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  • Writer's pictureSam Wilks

It doesn't need to be a puzzle.

Avoiding Complexity

Whether you are the Manager at a large multinational Casino or the principal of a boutique Real estate firm, you must avoid complexity to remain effective. Complexity can compromise results, hamper communication and confuse customers. I have found that complexity is a common trait of those seeking to become leaders or managers, it is a bad habit formed by aspiration but it is easily untangled once you recognize it.

Common ways to create Complexity

1. “Product and service proliferation” – When you add a product or service, you create to-do lists for other people, such as marketers, photographers and designers etc.

2. “Process evolution” – When managers change a process without having a complete internal understanding and without negotiating goals and intentions, complexity generally increases. Why? Because a process affects everyone who uses it.

3. “Key duties and responsibilities” – When you tweak a structure within your organization, you start a chain reaction. The ways people communicate, use time and find comfort in their work all will shift. With these shifts come new problems, costs and layers of complexity.

4. “Managerial behaviour” – If you manage people, you shape their work. You determine what’s due and when. If you’re not incredibly careful (for example, if you don’t clearly define the task or timeline), you will generate too much complexity. Giving examples or SOP (standard operating procedures) docs.

Solving Complexity issues

Leaders can cause or solve complexity with their decisions, the way they lead is important. Over time, they may overemphasize strengths that once were fruitful, such as pushing individual accountability over teamwork. But these skills may now be irrelevant or even harmful.

When you strategize you may cause complexity. One pitfall involves the relentless search for the “perfect strategy.” You won’t find it. Business moves too fast. The quest for the ideal strategy can cause complexity if you try to collect too much data, make too many promises or insist on excess analysis. Sometimes it’s a case of “Just do it”.

Managers define goals – another common practice that can go wrong. Some lay out simple objectives that help motivate people. Others just let the staff go for it. Different staff have different skill sets and it’s important to question, listen and act accordingly. If staff are more comfortable doing a certain task and are effective, then don’t over burden them.

Goal-setting is subjective, if you promote a target and then allow it to slide, if you hint that you don’t care if it really happens, then you can’t penalize noncompliance.

If you undermine your objectives or if you negotiate them by letting staff avoid other work in exchange for completing the goals you’ve set, you are setting yourself up to fail.

Basically you just need to KISS (keep it simple and Succinct.)

To create a true “architecture of simplicity,” you must make it a priority by positioning it as a business imperative and explaining how vital it is to your firm/office. Once you make a clear case for simplicity, you should start with the root of your concern whether it is products, processes, responsibilities or behaviours. Pursue activities that allow people to experience the benefits of simplification quickly. Showcase the results as they occur and provide incentives for more progress.

Promote people who can make simplicity happen. Then start over. Drive simplicity as part of the way you and your firm do business. As a leader, you can make simplicity an imperative – or let complexity drift. You can speak out about complexity that detracts from your mission or you can remain silent. Your actions matter. If you tolerate ineffective meetings and meaningless emails, if you ignore customers’ demands for simplification and don’t lead change, then you are tacitly approving complexity and rejecting simplicity. The move toward simplicity starts, simply, with you.

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