Serious About Simplicity

Ron Ashkenas, author of Simply Effective, suggests that complexity in business has emerged due to a combination of product mitosis, product proliferation, process evolution and poor managerial habits. These factors combine to land many businesses in a world of complexity and silo thinking and complicated work processes.  Ashkenas also suggests that one of the biggest, and often hidden, causes of complexity is the individual. Yes, that’s right – you!  It’s all your fault.  You did this!  But the great thing is that if you created the problem, then you surely have the talent to solve it.  Cue ‘Simplicity.’

If you’re ready to take the topic of simplicity seriously, and consider adopting it as a core business strategy (not a “we really should” but a deliberate, strategic focus for your business), then read on.

Ashkenas suggests you start with these four areas, which he believes to be primed for delivering value.  

  1. Streamline the organisation, or as Norman Kobert once said ‘Cut the fat, not the muscle”.  Companies are often resource heavy, process burdened, and policy proliferate.  Cut out what you don’t need, and make a deliberate effort to combine products, reduce lines, stick to the core.  
  2. Prune products, services and features to focus on those that are profitable and have the biggest growth potential.  Get rid of dead weight “stuff” that isn’t bringing in value.  Can you really turn 2% of revenue business into your biggest opportunity, or can you cull those things that don’t deliver, and get focused back on your core?
  3. Process – disciplined process.  Build pragmatic processes into your business that drive the right behaviours for your leadership and your teams.  Make what you capture relevant, useful and support fact-based, informed decision making.  Take a rigorous look at your processes and ask the question: is this necessary?  Do we really need this or could we do without it?
  4. Improve managerial habits.  Life would certainly be simpler (but so much sadder) were it not for other people. For the value of simplicity to realize benefits, it’s important to drive it home in behaviour. Ritualistic repetition, and supporting the value through consistent change and communication, are the factors most likely to reap rewards.  In short, consider making simplicity a cult if you want to make it part of your culture.  The gift is that everyone wins as the benefits reap rewards for both the business and the people who live in it.