Sometimes just a few words can cut through the clutter and bring clarity. I was reminded of that recently while having lunch with a couple of business owner friends. One was still feeling angst over a staff situation that had ended more than a year ago. The relationship had started on a promising note, brought many benefits to the employee, the owner and the company, but then began to deteriorate for a number of reasons. Eventually, the owner and the employee agreed to part ways. But the owner still beats herself up thinking about the woulda, coulda, shoulda’s that might have preserved the relationship.

In the midst of all this second guessing, the other business owner at our table, who had been silent through the bulk of lunch, said with a shrug, “Everything has a shelf life.” Simple words, delivered casually. But they packed a punch. Hearing them, my friend’s perspective shifted. I could tell by the look on her face she realized that it was not only okay the employee had moved on, it was right.

As I replayed the conversation later, I got to thinking about other things in our businesses that become stale or moldy, clearly outliving their shelf life. Yet we hang onto them anyway, perhaps because we’re emotionally attached, or because we mistakenly believe we can tweak this or change that and revive their freshness.

Often in business we think that adding something new is the way to pump up profits or inject new life into the company. Sometimes, the opposite is true. Sometimes, we need to face the hard reality and check the expiration dates on people, processes, and programs that may have served us well in the past but have become a drain on the present. Sometimes, we need to get smaller to get bigger. Sometimes, ironically, a tough and thorough purging of outdated systems and products past their prime may ultimately extend the shelf life of the company itself.