A study by Boston Consulting backed this up. It noted companies today set themselves six times as many performance requirements as they did in 1955. Back then, CEOs committed to four to seven performance imperatives; today, they commit to 25 to 40. Boston revealed complexity has increased by 6.7% a year on average over the past five decades.
Its findings show that, in the fifth of firms that are the most complicated, managers spend 40% of their time writing reports and 30% to 60% of time in meetings. It concluded firms need to take a new approach to managing complexity and advocated six rules. Which is where HR comes in.
For the rules are about enabling – providing the information needed to understand where problems are and empowering the right people to make good choices; and also impelling – motivating people to apply all their abilities and to cooperate, thanks to feedback mechanisms that expose them as directly as possible to the consequences of their actions. Enabling, empowering, motivating – these are all part of the HR professional’s lexicon.
But many of the main causes of complexity also lie at the feet of HR. Management behaviour that leads to severely over-complicated work, internal politics, communication overload, poor processes – these all serve to distract people from taking actions that add value to the business. Fujitsu UK & Ireland HRD, Ella Bennett, knows a thing or two about this. When she took over as HR head three years ago, the function was inconsistent and complex. Dealing with HR enquiries took 20 days: poor service, indeed. More importantly, HR was not seen to be contributing to the bottom line.
By acting as an enabler of change, Bennett has transformed HR and the business. So much so, that not only are 90% of enquiries to the helpdesk resolved within 24 hours, but CEO Duncan Tait says he understands how HR directly contributes to the bottom line – for the first time in his career.
Collinson and Simplicity CEO Melvin Jay have put their insights and experience in a book, From Complexity to Simplicity (Palgrave Macmillan). As they say, the reward of changing behaviour that creates bad complexity (some complexity is a necessary part of business) is not just greater profitability. Less complex businesses are better places for everyone to work.
As a well-known meerkat would say, ‘Simples’.
Siân Harrington (pictured) is editor and publisher of HR magazine