Have you ever gone home at the end of a long day and wondered what you really accomplished? That’s the complaint I hear from many managers these days who feel that they are working harder than ever, but don’t have much to show for it.
While globalization, innovation and communications technologies have created incredible opportunities, they also have made organizations much more complex, more exhausting, and more overloaded with meetings, emails, and presentations — often without the counterbalancing benefit of more productivity or satisfaction. And to make matters worse during the economic downturn, many organizations have cut their staffs and just expect the remaining people to do the same (or more) work. It’s not a pretty picture.
Unfortunately, if you’re waiting for someone else to initiate simplification and make your life better, you might as well buy a lottery ticket. So, don’t wait and make it happen.
Here are two simple steps that any manager, at any level, can take to start down the path of simplification:
1. Start with your own behavior. How many times have you gone to a meeting that lacked an agenda or a clear set of objects — and didn’t do anything about it? How often have you received unnecessary email or reports — but didn’t let the senders know that they were clogging up your inbox? How often have you sat through a presentation with too many slides, unclear points, and too much data — but didn’t provide any feedback to the presenter? And how often have you been the perpetrator of these complexity-causing behaviors without anyone pushing back on you?
We all allow these things to happen. Often, we’re guilty of doing them. But since most people dislike confrontation, we let things slide. It’s an unspoken conspiracy: “I won’t challenge you if you won’t challenge me.” The net result is that we unwittingly create a culture of complexity.
The first step towards simplification is to break out of this silent collusion. Challenge yourself and challenge others. Put a three-slide limit on presentations; insist that every meeting have an agenda; eliminate “reply all” emails to schedule meetings. Get simplification started in your own day-to-day life.
2. Enlist others in the cause. Just like you are often unconscious of how you cause complexity, your boss and your colleagues are probably unaware of how they are making life difficult for you and others. So after you’ve changed some of your own behaviors (and you need to do that first to have credibility), get some discussion started about other sources of complexity in the company. Don’t worry at first about making big changes — just get some dialogue going, either physically or virtually.
Encourage other people to experiment along with you, and to share what works and what does not. Look together at processes that cut across your functions, and how you might streamline handoffs and interactions. Talk about issues that you can’t tackle alone, but might be opportunities for group problem-solving. At a minimum, you can create a simplicity support group. But who knows, you might create a movement!
What’s your experience with making things simpler in your company?
Author: Ron Ashkenas