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Simplicity and Complexity

Posted Date: 2013-07-23

Don’t you love people who are always telling you how complex things are! The same applies to organisations. Why do some organisations make things far more difficult and complex than they need to be?

Think about how the check in procedure for most airlines. This is a complex process, passengers need to be checked in, assigned a seat, screened etc. Ten years ago this process had to involve some of face to face contact with check in staff at the airport. The story is very different today – I can check in on line and even have my boarding pass sent to my phone, and, if I play my cards right, I don’t have to deal an airline employee until you are boarding the plane! The point is that you can still achieve simplicity within a complex process.

The main causes of complexity within organisations are…

Structural mitosis – regular and frequent structural change impacts on complexity. Employees are expected to keep up to date with the changes however the reality is that these constant structural changes can actually cause more complexity.

Product and service proliferation – organisations seem to be much more adept at adding products and services rather than eliminating or streamlining. As the suite of products and services increases so too does the process and resourcing needed to support the growth, and thus adding to more complexity.

Process evolution – within medium to large organisations there is an abundance of process and tools that are designed to support work. It’s not uncommon for organisations to have a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool, a Learning Management System (LMS), a Human Resource Information System (HRIS), an online performance appraisal system, capability frameworks as well an array of other internal and external processes. Whilst these processes are designed to streamline the work, inevitably they generate cynicism, confusion, frustration and even more work.

Managerial habits – undoubtedly one of the most common causes of complexity is managerial habits. I am not talking about good habits either! Poor managerial habits such as micromanaging, lack of vision and direction, poor meeting management and excessive reporting demands all add to complexity.

Here are some high level strategies for facilitating simplicity

  • Identify and address managerial behaviour that causes complexity
  • Encourage discussions on role clarity
  • Identify what is already working well and why, and replicate success factors across the organisation
  • Empower line managers to make more decisions and to be accountable for those decisions
  • Identify and modify own behaviour that causes complexity