The 6 Behaviors Of Great Simplification Leaders

Michael Rander

Lately, there’s been much discussion about the state of complexity, how it’s holding businesses back, and why simplicity is the new mandate. It’s slowing businesses down. Employees are demotivated. And worse, it’s destroying profits.

The way people work is changing, and there are more complexities in running a business great simplification leaderthan ever. The complexity of legacy technology shackling teams with multiple, fragmented tools and a limited or no global view. The complexity of engaging a changing and diverse workforce that is increasingly global, outsourced, connected, and demanding. The complexity of connecting strategy to business results without clear guidance on what HR should do to impact the business.

How do you rise out of an environment of overwhelming complexity to one that is simple?

One word: Leadership.

In his book “Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success,” Ken Segall details how Steve Jobs measured any project proposal, prototype, and innovation against his metaphorical “simplicity stick.” For Jobs, simplicity was an obsession – but it was an obsession that would lead to easy-to-use, enjoyable technology that would be adopted on a large scale at a record-breaking pace.

It takes strong leadership to achieve business simplification

The quest for a business to run simple is not just another initiative – it’s a cultural transformation. As carriers of your company’s DNA, your leadership team is a secret weapon for making such a big change in workforce behaviors and values. But to be successful, every leader must embrace and embody simplification in their everyday work, decisions, and interactions.

In the recent white paper “Leading Your Organisation Out of the Complexity Wilderness” by Simplicity Consulting, it is made clear how embedding simplicity into your organizational culture leads to teams that habitually look for or choose the simplest way of doing something. If simplicity is part of your mindset and culture, people will spot unnecessary complexity and immediately start thinking of ways to remove it.

The 6 behaviors of great simplicity leaders

Unfortunately, recent results from Simplicity Consulting’s 360 Survey also reveal that leaders are falling short in following Job’s example in leading simplicity. But don’t lose heart – it is possible to acquire the leadership qualities needed to drive business simplification.

According to the Simplicity Consulting study, there are six key behaviors of leaders who are effectively driving a culture of business simplification. Although this list may seem overwhelming, just adopting three or four of these characteristics is enough to inspire the change you want.

1. Focus

Like Jobs, simplicity leaders are relentlessly focused on the big stuff. They are extremely effective at questioning and making decisions on what really matters and adds value, while exhibiting bravery removing activities that are merely distractions from the end goal.

They also have an incredible knack for problem-shrinking. Take into consideration the massively large problem of world hunger. If you were to jump in and try to tackle the issue in its entirety, it would be an overwhelming feat but, simplicity leaders know to solve small chunks of the problem, focusing on the biggest issues first and moving ahead step by step.

2. Clarity

Nothing is worse than a leadership team that cannot communicate a clear direction. And great simplification leaders know this.

Not only do they understand why a lack of clarity creates confusion, ambiguity, and complexity, but they can also identify when it’s happening. These leaders can see the interconnections and relationships that create complex situations and untangle them to help ensure clear communication. And for more difficult topics, they know how to distill the information down to key points and visually represent ideas with images, diagrams, and clear language.

3. Collaboration

Knowing that poor collaboration causes inefficiency and undue complexity, great simplifiers are more than willing to invest the time and effort required to facilitate and reward effective collaboration. As a result, the need for excessive governance, as well as those dreaded endless meetings and committees, can be stripped away from the business process.

The purpose of this attribute is incredibly simple. It’s all about trust and value. The Simplicity Consulting white paper states, “When we understand and value each other’s work, we prevent duplication, we can ensure our work helps other teams to look great, and we can work together to make the whole company successful. If we trust each other, we don’t need excessive control systems to monitor and check up on people.”

4. Courage

We all know that it takes great courage to challenge the status quo – calling out complexity, blocking nonvalue-add tasks, and holding people accountable for their behaviors and actions.

Great simplification leaders are obsessed with finding simpler ways to work. They firmly believe in the value of simplicity as a guiding principle, using the mantra “simpler is always better.” And by being faithful to this mindset, they are able to muster the courage to challenge every sign of complexity and continue fighting until it’s removed completely.

5. Pragmatism

Leaders of simplicity instinctively know when being mostly good is good enough and when perfection is absolutely essential.

They are decisive beings, knowing that unmade decisions slow down innovation. And to further accelerate progress, these leaders prefer to standardize processes, products, and tools to ensure that everyone approaches work in the same manner, avoids duplication, and continues to learn from each other.

6. Empowering

In a nod to behavior #1, Focus, great simplifiers pay attention to business outcomes, rather than how things are done and micromanaging the workforce. They are consistently open to feedback – positive and negative – without letting their ego and emotion cloud their judgement and decisions. And even if things go wrong, these leaders backup team decisions, even if they disagreed with them in the first place.

These leaders also understand the value of engaging employees by searching for opportunities to increase the responsibilities of those who are highly capable and ready for advancement. They take the time to understand their employees’ skills, interests, and goals to determine how to best use their talents within the company. And most empowering is their selfless capability for openly acknowledging a team member’s achievements – without taking credit themselves.

Bring business simplification to your organization in the Future of Work

Read the infographic “Leading Your Organisation Out of Complexity Wilderness,” authored by Simplicity Consulting and SAP, to get more information about the key drivers of complexity, the importance of leadership, and tangible ideas on how leaders can be more effective ambassadors of simplification.

Learn more about the Future of Work and join the #FutureOfWork conversation online.


About Michael Rander

Michael Rander is the Global Research Director for Future of Work at SAP. He is an experienced project manager, strategic and competitive market researcher, and operations manager, as well as an avid photographer, athlete, traveler, and entrepreneur.