Are You Making Management Too Complex?

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There’s a must-read article that appeared at Fast Company a few months ago by Aaron Levie, entitled, The Simplicity Thesis. The short form is that in this world of increasing complexity, the best opportunities are for those firms, products and services that are minimally complex (simple). The same goes for those of us leading others and managing our organizations.

Levie offers:

“Any market where unnecessary middlemen stand between customers and their successful use of a solution is about to be disrupted. Any service putting the burden on end users to string together multiple applications to produce the final working solution should consider its days numbered. Any product with an interface that slows people down is ripe for extinction. And any category where a disproportionate number of customers are subsidizing their vendor’s inefficiency is on the verge of revolution.”

While the author’s focus is on products, services and business models, those of us who manage and lead should take heed. Too many of us complicate and obfuscate when we should be clarifying and simplifying.

In the words of Peter Drucker, “Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.”

8 Management Traps that Breed Unnecessary Complexity

1. Too much process … it stifles movement and grinds creativity and innovation to dust. Process tends to beget process, much like legislation and regulation do the same in our political system. The complexity adds costs, creates confusion and detracts from the primary mission of solving problems or pursuing discoveries.

2. Too little process … it breeds anarchy, frustrates well-meaning workers and generates activity churn and gross inefficiency in daily operations.

3. Failing to build a culture around the practice of accountability. Lack of accountability generates a culture of malaise that ultimately consumes everyone, even those with great potential. Lack of accountability might as well be called management by futility.

4. Operating for long periods of time without a strategy or sense of clear direction. Sadly, this one is epidemic in so many of our businesses. The lack of go-forward context reduces effort to the pursuit of all that is visible and only what is known.

5. Ignoring the much needed tough discussions and issues in front of the team out of some naïve belief that avoiding conflict creates harmony and breeds effectiveness. Failing to address the aging business model or toxic team member simply creates cultural stress and daily complexity as people strive to maneuver around the issues.

6. Creating unneeded organizational layers. Every added layer moves key people further from customers and the realities of the external environment.

7. Perpetuating complicated budgeting initiatives (sans strategy), where the probability is nearly perfect that nothing will unfold as it is indicated on paper.

8. Pursuing Flavor of the Month type initiatives that are only half-baked and end up partially consumed.

The Bottom-Line for Now

Levie makes a powerful case for simplicity in pursuit of products and business models. In his article, he shares examples of this in process all around us. Those who manage and plan and design and develop and set strategies will be well served to think through their own activities in the context of his Simplicity Thesis.

For those who lead others, a bit of simplicity in the form of good blocking and tackling, will go a long way towards strengthening performance. The not so secret process is actually quite simple.

  • Treat everyone with respect.
  • Listen to what your people have to say.
  • Work constantly on connecting strategies to vision … and adapting as you learn.
  • Provide clarity for big goals and daily priorities.
  • Establish and reinforce accountability.
  • Offer timely feedback on performance
  • Support the development of the people who work for you.

If you make it much harder than this, you’re building your own leadership complexity trap.
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