structural simplification

“Why structural simplification will only get you so far…”

On Thursday 15th September 2016, 19 Senior Leaders gathered for the first ever Stop. breakfast seminar at L’Escargot, London.

Mike Campbell, Executive Director, easyJet led a debate: “Why structural simplification only gets you so far. For a truly simple organisation, you need to change how your people work and behave day-to-day”.

Article purpose: Whilst it’s impossible to reflect everything discussed on the day, this will hopefully serve as useful reference material for those interested in simplicity, but who did not attend.


01 Introduction

Organisations most vulnerable to increased internal complexity are those with significant legacy operations, or those who have experienced fast growth in a short time frame.

Increased complexity becomes visible both externally (e.g. markets, hubs) and internally (e.g. processes, structures, KPIs).

easyJet’s ‘we need to simplify’ moment came when the organisation realised they had evolved from an agile challenger brand, to a brand being challenged by more agile competitors.

After implementing structural changes, the organisation asked its people ‘what do you find most complex in the organisation?’. The answers were:

  • Email (“More time talking and less time emailing”)
  • Meetings (“Less meetings. Meetings need a purpose, objective and outcome”)
  • Process clarity (“Clear and well communicated roles and responsibilities for processes, with the right people taking ownership of the right things”)

The organisation realised structural change wasn’t enough. Simplification efforts needed to extend to changing everyday activities, and the behaviours behind these.


02 Simplifying emails

How did the organisation get Senior Leaders to realise there was a volume complexity problem with emails? EasyJet worked with their IT team to review email usage data and asked the Executive Management Team the following questions:

  • Between 22 and 28 September, how many emails did the people in this room write?Answer: 36,347
  • How many pieces of work for others did that create? Answer: 59,102
  • How much time did those emails take to write and read? Answer: 2,386 hours = 60 FTE at 40 hours per week
  • What is the average number of emails composed by a Leader? Answer: 163 per week, or 4 emails every hour of a 40 hour week

easyJet provided guidance on email use

Email is good for: confirming actions and distributing documents.

Email is bad for: problem solving, brainstorming, performance management, influencing in a positive way and collaboration with more than one person (especially if you don’t share the same ‘mother tongue’).


03 Simplifying meetings

Cost meeting activity in commercial terms (£) and express in a way relevant to your organisation (e.g. seats on a plane).

For example, easyJet calculated that a regular 10 minute slot at a Management Team meeting was the same as what the airline made from XX [sanitised for confidentiality] seats on a plane.

When expressed in those terms, people viewed time spent in internal meetings in a different light. The same approach can be applied for other internal activity.

easyJet launched a series of Meeting Do’s and Meeting Don’t’s to both help challenge the quantity of meetings and improve their quality.


04 Changing habits and behaviours

It’s relatively easy to make an immediate change. But as with anything, it’s much harder to sustain change and create new habits.

Mike Campbell has worked with three very different CEOs at easyJet. Though it’s not essential for a CEO to own a simplification programme (some CEOs act more like Chairman figures), it is key to have a minimum number of Senior Leaders to role model, live and breathe simplicity.

Small, easy to implement tweaks from Senior Leaders make a big difference. For example, during their simplification programme, easyJet’s CEO:

  • Setup and started using a WhatsApp group for the Management Team to communicate
  • Start using the email subject lines to communicate like an SMS text (e.g. ACTION, FYI…)

Top down vision and direction is needed, but ideas from the entire organisation are vital. Staff feel the complexity pain more, understand it better, and have often been around longer than the current Management Team.

As a result, genuine, not condition-based, empowerment is absolutely needed to sustain simplification efforts.

As organisations grow, new (and existing) employees bring fresh ideas; it’s human nature. Whenever we introduce new activities, it costs time and money, and that’s money from our customers’ pockets.

When simplifying organisations, there’s a virtue in saying no, and removing old activity as new activity is added.


05 Enabling everyday simplification

Ideas for enabling everyday simplification:


  • Empower all staff to constructively highlight unnecessary internal complexity
  • Establish a process for identifying the real behavioural and cultural root causes of complexity
  • Give permission to re-design work and experiment with changes in the organisation
  • Demonstrate the impact of complexity in commercial terms
  • Codify and reinforce a set of everyday simplicity behaviours and ways of working for common activity such as meetings, decision-making, information reporting and emails
  • Reward people formally and informally for demonstrating everyday simplicity habits
  • When simplifying, be clear on what is in your control, what you can influence and what is realistically not worth spending energy on


Note: simplifying can be counter to natural human nature. To overcome organisational inertia and reverting to the status quo, Senior Leaders must genuinely buy into and support this change.


06 Starting a conversation with a complexity creating Senior Leader

It is important we increase Senior Leader awareness of the role they play in creating internal complexity. Small changes to their behaviour can make significant differences when simplifying an organisation.

How does this work?

Identify an example of everyday complexity which a Senior Leader either created, or perpetuates. Get specific – think of internal complexity at the activity level.

The following set of questions will help start a conversation with a Senior Leader:


  • What is the impact of this complexity on the organisation (cost, capacity and employee engagement)?
  • Who in the organisation is affected?
  • Specifically, what does that Senior Leader do which contributes to the complexity?
    • Did they create it? When? Why?
    • Do they perpetuate it? How? Why?
  • What easy-to-make, small change could that Senior Leader make?
  • What triggers can you design to encourage this change?


Note: whilst this approach provides a set of quick wins, working with Senior Leaders on addressing specific complexity is only one component of changing a prevailing culture.