Minimise complexity

The power of reduction. Get people turned on.

Minimise complexity

Business leaders are rightly concerned with how their people feel at work. And if they aren’t, they should be. The evidence is unequivocal. Better engaged people drive better service, greater productivity and higher profits1.

What happens if, and when, the engagement stat dips?

Usually leaders respond by asking, listening and then, more often than not, starting something to solve the problem. From team lunches, to time with the CEO, to a change agent programme.

But what if, rather than doing more, they actually did less?


Beware complacency. A big problem with being complacent about complexity is that your greatest people will become impatient. If you ask them, most people would choose to work on the stuff that really matters over things which they feel wastes their time. Low performers like the coziness of complex organisations. As a result, this provides plenty of places to hide. On the contrary, great employees won’t tolerate complacency and will eventually leave unnecessarily complex workplaces.


The correlation is crystal clear. Organisations with the most internal complexity have the most disengaged people. In a multi-year study of the world’s largest organisations, the Boston Consulting Group found that the 20% most complex were three times more likely to have dissatisfied people than the average2.

Why? Complexity leads to the creation of activities people do, but don’t like. The Workforce Institute at Kronos recently calculated that UK businesses are wasting £60 billion a year by asking their employees to do unnecessary tasks and admin unrelated to their core jobs3.

This equates to 2.8 hours a week for the average employee. 2.8 hours a week – is it even worth caring about?

Yes. Consequently, assuming 48 working weeks, that’s 135 hours a year – the same as watching 90 games of football (… there are 51 matches for the Euros 2016).

The higher you go, the bigger the problem. When the Economist Intelligence Unit surveyed executives last year, they found that 60% used at least a day a week managing internal complexity that ‘could have otherwise been used being more productive’. When the same research asked non-C level executives if it was easy to get things done in their organisation, only 9% of respondents agreed it was4.


Opportunity knocks. As well as the obvious monetary costs and the aforementioned employee engagement, unnecessary (and general low value) work has a bigger cost – opportunity. If your people aren’t spending 2.8 hours a week doing things which make no difference and your leaders got a day a week back, what could they all be doing?

Whatever it is, if your best people can’t do it with you, they’ll do it elsewhere.


Takeaway: The next time you want to move your engagement score up, you might be better off asking your people what they don’t want, rather than what they do. The answer to happy (and productive) people doesn’t have to be a dash for cash, ping pong tables or ice cream Wednesdays.




1 How Employee Engagement Drives Growth, Gallup, 2013

2 Smart Rules: Six Ways to Get People to Solve Problems Without You, Harvard Business Review, 2011

3 The £60bn Question, Workforce Institute at Kronos, 2016

4 Taming organisational complexity – start at the top, Economist Intelligence Unit, 2015