The time to simplify business is now!

By Tony | April 28, 2017

I recently watched a great Tedx talk by Lisa Bodell, on how simplification is the key to change.

Lisa talks about workplaces drowning in mundane tasks such as meetings and emails, and how these get in the way of meaningful work. She talks about eradicating the stuff that gets in the ways of change. She observes that we are addicted to doing and ‘thinking has become a daring act.’ She promotes asking killer questions; asking better questions; being provocative.

She advocates getting rid of stupid rules, processes, assumptions that just get in the way.

She makes a compelling argument for making simplification a habit, not a one-off, a new operating principle for every business.

This same thinking is picked up in a 2014 HBR article, Your Scarcest Resource where the authors focus on how time in organisations is being squandered.

They state the support required throughout a business for a single Executive-level meeting could be up to 300,000 hours, and up to 15% of an organisation’s collective time is spent in meetings. They also observe ‘real collaboration’ across a business is limited, with most happening within silos for information-sharing rather than brainstorming and problem-solving. The authors propose a range of solutions including strict meeting agendas; business cases for all projects; and standardised decision processes. These are all great ideas but they feel a bit like band-aids; incremental changes at a time when true simplification needs much bigger thinking.

We’ve been working on bigger.

  • Imagine a project team working collaboratively with all information available to all team members any time they need it, and without any paper.
  • Imagine the team, in the spirit of transparency and adventure, streaming rich, accurate project updates throughout the business, in real-time, because, well, they can!
  • Imagine that information being immediately available to the CEO, and other members of the Executive team, without any filtering, spinning or ‘corporatizing’ by other managers.

Along the way we’ve eliminated the need for all the management and reporting layers that proliferate and hold back our businesses. That’s not just removing time-wasting meetings and emails. That’s stopping hundreds of thousands of hours being squandered…every month.

Lisa Bodell talks about getting rid of the stupid rules and processes.

Surely one of the dumbest management conventions is ‘Board reports’ that by their very nature obfuscate the issues and challenges senior teams should be facing and dealing with. Why persist with such reports? The answer is almost always – because that’s the way we do it. How does a point-in-time, hard-copy report enable executives to focus on the future and think strategically?

How does a tome, running to hundreds of pages, help executives ask the killer questions?

All manner of killer questions spring to mind.

  • Why are we working on something so risky and with little apparent value?
  • Why are our people stretched so thin in the next quarter?
  • Why do 50% of our projects have no benefits listed?
  • How do we make sure our structures and work programmes fit together cohesively?

But perhaps the real killer question – the one that goes to the heart of transparency, accountability and integrity, the one that demands new ways of working, the one that must be answered, is:

What would people think if they really knew what was going on in our business?