Commentary

Simplicity In The Workplace: It Works

Let's play a game of word association. When I say “innovation,” who comes to mind? Jack Dorsey? Richard Branson? These individuals are some of the most successful innovators of our era. Their key to success? Simplicity.

The third annual Global Brand Simplicity Index highlights the relationship between innovation and simplicity, and how this impacts employees’ work experiences. The most alarming insight: simply put, complexity is killing innovation. We asked employees at companies of every size and industry and across the globe to rank 21 workplace tasks by their overall simplicity. Shockingly, “promoting an innovative idea” was ranked as the third most complex task.

Simplicity drives innovation -- it allows innovation to happen. Think about the early models of cars, which required their owners to crank the engine to life. Through various technological advances, automobile manufacturers were able to simplify the “interface” of a car. As a result, we can drive the far more complex machines of today.

Computers are another example of the role of simplicity in powering innovation. Communication with the first generation of computers required commands typed into a teletype and skilled operators to interpret the binary output. Compare that to the iPad, whose complexity level is off the charts in contrast to the early computers. Yet any age group -- from three-year-old children to octogenarians -- can easily use and communicate with this remarkable device.

Cars, computers and myriad other products and services are the result of thousands of innovative ideas. And creating a culture of creativity is absolutely essential for any business seeking to stand out and stay ahead of the pack.

So what can senior executives do to make it simpler for employees to innovate? The most obvious answer is clearly communicating what the company is all about, emphasizing the overarching purpose that drives all endeavors and unites employees. This focuses employees’ priorities and helps them understand their role in the brand story -- how they as individuals directly impact the brand, and what they can do to bring it to life. And in doing so, they drive better business results across the globe, which in turn leads to sustainable value creation.

Employees need an environment in which they are empowered to share ideas, both with their peers and their superiors. Also critical is a workplace that enables risk taking and tolerates failure. Defining an acceptable failure-to-success ratio for new products and services and building the cost of failures into a company’s business model is a strategy that over time can yield positive results. If you’re not prepared to fail, you’ll never come up with anything original.

One thing is for certain: employees, like consumers, thrive on clear and simple communications and interactions. Those organizations that deliver simplicity consistently in the workplace will stand out from the competition through a culture where innovation flows more freely and frequently.

Simplicity isn’t easy for any company or organization. Moving away from overly complex procedures, communications and touchpoints is a constant battle, especially as it pertains to employees and innovation. 

But the payoff -- in terms of innovative ideas, groundbreaking products as well as new and inventive services -- is well worth it.

 

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