Do You Pass The Simplicity Test?

Organisational complexity is a like an overgrown garden. Both are a result of neglect rather than design, and, although you may still be able to see some elements of the original intent, the weeds and light-hogging plants slowly but surely stunt the growth and impact of the best blooms.

A certain level of complexity is inevitable - we live in a dynamic, rapidly changing world with sophisticated technologies. Yet, many organisations make this situation far worse by living with unnecessary management layers, fudging decision rights and accountabilities, setting unclear objectives and persisting with inappropriate projects and programmes.

My blog, Cross Wires, is dedicated to helping managers address this chronic organisational condition and create businesses that have clarity, focus and simplicity at their heart. The good - and bad news  - about unnecessary complexity is that it is directly within our control. We only have ourselves to blame.

When Sir Stuart Rose, for example, first took over as CEO of Marks and Spencer, he was able to quickly improve the bottom line and unlock organisational energy by reducing the number of 'strategic' projects from over 30 to 10, and ensuring that decision rights were set at appropriate levels in the organisation.

But how do you measure up on the Simplicity Scale? Score yourself from 0 to 5 for each of the statements below. Focus primarily on the area of the organisation for which you have direct responsibility.

  1. We have a clear strategic intent that, in simple, everyday terms, articulates how we will succeed (e.g. Southwest Airlines: We are the low-fare airline).

  2. As a management team we have identified a handful of objectives (say, 3-6) that drive our focus and activity.

  3. We have crystal-clear accountabilities across the business, and I am never concerned that I am stepping on someone else's toes.

  4. I know exactly how to get approval for a new investment or initiative.

  5. In a typical week I spend less than a quarter of my time in formal meetings.

  6. We have minimised the number of management layers - there is no further room for improvement.

  7. Our planning and budgeting process is short, sharp and effective, taking less than three months from start to finish.

  8. When a new programme or assignment isn't working it is quickly adjusted or killed - we do not allow problems to fester.

  9. I set my team clear objectives, but leave it to them to work out the best way forward.

  10. In the past six months we have taken big strides in removing unnecessary complexity from our organisation.
So how do you measure up? Compare your total score to the ratings below.

Over 40: Complexity under control, for now - You're highly effective and productive, but make sure you stay alert to the creep of complexity.

25-40: Creeping complexity - If productivity isn't suffering now it soon will be. Identify your key priorities and target improvements in simplicity over the next three months.

Less than 25: Overgrown complexity - Your organisation has low productivity and is spinning its wheels. You need to work hard to focus your efforts and drive greater simplicity immediately.

The bottom line

As with your garden's weeds and pests, complexity is a constant challenge for all organisations. Rather than attacking complexity as a one-off exercise, a focus on simplicity needs to be embedded as part of your daily management approach.

Cross Wires Blog
Untangling the complexities of modern business

Visit the blog

New Report!

50 Ways To Get More From Strategy Development


Executive Coaching Services

View details

Stuart Cross
Morgan Cross Consulting
Tel: +44(0)1636-526111

Morgan Cross Limited, registered in England and Wales No. 5886141
Registered Office is 12 Bridgford Road, Nottingham, NG2 6AB

About this e-zine

You are free to use material from the Great Results e-zine in whole or in part, as long as you include complete attribution, including a live web site link. Please also notify me where the material will appear. The attribution should read:

"By Stuart Cross of Morgan Cross Consulting. Please visit the website for additional resources on driving profitable growth."

To find out more contact Stuart by clicking here or call +44(0)1636-526111.

2009 Morgan Cross Consulting, All rights reserved.