Crushing Complexity and Simplifying Work

Low value clutter is holding people back – how to reignite their productive potential

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Jesse Newton

organizational complexity

The "Marie Kondo" of organizational clutter offers pointers on how to gain more joy at work by crushing complexity

Organizations today are complicated messes. They are a scramble of matrixed structures, reporting lines, disparate systems and bureaucratic processes.

Navigating these labyrinths to attempt to deliver value is time consuming, energy sapping and frustrating.

It’s no wonder that employee engagement levels are lower than they have been in over two decades. The slowly propagating nature of organizational complexity has meant that most of us don’t even realize how unnecessarily complicated our companies are. If organizations, especially larger ones, are to keep current in today’s rapidly morphing marketplace they need to choose to simplify work by removing all the low value clutter that is holding their people back and reignite their innovative and productive potential.

"74% of respondents rate their organization as complex"

In a recent study, 74% of respondents rated their organization as complex. The current complexity crisis is largely due to many organizations holding on to outdated and obsolete methods of organizing how work gets done.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.

The traditional and now obsolete approach to managing work is characterized by dense bureaucratic structures and strict, formal processes with rules and more rules. Traditional best practices told us that we need detailed descriptions of all roles, responsibilities, reporting relationships, decision rights, processes, and rules to get anything done. These things were needed because humans weren’t to be trusted. Installing detailed strict structures meant that leaders could control the output of their people, thereby limiting the risk of mistakes and establishing a baseline of quality.

So, as companies grew, they added more and more structures and gradually became complicated messes.

The lines and boxes mode of operating made sense in a time when requirements were simpler and before automation or artificial intelligence. When all a business had to do was produce a product or service that was focused on price or quality, complexity could be managed. People could come to work, do the same thing, and go home, and the company would continue to grow. Like a well-oiled machine, human capital could be managed, measured, and organized as leaders saw fit.

But the challenge today is that the speed of industry evolution is so fast that people must be engaging all their intellect on the highest priorities so that companies can keep up with market developments. Furthermore, technology breakthroughs are increasingly enabling low value, repeatable tasks to be automated, which presents the opportunity to remove these traditionally time consuming and energy sapping tasks.

Companies that are mired in debilitating complexity can break free of its hold. With strong leadership support and a clear approach for attacking complexity companies can re-energize their people by bringing back the laser focus, reducing the clutter and releasing the reins on innovation.

The epidemic of complexity is spreading throughout the world of business and if it is not reined in, those that have managed to keep it at bay will leap ahead and those that don’t will fall by the wayside.

What if we could take a fresh look at our businesses, reconsider what is really important, and start to focus our time and energy on those things that truly matter?

Imagine the positive effect it would have on your people if you told them they now have permission to do more of the work they were hired for. Imagine their sense of liberation if you removed a big chunk of the low value activities that soak up their time.

The time is right to crush complexity and simplify work.

Note: 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.