cases, you don’t want to toss out people (or you shouldn’t, at least). What you can do, though, is take the same kind of long look at the culture you’ve created in your workplace and ask that simple question.

“Does it bring you joy?”

That’s not to say that work can’t be hard. And often times you have to do things that you just don’t like because they need to get done. The technical term for that is called “being an adult.”

But overall, work shouldn’t make you, or anyone else, unhappy. Organizations are a group of people, and people can support, care about, and help one another just as easily as they can backstab, compete, and undermine one another. It’s a matter of what kind of culture the leaders model and what kinds of obstacles and doubts you need to get rid of because they’re cluttering it up.

As I often say, tending a corporate culture is like tending a garden. (In fact, the word for “culture” comes from the same root as the word “cultivate.”) You have to pay attention, take care, and keep cultivating the parts you want, while gently but constantly trimming back the parts you don’t.

There are two ways you can let that question, “Does it bring you joy?” spark you to a cleanup of your own corporate culture:

Do Nothing.

Let people talk to each other so they can find out what they and others need. A strong, supportive interrelationship among colleagues only comes when management steps back and stops telling them what they believe. Let them hash it out among themselves and tell you what they believe and what they no longer want or need. Only then will you really know what brings the organization joy and what is unnecessary clutter.

Do Everything.

Once you have a defined, shared mission, trust it and live by it. I’ve often told the story of Dogtopia, a company with more than 40 locations offering dog daycare and boarding. CEO Neil Gill gathered feedback from the support team, the franchisees, and the members across North America; he led workshops and worked in the stores. He nurtured and cultivated his corporate culture. In the end, his company developed a unique cultural message they call “Dogtopia-isms” that fits them perfectly:

“We LOVE life unconditionally like a dog. We STAY loyal to our pack. We CHASE the absolute highest standards of safety. We PLAY to our full potential. We TREAT every day like it’s the most exciting day ever.”

No other company in the world has that mission statement, and the best part is that you can tell it’s real and reflects the mindset of the kind of people who work for a company called Dogtopia. So what about your company? What unique blend can you develop from listening and being fully emotionally present in your own workplace? And, no, that’s not touchy-feely.

By trimming away the clutter around your business plan and the habits that are keeping your people from living their best life in the workplace, your corporate culture will become free to excel and to build joy, not just competence.

Don’t do it with anger or turn it into a stressful exercise. It can be a peaceful act, just like trimming back plants in a spring garden. Before you discard things, whether they be ideas or actual objects, “Thank them for their service–then let them go,” says Marie Kondo.

She may be talking about cleaning out closets, but her advice works just as well for cleaning out the outmoded ideas and habits in your workplace.

By Steve Farber
Steve Farber