Simplify or Petrify

I had a chance to work with a couple new vendors recently. The contrasts couldn’t be more stark. One is a time-tested and respected brand and product. Another is a semi-recent start-up with an innovative concept. But the differences didn’t end there. Right from the get-go, one required some initial planning and then essentially ran itself. The other became a second job to actively manage. One required a few decisions that could be made quickly. The other required many complicated and lengthy decision points. One had a simple system with self-service reporting. The other had a complicated system that required customized reporting.

In many ways the products were comparable, but it wasn’t long before I started caring less about results and more about my own self-preservation.

The main issue wasn’t quality or customer service. It was simplicity. From top to bottom, one was simple, the other was complex.

In today’s marketplace, simplicity is currency.

As you look to increase your leadership effectiveness, make sure simplicity is part of your equation. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Start with Why

Many of us (myself included) are tempted to start with “what” or “how.” This is textbook “inside the box” thinking. Purpose ought to be the first conversation, as Simon Sinek shared in his bestseller Start with Why. (Check out his Ted Talk too). When you take the time to communicate “why we need to do this in the first place,” you set the ground work for aligned direction for the entire course. When you have a great “why” to begin with, you can eliminate the “we’ve always done it this way” complications that get in the way.

Eliminate Choices

This sounds counter-intuitive to a customer centricity mindset. But in their bestseller Decisive, Chip Heath and Dan Heath reference a study showing how grocery store “sample” tables sell more products when they sample less items. (It’s easier to select your favorite of six jams than 24). If you’ve seen the movie The Founders, you’ll remember how the McDonald’s menu was purposefully scaled down to its core items in order to maintain high quality. Instead of being everything to everyone, simplify what you have to offer down to the core few, and then deliver the greatest possible experience.

Automate Processes

When processes aren’t automated, they require additional work – and worse, additional decisions. The more decisions it takes someone to complete an action, the less likely they will be to follow through to the end. Whenever you can eliminate a meeting or reduce three emails (or clicks) to one, you make action much more simple for your audience.

Address Issues Upfront (or Eliminate Them Altogether)

When was the last time you had to make a return on Amazon? Chances are you selected from several options and the issue was resolved. Amazon has been extremely proactive in addressing issues upfront instead of on an individual basis each time they come up. The result is quick and easy service for each user. The more simply your audience can resolve their own issues, the better their experience will be.

Focus on the Few Crucial Results

If your team or function has a scorecard to help measure the key result areas, good for you. The problem occurs when the scorecard gets too large and convoluted to drive decision-making and focus. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t track many metrics. But simplify the ones that have your core focus down to a core few at any given time.

In an increasingly complex environment, simplicity is becoming an art form. All things equal – and perhaps not so equal – your followers will be more likely to select the simple option. Give it to them, and they’ll follow you.

Nathan Magnuson is an executive leadership consultant, speaker and author of the books Stand Out! and Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. Click to see the exciting ways Nathan is helping organizations and teams become more effective with Leadership-in-a-Box.