The business world is increasingly talking about simplification.
Research from the likes of Deloitte1 and The Economist2 suggest it is moving up the Executive agenda as organisations seek to reduce costs and create bandwidth for change.
Yet for all the clamour – beyond Steve Jobs’ legendary tenure at Apple and the Jack Welch‘s Workout at General Electric – inspiring examples of disruptive simplicity are not easy to find.
Here are 11 examples from the real world.
01. Boots: First step to simplify management reporting was to stop sending reports altogether. Who complained? Not as many people as assumed. The result was a reduction in retail store management reports from 206 to 48.
02. BBC: After staff provided feedback that it was hard to get things done at the broadcaster, the then Director General introduced a culture change programme called ‘Show bureaucracy the red card’. Any member of staff could brandish a football red card to challenge anything they viewed as bureaucratic.
03. Ferrari: To reduce email volume complexity, each Ferrari employee is only able to send the same email to three colleagues. A computer add-in stops more people from being added to “To”, “Cc” or “Bcc”.
04. Amazon: As Amazon grew and grew, CEO Jeff Bezos observed there were more meetings, with an increasing number of attendees. He initiated the 2 pizza rule: if you cannot feed everyone in the meeting with 2 large pizzas, there are too many people. Guidance was issued that meetings should have no more than 7 people.
05. Home Depot: Store managers were supplied with a ‘Bull-sh*t’ stamp from Head Office. They could apply this to paperwork they felt was time wasting and return it to Head Office. This challenged senior managers at Head Office to think about whether what they were sending out to the stores was worth store managers’ time.
06. Intuit Software: All employees provided with a quota of ‘clutter-free quality thinking time’ where they are not expected to respond to emails, attend meetings or adhere to organisational requests.
07. Richer Sounds: As the business grew, the CEO introduced a ‘Cut the cr*p committee’. At every monthly leadership meeting, leaders were asked to find an unnecessary rule or policy that could be stopped.
08. Volkswagen: The car making giant stopped its BlackBerry mail servers sending email messages to already overwhelmed employees outside of standard working hours.
09. Ford: When Alan Mulally took over as CEO in 2006, he replaced “meetings week” — five days each month in which executives held non-stop gatherings — with one tightly scheduled weekly meeting, at which managers were under orders to cut low value activity.
10. Asana: Except in exceptional circumstances, midweek meetings are banned to allow workers to get valuable deep thinking and doing time. This gives everyone, including managers, a day to be doers and
11. Coca-Cola: As part of a corporate plan to ‘simplify the way we work and increase productivity’, leaders in Coca-Cola’s HQ decided to switch off internal voice mail. Callers are asked to call again, or use an alternative method of communication such as SMS.
Takeaway: If your organisation wants to take simplification beyond the usual structures, processes and IT, there are plenty of other organisations to learn and draw inspiration from. The most impactful initiatives are the ones which simplify what your people do the most of every day. Ask your people which activities frustrate them most and then do something about these.
You might find yourself on a future version of this list.