When Less Is More

The recession seems to be accelerating a drive toward simplicity. Many are realizing that complexity is inefficient and expensive. As a result, people are streamlining their lives, both personally and professionally. I know I am—and so is our company.

two simple gears fitting together

We are currently focused on eliminating complexity in four areas:

  1. The number of meetings. We should be very careful about setting up routine meetings. Once they are in place, they are hard to eliminate—they seem to take on a life of their own. Every once in a while (perhaps annually) it is good to re-evaluate every standing meeting and ask five questions:
    • “What is the intended outcome of this meeting?”
    • “Are all the people who attend this meeting really necessary to achieve this outcome?
    • “Can we meet less frequently and still achieve this outcome?”
    • “Can we meet for a shorter period of time and still achieve this outcome?”
    • “Is there some way to accomplish this outcome without a regular meeting?”
  2. The size of our teams. If the meeting is informational, then a large group may be appropriate. But if you are trying to make decisions, a large group can quickly become cumbersome.

    For starters, it is a challenge to get everyone together. Some assistants spend much of their time just trying to coordinate schedules. In addition, it is more difficult to get everyone aligned in a large team. You simply have more opinions and concerns that have to be “folded in” to the conversation.

    Instead, you can assemble a small team quickly, make decisions faster, and then communicate the outcomes to those who need to know. If you need to create alignment around a decision, you can also do this in subsequent smaller meetings. At Thomas Nelson, we have just reduced the size of our Executive Leadership Team from nine to three. I think this is going to dramatically speed up our decision-making process.

  3. The value of our processes. No organization can survive without clearly defined and well-executed procedures. But, like meetings, these can sometimes take on a life of their own. Things that may have been necessary two years ago may not be necessary now. The whole world, it seems, has changed.

    Nothing makes an organization seem bureaucratic more than processes that have outlived their usefulness. So often, we create system-wide procedures in response to a single exception or anomaly. We would be far better off to address the exception head-on rather than create a process than penalizes everyone else.

  4. The use of acronyms. And acronym is a word formed from the initial letters of other words. They are designed to be a shortcut that saves everyone time. For example, it is easier to refer to “NASA” rather than the “National Aeronautics and Space Administration.” These work best when they result in a pronounceable word.

    However, in many organizations, including my own, they can actually have the opposite effect. They can add complexity and become a barrier to understanding. For example, when someone says, “The ELT is insisting that the SPU leaders take these projects back to the MSS for further consideration” you know you have a problem. They can make communication less efficient and more unintelligible to outsiders.

In the current environment, we can’t afford complexity. We need to be fast and nimble to remain viable and indeed grow. Anything that gets in the way of that, needs to be challenged.

Question: What else needs to be challenged in your organization to make it less complex and more efficient?

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