5 Ways To Become A Complexity Assassin

“I am a complexity assassin” Love it!

I was recently on LinkedIn and came across a complete stranger who had this statement as his headline and my eyes were immediately drawn to his profile. If you read my profile, you’ll see a statement about how “I love the beauty of simplification”. I’ll take a bullet point over a paragraph any day!

Simplifying the complex is something I strongly believe we need to embrace. There is a tendency in the workplace to do the opposite…delve into the deep details, the technical specs, the minute by minute timelines. There is definitely a place for details especially for those actually carrying out some of the front line work, but details may not be needed in every communication and every conversation.

Why worry about this? If you are too complex, your colleagues, your team members or your senior leaders will have trouble understanding you. If they cannot understand you, it will be hard to get their support or collaboration. Without their collaboration, it will be hard for you to reach business objectives for employees, customers or shareholders.

  1. Fewer words- same message: A few weeks ago I filmed the second installment of an employee engagement interview video series. Before getting in front of the camera, a colleague and I practiced the interview and used a timer. Our goal was to get the video to a maximum of 5 minutes and the first run through took about 15 minutes. Over the next hour, we went through the questions over and over and kept shaving off extraneous words and details. By the end of the hour, we were able to get the same message across in 1/3 of the time. Fewer details made the message very crisp and much easier to understand.
  2. Toss the acronyms: I recently hosted an all-hand’s meeting for my team and had used some commonly used, internal acronyms. Shortly after the meeting ended, several employees pinged me, and pointed out that there are many employees who do not know what those acronyms mean.
    • Sometimes we forget that even though we talk about something day after day, many others do not have the same exposure. When I attend meetings led by other departments I often experience the same dilemma, when they use acronyms I do not understand. Instead, spell out the words and/or use verbal descriptors so everyone can follow you.
  3. Summary first, details later:  Try to start key communications with a summary. This could be an initial paragraph in an email or a single slide at the start of a Powerpoint. If someone wants to know the details, they will ask you. You might present the details at the bottom of an email under a dotted line, or in the appendix of a deck.
    • Last week I had the opportunity to attend a key-note session called “Crossing the Generational Divide: Unlocking the Power of Generations to Grow Your Business” by Jason Dorsey, Chief Strategy Officer and Millennials Researcher at The Center for Generational Kinetics. Among many other tips, Jason pointed out that Millennials often only read an email subject line never mind the content, so we need to get more and more creative!
  4. Use different versions for different audiences: I recently wrote a job description for a VP level role I was hiring for and we decided to post the open role both internally and externally. Before I posted the role externally, I read through the content one more time and had an aha moment, as I realized it was very internally centric and would not be understood by someone outside. So, I spent a bit more time and created a second version with more user-friendly language. Hopefully, the two versions will help attract the right candidates for the role.
  5. Rip Off The Red tape: This concept also applies to processes and decision-making. If you observe work scenarios where there are too many approvers, or too many steps that do not add value, please speak up. I have found that in some cases approval chains are left over from year’s past, and no-one ever went back in to update them. We may also have cases when our business partners may not realize the added time a particular step takes. We can not change it all, but we can change quite a bit by educating others, speaking up or pushing back as needed.

Are you a complexity assassin or a complexity creator?