HR Insights

Why Stepping Back and Making It Simple Solves Everything

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Simplicity is hard.

Well, it may not solve everything, but stop and think about how complexity gets in the way of so much of what we do. Organizations are confusing, strategies are misunderstood and the customer experience is disjointed.

It turns out that simplicity is hard. It’s easier to bolt on the new technology to the old version, add four more slides to the 72 page slide deck and narrow down to the top 25 critical initiatives for 2013. Finding the simple truth is difficult and so we punt.

Simplicity takes clarity, honesty, unbelievable discipline and intelligence. Any one of these alone can stop us dead in our tracks – much less all together. It often takes more than one person to achieve simplicity. And, oh by the way, we have a deadline.

There are little examples of how we miss simplicity every day.

The leader that talks for 90 minutes about the new strategy, yet no one knows exactly what he just said. The process that is so confusing the customer can never reach the right person to solve her problem. The 10 page performance feedback document, yet at the end the employee has to ask, ‘so how did I do this year?’

Simplicity takes empathy

In my quest to embrace simple, I picked up a new book by Siegel and Etzkorn, Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity. I recommend it.

Siegel and Etzkorn believe there are three key principles of simplicity:

  • Empathize: understand others’ needs and expectations;
  • Distill: boil down and customize what’s being offered to meet needs;
  • Clarify: make the offering easier to understand, use and benefit.

You have to empathize to achieve simplicity. I read this three times. Distill and clarify were more intuitive, but empathize made me connect two important ideals I had never connected before. You can’t realize simplicity if you don’t empathize with your audience.

The best task force survey or detailed process analysis isn’t enough. You need empathy to realize simplicity.

This is why Apple’s Steve Jobs simplified how we listen to music and acquire it and we followed. And, he never held a focus group to ask customers what features they wanted. He was a minimalist who went for simple, not simplified.

Our roadblocks to simplicity

In addition to just being easier, complexity makes us feel smarter. If Joe has to explain his complex process two to three times to the team, he looks smarter! He is valued and important!

As a consultant, I can say confidently that some of the “best practice” thinking in organizations today was built with a heavy influence from consultants and experts who added complexity. And, oh by the way, the side benefit was to sell more services. (See competency models.)

Silos – which are alive and well in business – perpetuate the complexity. While each silo is busy getting “better” (and more complex) the overall business process, purpose and experience has lost a clear, simple purpose to the end user or customer.

What can we do?

If we have a complexity crisis, what can we do about it? We can be the advocates for going “back to the basics” on what is really needed and only adding to it when it must be done. We can be the simplicity champions searching for answers to:

  • What’s the real purpose?
  • How do our customers/audience experience us and how can we simply meet their needs?
  • Why do we need it?
  • What is the simplest way we can do this?
  • How can we get a fresh perspective to be sure we have the simplest approach?\
  • How can I say this in simpler language?

Our work, organizations and connection to our audience and customer can be so improved with a passion for simplicity. I’m for making it the universal core value. It’s that important.

And when you think simple is for simple minds, I’ll quote, Siegel and Etzkorn: “Simple is smart.”

This was originally published on PeopleResult’s Current blog.

Patti Johnson is the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and organizational development consulting firm she founded in 2004. She is the author of newly released "Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life." Patti and her team advise clients such as PepsiCo, Microsoft, 7-Eleven, Accenture, Frito-Lay and many others on creating positive change in their leaders and organizations. Previously a Senior Executive at Accenture. Patti is an instructor on change for SMU Executive Education and for the Bush Institute Women’s Initiative, as well as a keynote speaker on change and leadership.
  • katherine

    Patti,

    Thank you!!! These are great reminders!!

  • Faith Fuqua-Purvis

    Hi Patti -
    Two phrases came to mind with Emphathize – Distill – Clarify …
    1 – Listen and reflect
    2 – Seek to understand before being understood (an old Covey adage)
    Many are so busy trying to get attention – talking over others, pushing ideas, waving their hands (metaphorically or literally) that they forget to hear.
    What I “heard” in your article was to ask myself what I too can do to simplify. It shouldn’t be about “others” but about myself. I’m really the only one I can truly change (yes, this from a Change Agent). Look to simplify my work, my life, my interactions with others. To ask “why am I doing that” and “does that really need to be done.”
    I think I’ll go delete some more emails…
    Peace.
    Faith

  • http://kylemjones.com/ Kyle Jones

    I enjoyed reading this and it reminded me of something I heard someone say at the beginning of 2013. He said his plans were to look at 2013 with a “Reduce and Simplify” mindset. For example, just because this is how we do X doesn’t mean that is the way we HAVE to do X. Why not ask “Why do we do X this way? What can we do differently to “reduce and simplify” but still end with X?”