Simpleton strategy lessons
To deal with a complicated world, leaders might use a six-point "hexagon action" paradigm to help them concentrate and prioritize their job.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a simple vaccination that could protect us from the mess in our lives? COVID-19 has made routine modern-day disruptions for organizations immensely more challenging, affecting everything from supply chains to workplace culture. However, we don’t have to accept that complexity is the driving force in our life. In fact, as the globe begins to recover from the epidemic, there is evidence that if executives put complexity aside and pursue an organizational reset based on simplicity alone, recovery would be speedier.
Developing a culture and practice of simplicity requires astute leadership, but the payoff is substantial. Apple’s incredibly successful brand was founded on Steve Jobs’ adamant commitment to design simplicity. The market for tranquility and health applications has grown at an exponential rate, demonstrating our need for simplicity. Heidrick & Struggles, a global search agency, discovered that 67 percent of “high-accelerating firms” have adopted simplicity in their strategy, operational model, and culture. Sean Stannard-Stockton, head of Ensemble Capital, a California-based investment business, says that simplicity is a clear cure to “complexity’s adverse impacts on investment performance.”
My practical technique aids leaders in prioritizing, focusing, and navigating complexity. The Simplicity Concept, which was initially defined by the US Navy in 1960, updates the renowned KISS principle (“keep things simple, stupid”) of design thinking. It’s also reminiscent of GE CEO Jack Welch’s renowned “speed, simplicity, and self-confidence” philosophy. How did you manage to accomplish such simplicity? The following is a step-by-step tutorial to the six-point management paradigm I refer to as “hexagon action.” It reflects the Simplicity Principle — in which I advised utilizing the number six as an organizational tool — and aids in honing a method that focuses on what matters and getting things done.
It takes time and effort to cultivate a culture and practice of simplicity.
Richard Rumelt advocates for “reducing the complexity and ambiguity in the circumstance, by leveraging the leverage inherent in concentrating efforts on a critical or deciding part of the circumstance” in his famous book, Good Strategy, Bad Strategy. As a result, merely adopting a “stick to six” guideline would be a step forward.
The six-part hexagon action model, on the other hand, demonstrates how to transform simplicity of focus into action. The acronym ACCEPT stands for alignment, clarity, cooperation, easy, productivity, and time.
First, a brief explanation of the hexagon and the power of six.
Six, as I previously stated, is a helpful organizing number and the smallest of a set of numbers known as “perfect” in mathematics. If a positive integer is equal to the sum of its divisors, it is said to be perfect. The total of one, two, and three is, of course, six. Six is also a practical, definite, quantifiable, and memorable number. Six offers you a guideline that can be created and maintained reasonably fast if you embrace a small-is-better approach (I adore the two-pizza rule, which states that if your working group can’t be fed by two pizzas, it’s definitely too huge).
Because of the way it epitomizes interconnectedness, durability, and economy, the hexagon, nature’s diamond, lends itself wonderfully to organizational management. The hexagon, like the equilateral triangle and the square, tessellates, which means it may link to other shapes without gaps (unlike, say, circles, an all-too-popular PowerPoint intersecting image). Because so much of what individuals do overlaps and links, this is critical. The hexagon is a great visual tool that connects us to network theory, which emphasizes the importance of “edges.” We can better control and govern our thought and strategic action by employing a model that has sides and boundaries.
Then there’s the issue of adaptability: The lesser integers of one, two, and three all fold nicely into the number six due to its “perfect” character. I frequently work with teams to pick the three things they will undertake today as they “triage” their priorities using the “half a hexagon” method. Because it focuses on actions, action is a crucial term. Many leaders get caught up in talking rather than doing. We can’t afford to waste time while we rebuild and reinvent our companies and institutions in the aftermath of the epidemic. As a result, the notion of simple approach is well-established.
ACCEPT is a practical technique that may be implemented. Assume you’re a star rotating a hexagonal axle within the wheel of your company. starting with one side, marked A, and rotating through the letters of ACCEPT:
Alignment is a term that refers to the process of Alignment entails symmetry and balance. This is a fantastic match for the hexagon action’s geometry. Being aligned simply implies that you and your team are on the same page. If you aren’t, your approach to a problem is uneven (and thus not aligned). The leader who grasps these imbalances will have a better understanding of and control over what needs to change to restore equilibrium.
“The epidemic has thrown up that companies get more complicated without you noticing it,” William Eccleshare, global CEO of Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings, told me. In a multimarket, multichannel environment, I was shocked at how many organizational levels we had established,multifunctional organization with all of the corporate governance that comes with being a public company.
All of these factors together made the organization far more difficult to manage.” When there is a lot of organizational clutter, he says, it’s tough to stay aligned. What is the antidote? “What we’ve done is tried to simplify the amount of organizational layers that exist, to make it easier to get anything done,” he explained.
Clarity is a virtue. The Simplicity Principle requires a high level of clarity. Brain fog is a sign of disease and stress in both physical and mental health. Organizations, on the other hand, frequently suffer from a similar lack of clarity. Howard Schultz could not have been more surprised when he returned to Starbucks in 2008 after an eight-year sabbatical to nurse it back to health.
He remarked, “The corporation must change its focus away from bureaucracy and back to customers.” “Reigniting the emotional link with customers” was the objective. Jake Pugh, a strategy specialist in the British capital markets, told me that he has always believed that “simplicity delivers superior outcomes.” Driving participation and excellent outcomes requires a culture of transparency and clarity.” When the US Business Roundtable announced its new ethics-driven agenda in the summer of 2019, it characterized it as one that “allows each individual to prosper through hard work and innovation and to live a life of significance and dignity.” That is an excellent example of putting clarity first.
Clarity applies not just to the macro but also to the micro. Early in my career, a customer looked at me with a beady eye and said, in six words, “Julia, what does success look like?” True, but corny. And I’ve never forgotten how enlightening that experience was; it continues to impact my own work on a daily basis. Home is where clarity starts. Leaders will have a better likelihood of success if they ask themselves how clear they feel about something and how clear their objective is.
Collaboration is a good thing. Collaboration and community are inextricably linked, particularly at work. “The society stagnates without the initiative of the individual,” philosopher and psychologist William James famously stated. Without the community’s sympathy, the drive dies.” Lynda Gratton and Tamara J. Erickson, both professors at the London Business School, identified the winning formula in companies that “demonstrated high levels of collaborative behavior despite their complexity” in an influential article for Harvard Business Review on collaboration. They discovered that companies that combined training in collaborative skills with support for informal community building.
Collaboration is an important aspect of what I refer to as social health, or the behaviors individuals use to connect and cooperate in person and online. Managers in the new hybrid working paradigm will need to be emotionally literate in order to encourage employees and care for their “social selves” whether they work from home, in an office, or anywhere in between, in what I’ve dubbed the “nowhere office.” Job van der Voort, a former head of product at GitLab who went on to create Remote.com, an HR services firm that facilitates worldwide recruiting, says he and his team have six daily check-in chances to ensure they stay connected and may bring up anything is on their minds,happening. This need for structure was echoed by several CEOs I spoke to recently, one of whom said, “We always have a 9:30 a.m. team meeting. If people have something else [going] on, fine, but this routine anchors everybody, and we know there is a space to just say what’s on your mind.”
It’s simple. The “hard–easy effect” is a well-known cognitive bias in which we believe we are better at difficult tasks than we are at simple tasks. In other words, “easy” is frequently mistakenly evaluated lower than “hard.” As a result, we may ignore the power of what is simple because we believe that working hard is superior. When it comes to outcomes — and hexagon action is all about outcomes — we need to look at the psychology of ease, notably heuristics, which are mental shortcuts we use to solve complicated situations when we have little knowledge. We must be certain that we are not avoiding simple tasks for the wrong reasons.
The Simplicity Principle, without a doubt, seeks practical shortcuts that can cut through complexity. James Clear makes a compelling case in his best-selling book Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones that relying on self-control, which is by definition difficult, is a “short-term strategy.” The answer, according to Clear, is to make the behaviors you want to limit challenging while making the behaviors you want to develop and keep simple. This is something that technology businesses are aware of. Amazon’s “collaborative filtering” system, commonly known as “Recommends” and “Also bought,” has been around for more than a decade. Fortune as “based on a number of simple elements.” It’s estimated that 35 percent of Amazon customer sales were generated by recommendations.
You may believe that the majority of leadership is being stern and making difficult decisions. But what if you need to switch gears and think in the opposite direction? Instead, concentrate on making the tasks you must complete simple and doing more of them.
Productivity is a term that is used to describe how productive The C-suite is stalked by the P word. I’m not talking about purpose, the new kid on the block in the business world. No, I’m referring to productivity. Long before COVID-19, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development forecasted poor growth in the important output-to-input ratio, which has remained persistently low since the financial crisis of 2008–09. The globe as a whole has a “productivity challenge.”
Back to the first side of this hexagon action paradigm, productivity should be linked with clarity and cooperation, which leads to improved well-being. Corporate well-being programs have exploded in popularity in recent years, and the evidence shows that having a solid program in place improves performance and productivity. Organizations have greater levels of stress-related absenteeism when employee well-being is low. According to the World Health Organization prior to the pandemic, stress was “the health epidemic of the twenty-first century.”
That isn’t to argue that tracking productivity, even under the pretense of employee well-being, is the answer. Microsoft has been roundly chastised for its shoddy Productivity Score software, which some critics claim is nothing more than a thinly veiled form of spying. But, regardless of how you measure or define productivity — for some, it’s creativity, while for others, it’s revenue — the plain reality is that if it’s not high, something is seriously wrong in the business. Higher trust and productivity result from improved communication and connection (as well as clarity and collaboration). As a result, pay close attention to your P word.
How do you keep track of time? There are two types of time: time that you control and time that is controlled by others. The way individuals manage their time is evolving. The gen Z worker is increasingly desirous of being totally mobile and adaptable. Prior to the epidemic, this desire fueled the growth of coworking spaces. Prior to COVID-19, however, the way individuals spent their time at work was still heavily regimented on presenteeism and a defined amount of hours worked in a sequence.
With more people working from home, determining when to stop working has become much more difficult. Nonetheless, this line should be drawn clearly. After younger workers staged a protest over excessive hours, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon was obliged to release a statement in March designating Saturdays as a day off.
Managing time “zones,” either literally or as a demarcation of tasks, will become required as scattered networks of employees increase or relocate from the city center to the suburbs. Gratton, who also leads the World Economic Forum’s New Agenda for Work, Wages, and Job Creation, proposed last year that “work might need to be planned.”
Time may also be viewed through the prism of simplicity. Given that research currently reveals that zigzagging between being online and offline costs workers 30 percent of their time (23 minutes and 15 seconds during an activity, to be exact), developing basic solutions that recognize how difficult it is to manage time makes logical. When he came on my program, technology entrepreneur Tom Adeyoola highlighted the measures he’s done to manage his life: “I strive to keep things as straightforward as possible. So I attempt to think about the critical things to do during the first half of the day. For me, just three things come to mind. The rest of the items on your to-do list are just stuff that you need to get done.
Despite my support for simplicity and the ACCEPT model, it would be folly to ignore the fact that we will always be confronted with some level of complexity: “Complexity is inevitable,” said economic pundit Martin Wolf, “because our ability to design staggeringly complex institutions also means we confront insurmountable control problems.” However, we are increasingly required to break through and create new customs, cultures, and practices. “The simplest approach asks for stronger leadership, not less leadership,” argues Eccleshare of Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings, because that is challenging in a complicated environment. I believe we must all accept this.