Posted by Josh Bersin on June 30, 2015. Originally published on LinkedIn.
In our research during the Global Human Capital Trends 2015 project, we found that while more than two-thirds of the companies we talked with are dealing with “the overwhelmed employee,” a similar number told us that their work environment had become “highly complex” or “complex.” When we asked companies what they were doing about this, we found that almost one-third had some type of simplification program in process.
Work simplification is a new theme in business. After talking with many companies about this topic, I’ve discovered that several actions are taking place, largely driven by the proliferation of systems and technology we now have at work.
All these are “technically elegant” solutions that people simply don’t have time to do—so they begrudgingly do the work but don’t engage and don’t learn or gain what they should.
We were involved in the design of a new onboarding program for a big telecommunications company. It was losing people after the first few months on the job because the entire job was so overwhelming, people couldn’t learn what they needed. The complex onboarding and new-hire training was also overwhelming, and “too complete” for the people being hired.
Through a series of design sessions, we applied “design thinking” to the problem and found that during the first 2–3 months there were only a few things these people really needed to learn. Then in the next 3–6 months there were other skills and systems to learn; and then in the second year there were more skills. By dramatically simplifying the program, adding some graphical design and a visual map, and spreading out the program, the company dramatically improved its new-hire retention, employee engagement, and performance.
Story after story has been written about how companies are throwing away many parts of their performance management process with the same result. Simpler is better. (Deloitte believes its traditional performance management process is burning close to 2 million hours per year—hence it is being simplified.)
Teaching people how to do less
You can help people save time by reducing the time in meetings. Avoid hour-long conference calls (shorten them to 30 minutes). Change meeting lengths to 50 minutes or 20 minutes. Teach people how to strip down presentations. Create new standards for emails (i.e., no more than one person on the “to” is one I like to use). These are all practices we in HR can embrace and promote.
Adopting new systems design
This is “minimalist” design, something that takes hard work to figure out and often requires experimentation and work with users directly. In L&D, for example, the concept of a “learning instructional designer” (someone who worries all day about making learning a high-fidelity experience”) into a “learning experience designer” (someone who builds a highly engaging learning experience).
In many software companies, success is measured by “adoption” and “activity” and “engagement” with their software, not just how many people bought it or licensed it. Similarly we have to do the same thing with internal systems—a beautiful, complete, complex application that people don’t use is just cluttering people’s lives and taking up their time.
HR’s role—Be the productivity consultant. A “simplicity architect.”
And we in HR can no longer think about “elegant” solutions but rather think about “engaging” solutions—solutions that are easy, fun, and focus on the essentials (not the “edge cases”).
By the way, making things simple is not easy. And “simple” does not mean “simplistic.” I talked with a company a few months ago that had built a 62-level competency model for their engineering and manufacturing team. When I asked them why they built it, their answer was “because we wanted to help build deeper skills in engineering and manufacturing.” Sure competencies are a critical component to a deep learning program, but did they really need 62 competencies to solve the problem at hand?
Simplicity means looking seriously at a business problem, identifying the essential change or solution people need to make work better, and implementing a solution that focuses on the people. Design thinking is a lot of common sense; we just have to get out of the mode of building “completeness” into everything we do.
These are all part of our job in HR.
1Krishnamoorthy, Raghu. “GE’s Culture Challenge After Welch and Immelt,” Harvard Business Review, January 25, 2015.
2See “Why We Do Need the HR Department” (LinkedIn, November 18, 2013) and “Why HR is a Force for Good” (LinkedIn, May 24, 2015).