Leaders can bring simplicity to life as an idea, by mirroring the behaviours of people who are great simplifiers
How can your leaders start to change the behaviours of their people, so that simplicity becomes part of the cultural software or DNA of your organisation?
Through their academic and project work Simplicity Consulting have identified 6 behaviours that simplifiers exhibit day to day. By role modelling the 6 simplicity behaviours, visibly living them day to day, leaders can start to shift the culture of their organisation.
OVERVIEW OF THE 6 SIMPLICITY BEHAVIORS
- Focus: The ability to identify and prioritise the things that will have the biggest impact on success, to the exclusion of all else.
- Clarity: The ability to provide a well-defined direction and explain (sometimes complex) ideas in a way that can be easily understood by the majority of people.
- Collaboration: The willingness to work constructively and openly with other teams/people to achieve shared goals.
- Courage: The bravery to challenge harmful complexity where ever it exists and stop activities that do not have value.
- Pragmatism: The ability to identify a simple, realistic and actionable solution to a problem, over a more complex option. Openness to using an existing or standardised approach to solve the problem.
- Empowering: The willingness to trust a person or a team, giving them the power and support to do something themselves, without micro managing them.
The ability to identify and prioritise the things that will have the biggest impact on success, to the exclusion of all else.
Lack of focus creates volume complexity. Your organisation becomes overwhelmed by the sheer number of things it is trying to do. The important projects/activities are not completed brilliantly or fast, because many smaller projects or activities distract resources and mental firepower from your organisation.
Leaders of simplicity are relentlessly focused on the big stuff. They are brilliant at working out what really matters and courageous enough to focus only on the most important things, to the exclusion of everything else. Whether it is a list of projects, their products/services, key customers, or stages in a process, they are always questioning what really matters and what adds value, making sure their energy is focused on the important things only. They are also reducers. Simplifiers are brave at cutting out the peripheral and non-value added activities that distract them and others from focusing on the big stuff. They keep teams, processes, meetings, documents, projects and organisations as small as possible.
Related to this, they have a talent for problem-shrinking: they understand that big problems are like world hunger – just too big to solve in one jump. But if they can reduce hunger in one country, they can then move to the next. So simplifiers look for ways to make a problem small enough to solve.
The ability to provide a well-defined direction and explain (sometimes complex) ideas in a way that can be easily understood by the majority of people.
Lack of clarity leads to confusion about your strategy or the direction you need to go in (aimlessness) which creates non-value added activities, competing goals and parallel projects. Lack of clarity also means it is hard for people to understand important ideas/concepts that are essential for them to do their work well.
Simplifiers are a rare breed of people who always bring clarity to a muddled situation or project. As the world gets more and more complex, people find it increasingly hard to work out what to do and difficult to identify and focus on value generating activities. Effective leaders need to be able to clarify things, so that their people can navigate through the complexity around them, identifying where to focus and how to win.
COLLABORATIONThe ability to work constructively and openly with diverse teams/people to achieve shared goals.
Poor collaboration dramatically increases co-ordination costs within large organisations, which slows down decision making, creates duplication of activity and disharmony. As cross team collaboration becomes difficult, the common reaction of managers and leaders is to introduce new co-ordination and control systems, to redesign their organisational structure, or to add in new committees and request even more management information, all of which create more complexity.
On the other hand, great simplifiers see when poor collaboration is causing inefficiency and will invest time in working out how to facilitate and reward effective collaboration. This is because they know that poor collaboration between people creates complexity. If we collaborate well, we don’t need excessive governance processes or endless meetings and committees. When we understand and value each other’s work, we can prevent duplication and ensure that our work helps other teams to look great. Then we can work together to make the whole company successful, not just our own team. If we trust each other, we don’t need excessive control systems to monitor and check up on people. This is why great simplifiers always facilitate cross-functional understanding and effective team work.
The bravery to challenge harmful complexity where ever it exists and stop activities that do not have value.
Lack of Courage: In big organisations people are often rewarded for activity not outcomes, and for conforming with the organisations processes, structures and norms, even if these things create complexity. It takes courage to ask why, to call out complexity; to stop doing non value added tasks and hold people accountable for reducing complexity.
Great simplifiers are always challenging complexity by asking themselves and others: “Is there a simpler way to achieve this outcome” or “How can we reduce complexity here?”
They are obsessively focused on simplicity as a way of working. They passionately believe that simplicity is an essential virtue with many hidden benefits. So they value simplicity as one of their guiding principles and trust that simpler will always be better than complex. They actively simplify things themselves, so others can see their belief in simplicity is authentic. In fact they believe in simplicity so strongly they have the courage to challenge complexity wherever they see it, and the strength to fight it wherever it is.
The ability to identify a realistic and actionable solution to a problem, over a more complex option. Openness to using an existing or standardised approach to solve the problem.
People and organisations that are not pragmatic are likely to over-engineer, over-intellectualise, reinvent and tinker, all of which create harmful complexity. People who lack pragmatism look for clever or intellectually perfect solutions when there is a simpler way.
Leaders of simplicity are pragmatists. They intuitively know when roughly right is good enough, and only seek absolute perfection when it is essential to the success of the company. They are decisive, because experience tells them that unmade decisions slow their team down dramatically. Pragmatists will happily ‘steal with pride’ taking existing ideas, products and processes from other teams, to use within their area of the business. Wherever possible they standardise processes, products, tools so that their people only need to learn one way of doing things and can learn from each other, They actively seek out and eradicate harmful duplication of effort. Why on earth would you do something twice, when resources are so scarce?
The willingness to trust a person or a team, giving them the power and support to do something themselves, without micro managing them.
Lack of empowerment and trust increases complexity by adding bureaucratic control systems, layers of management and excessive reporting. It prevents those with the most understanding and knowledge from making decisions. It sucks the life out of people’s satisfaction at work, leads to fighting over ‘who gets what’, and prevents people from learning and developing into the future leaders of the organisation.
Simplifiers focus on the outcomes of work, rather than on the process of doing things. They actively look to increase people’s responsibility, but ensure they are enabled to take on those tasks. They look for ways to support and develop their team so they can improve outcomes, without resorting to control systems and micromanagement. They take pride in seeing people around them develop and grow and are happy if their direct reports are better than they are at something.
So in summary we have seen that there are 6 simplicity behaviours that great simplifiers tend to exhibit in work and life. You can start to foster a culture of simplicity in your own team by adopting these behaviours yourself. Should we try and be good at all of these? Well no, that would not be very focused! The best way for you to improve and progress is to focus on the 3 or 4 behaviours you most need to strengthen and to build an action plan to improve on the key ones only.About the author: Melvin Jay is Founder and CEO of Simplicity Consulting. He has 30 years of commercial and consulting experience. The first 15 years of his working life were spent battling complexity in blue chip companies like Danone and Novartis. As a leading expert in simplicity he now works with the world’s biggest companies to help them reduce complexity. He spends all day everyday thinking about simplicity and helping his clients reduce complexity. He is passionate about the role that leadership plays in creating culture and changing mind-sets in large organisations, and regularly coaches senior executives on how to lead simplicity. He co-authored the bestselling and award winning book ‘From Complexity to Simplicity’ with Professor Simon Collinson.