Jun 01, 2015

Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication

A recent report by Deloitte studying people-related issues in 3,300 global corporations found that 74 percent of HR and business leaders characterized their work environment as either “complex” or “highly complex.”

Research finds that in one day more than 100 billion emails are exchanged, yet only one in seven is critically important. People check their mobile phones more than 150 times per day. And a study by the National Journal found that 40 percent of workers believe that it is not possible to succeed at work, earn good wages, and have enough time to contribute to family and the community.

There are many reasons for this work overload, including always-on technology, 24/7 demands, and the abundance of messaging and social tools available. But another important factor is complexity in work practices, business processes, and job tasks. Driving this complexity in the work environment are four major factors. First, the technology used to conduct work has become increasingly complex. Second, most companies are becoming increasingly global with clients, partners, suppliers, and workers all around the world, which calls for conference calls, meetings, and emails at all hours of the day and night. Third, increased administrative and compliance demands require more time and engagement from workers. And fourth, businesses processes have become complex, with some large companies reporting more than 4,000 different tasks, rules, processes, and procedures required to build one major product.

As labor market conditions continue to improve, employers are starting to focus on simplifying the workplace. This requires a sophisticated evaluation of the details within a program or process, and then eliminating what is not urgently needed. Knowledge@Wharton, the online business analysis journal of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, found that 67 percent of senior leaders believe that business simplicity will be very important in the next three years. 

During the recession, workers were overwhelmed because of the demand to do more with less. For organizations that are looking to create more productive and engaging workforce environments today, its important to shift gears and concentrate on empowering and equipping workers to do fewer things better.

Executives are starting to realize that simplicity may be one of the most important and underutilized tools in a company. There is opportunity in both simplifying the work environment and in simplifying the work itself. Experts believe that over the remainder of 2015 and through 2016, companies will take steps to streamline work, reduce administrative burdens, and simplify complex processes.

Some Ways to Get Started on Simplifying the Workplace

Make Simplification a Priority: In many companies it works well to have the HR department act as the catalyst for the entire organization to declutter by advising businesses on strategies to save time and reduce the number of emails and meetings. A good way to start is by asking workers about the processes that they think wastes their time and complicates their tasks.

Reduce Unproductive Meetings and Email Overflow: Currently the average worker spends over one-quarter of their workday reading and responding to emails. Leading companies are starting to change business practices by stopping emails on weekends and implementing simpler tools. Some companies are event starting to treat “time capital” with the same seriousness as financial capital, and are working to cut back on unnecessary meetings and conference calls. Maximizing workers’ time by reducing the numbers of emails, meetings, and conferences calls is becoming a critical priority for organizations. The less time people spend on these items, the more productive and focused they are throughout the day.

Remove Low-Value Activities: An easy starting point for simplification is to remove low-value activities that almost always exist in most organizations. For example, consider how many people are needed to review and sign off on expense reports, or how many times slide decks need to be reviewed before they are presented. If a few simple tasks can be removed, it creates bandwidth to focus on more substantial work.

Implement Design Thinking: Design thinking is a process that brings user interface designers, process experts, and graphics specialists together to make work systems more functional and easier to use. Whole industries are being transformed by technological and design innovations that are aimed at simplifying the way we live and work. For businesses, design thinking is geared towards rethinking how work gets done. Using a single functional area as an organizational role model, design thinking teams should strive to remove steps and implement only as much processes and technology as is needed to get the job done.

Invest in More Integrated, Simpler Technology: Most new technology is packed full of features that most users don’t use or even know exists. And these features are released faster than most people can learn to use them. Ultimately though, it’s the simplest products that are the most widely used. While new features are exciting and trendy, companies are realizing the need to evaluate software based on its ease of use. Major technology vendors are actively looking to simplify their applications and tools. Deloitte finds that HR software buyers today are looking for systems with fewer features and less complexity.

“The first way to reduce complexity is to devote serious time and resources to solving the problem. These results show the lack of attention that complexity has received. This lack of attention cannot continue any longer.” ~Morris Cohen, Professor of Operations and Information Management at the Wharton School