Simplification: The New, Powerful Competitive Advantage

Bill Jensen

simpler corporate cultureThe winners of the next decade will be driven by who gets simpler faster. These are among findings of the just-released research collaboration between SAP and The Jensen Group:

  • Simplicity drives engagement (a lot!)
  • The future of work demands simplicity (even more!)
  • Simplification has become an HR issue, in and of itself

I invite you to view and download the eBook summary, as well as the 18 supporting research documents and tools posted by SAP. They are based both on SAP-sponsored interviews and Jensen Group’s one million-plus surveys and interviews, as part of our ongoing Search for a Simpler Way study. Here is a (simplified!) overview of how simplicity became the ultimate tool in the war for talent…

The dawn of simpler corporate cultures

A simpler culture is defined as “a company’s way of doing things that creates the most value and engagement for all, with the least effort by all. A work environment that makes it easier for people to be their best and do great work.”

What’s new and different: Each stakeholder gets equal attention to its needs, maximizing simplicity as an organizational competitive advantage.

simpler corporate culture 1Facing a difficult truth: Currently, simplicity for every individual lags far behind company and customer needs — leaving very little room for simplicity as an organizational competitive advantage.

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Why simplicity is a crucial HR Issue: Simplicity is one of the largest drivers of trust and engagement. If you want more of both, you need lots more simplicity.

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Why the future of work demands simplicity

“We have to educate people on how to have new conversations with end-users of corporate systems — how work is getting done.”

— Geoff Scott, CEO, ASUG

Scott’s quote goes to the heart of why simplicity is so crucial. We are at an inflection point. Work is on the threshold of being completely re-imagined. We are moving from the Hierarchy Era to the Networked Era and we are beginning to see major shifts in organizational and work design.

While no one knows exactly how that will play out, there is one rule that will remain intact. Since the dawn of civilization, in every relationship between groups, those with more power have had things made simpler for them. Those with less power experienced far greater complexities.

This is a universal rule of human interaction. Simplicity is always about power — how easy or hard it is to control one’s destiny and make a difference.

And throughout history, up until now, all the rules were designed to keep things simpler for the organization, not necessarily for the people who did the work. So when Geoff Scott says we need to have new conversations, what he’s referring to is a 21st century power shift — that personal simplicity needs to matter as much as organizational simplicity.

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The new mobile/social/networked era gave birth to that need. Everyone with a smartphone or who has used social network realizes how much power there is in personal simplicity — how much easier it is to control their own destiny and make a difference. What techies are calling the consumerization of IT is really about personal power and simplicity, and how the state-of-the-art stuff is available to every consumer, but lagging way behind in most workplaces.

2014: Complexity crisis tipping point. Deloitte research announced that organizational and work complexity has reached crisis levels and called for major rethinking of how to simplify all work environments.

2015-2020: Workforce tipping point. Millennials are approaching 50% of the workforce, and  unlike every generation before them, they were raised on the power and personal simplicity of the Networked Era. If you want them to overcome the work complexity crisis we now face and continue to do more with less, then they will need simpler corporate cultures.

2015-2020: Re-imagining the relationship. Jensen Group’s Future of Work Study found that the future workforce is changing the lens. They see companies as vehicles to achieve their goals and dreams — vehicles that can amplify their passions, achievements, and community relationships beyond what they could have done on their own or elsewhere. Simpler corporate cultures are what they’ll need to engage them on this level.

Now what? Next steps

Conventional wisdom says this is the place I’m supposed to insert company case studies, to prove to you that simplification is worth it. Or provide checklists and the four phases of getting started. See the eBook for those.

Instead, the most important thing I can do is bring you back to the power of simplicity.

One of my interviews was with Sam Yen, SAP’s chief design officer. He spoke in depth about the power of design thinking, which has been popularized by design and innovation firm IDEO. The essence of design thinking is about making every product or process simpler for the individual, making it easier and giving them more power to control their own destiny. That begins with empathy, putting yourself in their shoes.

I asked Yen, “Doesn’t making things easier for every individual dilute or hurt organizational needs?” “Not at all,” Yen responded. “Simplicity is filtering out all the unnecessary things until you get to the essence of what’s really important and necessary — delivering that to every individual in the way they need it. Simplicity just makes enterprise tools, efficiencies and ways of working easier to use and more engaging.”

So simplicity is about increasing trust and increasing engagement by creating a culture of ease-of-use and ease-of-effort for every individual.

Creating a simpler culture comes down to a C-Suite decision, driven by HR:

  • “Are our people truly our greatest asset?”
  • “Do we value their insights on what will make their work easier, faster and better?”
  • “Do we believe that making it easier for them to succeed and easier to be amazing would provide a big ROI to our company and to our customers?”

If the answers to those three questions are yes, then now is the time to start creating a simpler company culture.

For more on why simplification needs to be part of your business’s strategy for the future, see The Time For Simplification Is Now: Why It’s Important And How You Can Get Started Today.

Bill Jensen is CEO of The Jensen Group and a global thought leader on organizational simplicity. Email: Site: