Several years ago, I had just moved to a new town in a new state. I had only ever been to this town twice before for a total of less than 7 days.
A group of people had helped me unload the moving truck. One of them, was a young man without his license who stayed beyond his ride to help. I agreed to give him a ride home. This was prior to the days of GPS.
Turns out, while he knew his address, he didn’t know how to tell me to get there. He gave me a direction to go that turned out incorrect. We were finally able to get ahold of his mother and she was able to give me concise directions. What should have taken 20 or so minutes took an hour and a half.
Just like with giving directions, ambiguity does not serve an organization well. It is the leader’s job to provide direction. Clear. Concise. Compelling.
It is hard work for a leader and an organization to create a clear path and direction. It is even harder work to keep it clear and simple.
Growth brings complexity. Complexity creates ambiguity. Ambiguity kills growth.
Simplicity is hard. Simplicity gives clarity. Simplicity facilitates growth.
The longer we work at and in something, the more layers and steps we tend to add. This makes it harder and harder for people to follow. Over time, if we are not diligent, the process and even the purpose for what we are doing becomes cloudy. As technology and new ways of thinking emerge, we have to stay intentional to make sure that we are still doing things the best and most simple way.
I am a woodworker. The man who taught me, taught me many of the older ways of working with wood. We did a lot of things by hand. From a nostalgia and satisfaction stand point, I still like doing some things with hand tools. However, technology has developed new and more precise ways of doing some things. This saves time, creates a quality product, and saves money for the client because it takes less time. My criteria for a new tool or new process is based on two questions:
- Will this new process increase or decrease quality?
- Will this new process make it more simple or more complex?
In the other areas and organizations I lead and have led, I have learned the value of these two questions. I haven’t always done this well.
There have been times that complexity has crept in leading to ambiguity. Every time this has happened it has slowed or stopped momentum. There has never been a time when complexity has made things better. Ambiguity has never boosted morale or moved the graph line up and to the right.
Complexity brings confusion. Ambiguity brings frustration. These are toxic in any organization.
My dad was big on the K.I.S.S. principle. I can’t tell you how many times I heard him say it while I was growing up.
Here are some practices to keep it simple.
Have a very clear objective.
If you don’t know the destination, you can’t have a clear path. Figure out where your organization/department/team/group/company is going. Know what needs to be accomplished and figure out the straightest path there.
Keep that objective front and center all the time. You will never promote it enough and you will never say it too much.
Say it again. Promote it more.
Stop before you add a step or process.
Make sure that it will actually enhance what you are doing and further the purpose of your business or organization.
Will this addition improve or decrease the quality of the product or experience?
Will it make things more clear and simple or does it add complexity?
The moment we stop evaluating is the moment we begin to move toward complacency.
Ask the hard questions. Get others to ask the hard questions and help you evaluate. Have a dashboard or a scale or something that monitors the complexity level.
If you as the leader cannot give a concise reason for what you are doing, no one can. If you cannot explain the process structure in a few minutes, it is too complex and no one else even knows it.
If it can’t be taught, it can’t be caught.
Look for steps and layers that can be removed and remove them. Boil everything down to the most base and simple steps and elements you can. Then add only what is needed to achieve the stated purpose.
There are a million ways to make lemonade and dozens and dozens of ingredients that exist within the various ones. However, the best lemonades at fairs and a certain fast food chicken restaurant have water, lemons, and sugar. That’s it. Simple.
Say no often.
To keep things simple means to say no to lots and lots of things. Many of the things we have to say no to are good things. Pizza is good. Yet, lots and lots of restaurants have said no to serving pizza because it would add complexity. It would take away from the core product of that establishment.
To keep it simple, know when to say no to even the good ideas and good things.
Simplicity is vital to success. Simplicity is critical for clarity and employee/member/volunteer satisfaction. Simplicity keeps it clear. Simplicity pushes back complexity. Simplicity is hard work. It is never easy.
Simplicity shows us the way.
Be the leader and show us the way forward. Lead us to that better place. Show us the path to improvement. Lead us into the better and brighter tomorrow.
Clear. Concise. Compelling. Simple.