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Complexity – Why?

November 10, 2015

Think Simple

Complexity - Why?
Complexity – Why?


Leading Your Organisation Out of the Complexity Wilderness

In the first of 3 papers on the role of leaders in creating a culture of simplicity, we explore the behavioural roots of complexity in organisations, to understand how and why humans sometimes create complexity.

  • Complexity is having a negative impact on the performance of most big organisations, but very few companies are successfully tackling this growing problem.
  • Human behaviours are the root cause of complexity in big business; we all contribute (unknowingly) to the level of complexity in work.
  • To change the behaviours that create complexity a new style of leadership is needed, driven by leaders who actively inspire, challenge coach and reward their people for removing complexity. We call this “Leading Simplicity.”

Understanding Complexity

Excess complexity is slowing you down, demotivating your employees, and destroying your profits. In 2011, the Global Simplicity Index studied complexity in the 200 biggest companies in the world and proved that, on average, 10% of annual profits were being wasted through excess complexity.

So it is not surprising that leaders of organisations now see complexity as one of the biggest challenges they face.

In tangible terms, the complexity of your organisation is visible as the ‘structural complexity’ that you can see in your organisation’s processes, systems, product/service portfolios, strategies, and organisational design. This could be described as the complexity that is built into your organisational ‘hardware’.

Why We Create Complexity

Overview: Management and leadership behaviours are the real root cause of complexity in large organisations

First, let’s explore the behavioural side of complexity a little more. A good start point is to ask ourselves where does complexity originate from?

The truth is both simple and brutal – complexity does not create itself!  It is created by the behaviours, decisions, and actions of people. That’s not to say that people go to work deliberately to create complexity – far from it. The vast majority of people are working diligently to contribute to the success of their organisation.

But, we create complexity because it’s in our nature. Hopefully, you can see that the structural complexity we see in our business hardware (e.g., a complex process or product) is the result of our own behaviours and decisions. We are the creators of complexity; it does not create itself.

Classic Complexity Examples

  • Over-intellectualizing or over-engineering: Making something more intellectual or more complex than it needs to be for the situation or the audience in question.
  • Reinventing: Creating a new way of doing something, when we already do it well elsewhere. Replicating existing products/services, with unnecessary local adaptations.
  • Mistrust: Lack of trust drives us to create processes, reporting systems and other management mechanisms ostensibly to control people or protect ourselves. We should invest more time in enabling people to do their jobs effectively… and then trust them to deliver.
  • Tinkering: Making changes that reflect your personal preference for how something should be done – your way is probably different, but is it actually better? This behaviour is also driven by a desire to stamp our mark on things.
  • Avoidance: Focusing on the process or the politics rather than the real problem or issue in hand. This creates a distraction that confuses people about the real issue/problem.
  • Lack of focus: Focusing on too many small things, failing to look for and/or prioritize the bigger opportunities that create real value in your company.
  • Aimlessness: Failing to set a clear and/or correct destination from the very start. This leads in teams of people wandering aimlessly in the wrong direction, or duplication of activity.
  • Adding without taking away: Adding to something without taking something less important away first. Stopping things is hard for people, we don’t enjoy cutting projects out, but we should!
  • Perfecting: Trying to make things 120 per cent perfect, when 100% is good enough!

Change Complexity – Run Simple

So if our behaviours are a major driver of complexity, it follows that changing these behaviours (and ultimately changing corporate culture) is essential in the battle against complexity. If we don’t change our behaviours, we will not find a sustainable solution to this pervasive problem. One generation of managers may successfully remove some of the structural complexity, but if we do not have a culture or mindset of simplicity we will miss thousands of smaller, more local, complexity issues. If we do not change our organisation’s behaviours and culture, the next generation of managers will simply undo the structural reforms – making things more complex again!

Challenge Complexity

Our work behaviours and decisions are the root cause of complexity. For any significant behavioural shift to start, your leaders MUST embody the behaviours that you want the rest of the organisation to mirror. Without this leadership drive, the desired change in your behaviour and culture will be impossible to achieve.

  • Valuing simplicity – Do I truly believe in and value simplicity as way of working?
  • Communicating simply – Do I communicate with clarity and simplicity?
  • Living the simplicity behaviours – Do I exhibit simplicity in my work behaviours?
  • Leading simplicity – How good am I at bringing simplicity to life within my team?

Recycled from:

Read More: Visit The SAP Digitalist Page, Future of Work – Leading Your Organisation Out of the Complexity Wilderness by Melvin Jay