Balancing Simplicity and Complexity in the Workplace — High Impact Results vs. Protracted Headaches

As the world grows exponentially more complex, simplifying whatever we can, whenever we can, seems more essential than ever.

In the workplace, for instance, eliminating needless complexity — too many meetings, metrics, layers, etc. — often boosts a company’s bottom line, as employees tend to be more productive and engaged. They also trust management more, serve as better brand ambassadors, and stay at their jobs longer notes a recent study by Siegel + Gale.

However, too much simplicity can also be counterproductive. In the realm of human capital management, trying to manage a complex function or project as simply as possible doesn’t always yield good results, but wastes time and resources instead. The task therefore becomes one of balancing simplicity with the real-world issues of a complex business environment.

Fortunately there’s a way says Andy Rice of Black Box Consulting. This, which can mean the difference between a high-impact result and a protracted headache, consists of asking yourself three simple questions.

First, do you know what you’re really trying to achieve? If you’re not sure, or only partially sure, your effort will be unlikely to create a solution that accidentally meets your goals.

Say, for example, that you want to eliminate unnecessary complexity from your performance management process. While this is an admirable goal, it only makes sense if the simplified process still enables you to still meet your objectives (e.g., giving employees and managers a way to track performance, identify and address weak areas, reward high achievement, etc.).

Therefore, you’ve got to think it through before proceeding. Otherwise you may end up with a process that doesn’t meet your real needs.

Next question: do you know that your plan will work? While the answer to this would seem obvious, since someone with a plan usually believes it will succeed, it’s worth pondering.

In many cases, a flawed project or initiative will follow the idea that something, anything, must be done. However, that something must be clearly aligned with the determined goals of the initiative to accomplish the desired outcome.

Lastly, have you considered different perspectives? Maybe, but maybe not, as it’s tempting to move a strategy through with as little debate as possible. If you want to simplify something and have the support from key people to do so, moving forward to execution will be the quickest route to accomplishment, right?  Not exactly.

One of the biggest causes of wasted time and resources is the failure to consider all angles while planning a project or initiative, Rice says. Even if the pressure isn’t there to do so, invite input from as many stakeholders as possible. The object is not to complicate a project at the outset; rather, it is to avoid complications down the road.

Though none of these ideas are new, if you’re hoping to simplify any aspect of human capital management, it pays to stop and consider them. It’s OK to embrace simplicity, as long as it delivers value to the business.