Keep it simple, leader

Posted in Leadership, Mentor Minute

Keep it simple, leader

The Globe and Mail, Sunday, Dec. 22 2013

Technology was supposed to make our lives easier. Instead, it feels more complicated. E-mail, voice-mail, Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging, Snapchat, Instagram, meetings, meetings, and still more meetings.

My clients say they have no time to do their work. People cannot keep up. (And for those of us raising teenagers in this climate, it’s doubly complicated). We must simplify our use of technology.

The other day I was in Calgary, working with a group of senior leaders at an IT outsourcing company. This company delivers a lot of products and services to their clients. I mean, a lot. And they are complicated. So complicated, it makes the job of a sales rep in this company really challenging, because it’s hard to keep up with all the diverse services the company can provide, as well as know what to present to a client.

At the end of the day, the team reached the following conclusion: The more they could do to simplify their offerings and present them as a cohesive team, both internally and to clients, the more successful they would become. They needed to break things down. To distill them down to their essence.

To simplify. To sell more.

It’s fall, 2007. I am doing some leadership work with Rogers. They are just launching the iPhone. I am in awe of this new device. I get one. Before I even get the chance to try the phone, I am stopped in my tracks by the beauty and simplicity of the box it comes in. It is so clean and simple. It opens like a present. All the parts and booklets are carefully placed into the box. Apple takes their commitment to simplicity way beyond the device itself. I have read that Apple uses a tool called the “simplicity stick.” The objective of the simplicity stick is to “distill every idea down to its essence.”

If there is a leadership skill that is more critically needed than ever, it is the ability to make things simple. While the world seems to get more complicated, it is the leader’s job to break things down into smaller and more simplified units, so staff can understand what needs to be done, how to do it, by when, who is responsible, and so on.

How do you rate on the simplicity scale? Ask yourself the following questions:

As a leader, do you strive to make things more simple for your team, or are you guilty of making things more complicated?

Are your corporate objectives easy for people to understand? Are they simple enough for everyone, from the administrative assistant to the line manager to the executive, to summarize what they are?

Do you run meetings with clear agendas? Do you stick to those clear, simple objectives or do you let things ramble off track? Do your meetings end on time? Do you make it clear what decisions need to be made in those meetings and do you make them? Or do items keep getting carried from one week to the next, allowing things to get more complicated as you go along?

Do you give people feedback that is simple to understand, with concrete and simple ways to improve? Do you give them five things to work on, or simply one?

Are your marketing materials simple? Do they convey a message that is easy to understand so your target audience knows what you are talking about?

As you look ahead to 2014, what would be the impact on you, on your team and on your organization if you made things simple?