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
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.
So how do you measure up? Compare your total score
to the ratings below.
- 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).
- As a management team we have identified
a handful of objectives (say, 3-6) that drive
our focus and activity.
- We have crystal-clear accountabilities across
the business, and I am never concerned that
I am stepping on someone else's toes.
- I know exactly how to get approval for a
new investment or initiative.
- In a typical week I spend less than a quarter
of my time in formal meetings.
- We have minimised the number of management
layers - there is no further room for improvement.
- Our planning and budgeting process is short,
sharp and effective, taking less than three
months from start to finish.
- When a new programme or assignment isn't
working it is quickly adjusted or killed -
we do not allow problems to fester.
- I set my team clear objectives, but leave
it to them to work out the best way forward.
- In the past six months we have taken big
strides in removing unnecessary complexity
from our organisation.
Over 40: Complexity
under control, for now - You're highly
effective and productive, but make sure you stay
alert to the creep of complexity.
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.
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.