September 2023 | Point of View

The pursuit of simplicity is your new strategic advantage

Shed complexity and let go of the ‘uncontrollables’ to achieve new clarity with your customers and employees

The pursuit of simplicity is your new strategic advantage

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." – Leonardo da Vinci

In today’s fast-paced business world, the words of Leonardo da Vinci are still very relevant. The complexity of our world, from economic changes to new technology, can easily confuse and overwhelm even the most experienced leaders. As we deal with outside challenges we can’t always control, there is value in regaining clarity, focus, and control through the relentless pursuit of simplicity.

A leader’s mind today can quickly become a battleground of concerns, ranging from market indicators to employee concerns. In these times, the pursuit of simplicity emerges as a beacon of guidance. It's the process of untangling the mess, sorting out what’s important and what’s not, and focusing on the main things that leads to success. This journey, while rewarding and never-ending, is not without its challenges.

Simplicity as an Uphill Climb 

Simplicity might seem like a straightforward goal, perhaps even a “no-brainer insight,” but achieving it in today’s business landscape is anything but easy. Companies are not only navigating complex systems, a myriad of technologies, and a web of rules and regulations, but executives are also inundated with a relentless stream of data, information, and messaging from the external world. This barrage can easily lead to slow decision-making, group-think, or even the dreaded bureaucracy, all of which are notorious for stifling progress and innovation. 

The sheer volume of inputs can overwhelm decision-makers, encouraging the buildup of institutional concrete that further complicates processes and promotes inertia. Opting for simplicity in this environment requires a radical shift in perspective—one that cuts through the noise and prioritizes clarity and efficiency over complexity. 

Imagine distilling your business model to its core. What do you do? Why do you do it? What value do you bring to your customers? These fundamental questions underpin the concept of simplicity in business. It's not about diluting your offerings but rather about focusing on what truly matters. Your customers want this, too. According to new West Monroe research we’re about to release, 72% of consumers say that “simplicity” is the feature they want most out of their digital experiences. That’s second only to wanting “the ability to achieve what I need easily,” which is just another way of saying “keep it simple!”

Navigating the Complexity of Time 

Simplicity isn't confined to the structure of a business—it extends to the way we manage our time as well. One of the most profound yet overlooked aspects of leadership simplicity lies in managing our own time. Amid the constant influx of emails and meeting requests, preserving the sanctity of our inboxes and calendars becomes paramount. I, for one, do my best to maintain “inbox zero.” The mental clarity that comes along with this is essential to thinking clearly on my feet and spending time on valuable work. 

It's remarkably freeing when you're not buried under a mountain of unread messages and Zoom calls. The mental space allows you to work better with others and focus more on planning than just responding. Writing things down can also help clear your mind and give you more room for new ideas. Whether or not you have an executive assistant or team to help you in this area, the practice of decluttering your mind is a game-changer. My challenge to you: Clean out your inbox today. Clear out your calendar next. Clean out your mind as often as possible.  

It's also easy for leaders to spend unnecessary time worrying about things they can't change. This idea is at the heart of Stephen Covey's concept of 'sphere of concern' versus 'sphere of control.' The 'sphere of concern' includes all the issues we care about, while the 'sphere of control' covers the things we can actually influence. A common mistake is spending too much time in the 'sphere of concern,' wrestling with issues out of our hands, which only adds to the complexity and stress. By focusing more on what we can control, we can simplify our approach, save time, make better decisions, and reduce unnecessary headaches.

Simplifying the Organization 

Just as we declutter our time and our minds, we must declutter our organizations. Traditional analog models often involve convoluted processes that lead to intricate structures with inefficiencies and unnecessary complexity. By embracing digital transformation, we unlock the potential for automation and streamlined operations. In reality, digital is the pursuit of simplicity—and the transformation from analog to digital allows us to redefine how we interact with our business and customers.

I’ve seen some organizations rely on hundreds—even thousands—of reports to run their business. According to Experian, complex and lengthy reports can delay decision-making by an average of 5.6 days. Identifying and utilizing core Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) ensures that decisions are grounded in meaningful insights. This practice saves us from report overload and empowering us to lead with more precision and agility. We haven’t perfected this ourselves, but we’re trying. My challenge to you: Cull your reporting down to the five key reports you need to run your business.

We sometimes need to look at how our business is set up to make things simpler. Having too many levels or roles can slow down new ideas and work. We are going through this very exercise at West Monroe—simplifying our back-end processes and structures to ensure our people are focused on the highest and best use of their time. What we’ve found: Streamlining and clarifying roles can lead to a renewed sense of purpose and effectiveness. By reevaluating our organizational structure, we ensure that every individual is aligned with the organization's core mission and value creation.

A Renewed Sense of Purpose 

The pursuit of simplicity, like digital, is not a task that can be checked off a to-do list. It is a relentless pursuit in all areas of your business and your life that you constantly work and iterate to improve. We at West Monroe—and I as CEO—are far from perfect. In fact, we have a lot of work to do. But the pursuit is worthwhile. 

It requires a commitment to untangling complexities, discerning what truly matters, and unleashing the power of focus. It is especially pertinent as we navigate uncertain times—and something we all need to be reminded of, before we let things get too complicated without realizing it. 

As we stand at the forefront of our organizations, the choice to embrace simplicity can redefine not only how we operate but also how we shape our own time and presence. In the noisy and chaotic world we live in, simplicity stands as a testament to a leader’s ability to cut through the clutter and deliver a vision worth following.  

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