Author: Jesse Newton
One of the silent killers of innovation, productivity and engagement in our organizations is too much complexity. Our people get lost in complicated and bureaucratic structures, processes and systems. It saps their energy, focus and productive potential. The problem has become widespread in organizations around the world and if we are to realize the potential productive step-change of the current fourth industrial revolution we need to proactively seek to simplify work.
Holding onto 20th Century Structures
The current complexity crisis is largely due to many organizations holding on to outdated and obsolete methods of organizing how work gets done. These 20th-century approaches to organization structure and management are strangling our productive and innovative potential. They are limiting the thinking power of our people and not effectively using the resources at organizations’ disposal.
There are now new organization designs emerging that seek to liberate the creative and productive potential of our people through fostering rich autonomous collaboration. The models infuse the latest technology including artificial intelligence and IOT to strip out and automate repeatable processes and enable people to focus on the high value work; problem solving, decision making and design.
Stripping Out Bureaucratic Processes
Bureaucracy is often thought of as incomprehensible rules and time-wasting procedures. Given the attention that processes have received over the past century, it is no wonder that designing good processes has become a bit of an art form.
The issue today is that the process Divinci’s have gone a little too far. Everything within a business has been defined, organized, and broken down into a process. We have become engendered with a process orientation. As part of the 20th century organizational model of control, clear processes with associated roles and responsibilities meant that work could be controlled from high above. If people are forced to adhere to strict predefined processes their brains check out and they lose the desire and ability to innovate. Over time, we also stopped questioning these processes. The clunky, unwieldy, and energy- and time-consuming processes became part of an organisational makeup.
The implication for business is that things move too slow, people think and act in silos, it’s hard to get anything done, decision making is poor, innovation is missing, risk-taking is low, and it all leads to increasing costs and being left behind by more nimble competitors. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s take a clean sheet of paper and rethink how our organizations deliver value.
Too many employees also struggle to find the information they need within their company’s information systems. The technology boom over the past few decades has brought a software solution for everything. Thousands of IT companies trying to hawk their little piece of functionality to IT functions has resulted in organizations having a rich tapestry of systems that enable day-to-day operations. These beautiful system tapestries have created confusing labyrinths that people have to navigate through to get their job done. This ongoing day-to-day navigation wastes a significant amount of time and energy just to do core day-to-day tasks, such as:
- Find information on the various shared drives, intranet sites, and subsites or track down the person that has it on their hard drive.
- Remember your sixth user name and password to access the HR self-service program so that you can attempt to figure out how many vacation days you have left or your retirement contributions to date.
- Keep track of all the messages from the various communication platforms: Yammer, Slack, Google, WhatsApp, and Facebook.
A healthy way to assess system complexity is to take time biannually or annually to do a consumer review. Put yourself in your users’ shoes and try to understand their user experience by asking questions such as:
- How many systems do users need to interact with to get their job done?
- What are the most valuable pieces of information users need ready access to?
- How can priority information be accessed more easily?
- How can systems improve collaboration?
- How can we limit system enabled distractions and interruptions?
- How can we simplify the user interface across systems?
With so much technology now, the challenge for CIOs and IT departments is how to deliver a streamlined, integrated, and, most importantly, simple experience to users. Large enterprise resource planning companies like Oracle and SAP continue to acquire smaller leading system providers in an ongoing effort to deliver a simplified integrated system solution for organizations, but they can’t keep up with the number of new software offerings being delivered almost weekly. So, any ambition to consolidate systems is almost mission impossible. Target, the large global retailer, has built their systems to be cloud agnostic so that applications can be designed without consideration of the underlying infrastructure, which saves time and enhances focus on the front-end design. It is easy to see that CIOs have an increasingly challenging task of connecting the tapestry of systems behind the scenes so that users do not have to click through 10 different systems to get their job done.
It’s Time to Simplify Work
In this digital age, when technology is fueling rapid changes in consumer preferences and reshaping industries, it is critical that companies innovate well and fast. Companies that are bogged down in slow decision making, risk intolerance, and siloed protectionism are destined to fail. It’s time to throw off the shackles of complexity and let simplicity be the guiding light to liberate peak performance in your organization.
Jesse Newton is the author of Simplify Work; Crushing Complexity to Liberate Innovation, Productivity and Engagement. He is the founder and CEO of Simplify Work; a global management consulting firm that helps organizations throw off the shackles of debilitating complexity and reignite top performance. firstname.lastname@example.org