Seven tips to simplifying work environments

Eliminating the waste from our working lives is something that Lisa Bodell suggests L&D roll out to companies.

Organisations where simplification is baked into the culture have a distinct advantage over the competition. According to the Siegel+Gale Simplicity Index1, employees in simplified work environments are 30 per cent more likely to stay in their jobs because their time is spent on high-value work instead of endless meetings, reports and emails. This translates into lower employee turnover, which means less time and money spent on recruiting.

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These quick wins do not require daylong seminars – just a desire to reduce complexity and a willingness to experiment with new habits. General Electric and Accenture use several of these and the techniques can be shared by L&D with employees at the managerial level, who will ideally introduce these approaches to their teams:

  1. Encourage an ethos of E.O.S. (Eliminate, Outsource, Streamline):
    For every complexity you attack, use the following three actions as a guide. Can the problem be eliminated? Can it be outsourced without costing more? If it can’t be eliminated or outsourced, can it be streamlined into fewer steps or layers? And speaking of layers…
  2. Implement the 1-over-1 rule:
    Layers of approval can grind even the most robust projects to a halt. Reduce approval layers to 2 signatures—your boss and their boss—like General Electric did.
  3. Take the “two-day” approach:
    Focus your mind by starting each workday with intention around two things you want to get done today. This practice is shown to help us make smarter choices, avoid distraction and control our impulses.
  4. Kill pointless meetings:
    After U.S. telecom provider Sprint reviewed every meeting it held in one year—from standing and weekly status meetings to events, off-sites and team gatherings—the company eliminated 30 per cent of them. Direct team leaders conduct their own meeting audit and cancel every meeting that doesn’t add value or has outlived its original objective.
  5. Ditch (or rethink) annual performance reviews:
    Follow Accenture’s lead and do away with paperwork-heavy performance reviews. Instead of reserving feedback for a once-a-year exercise, managers at this professional services company now provide employees with more frequent and less formal reviews for real-time improvement.

    Pro tip: Link assessment criteria to strategy so employees understand how their performance impacts upon the business from a strategic viewpoint.

  6. Experiment with elimination:
    Ask management to eliminate something in their day-to-day life—a status meeting, signature, report, or a step in an informal process—and gauge the impact. Did anyone actually miss it? Any adverse effects? Can they now eliminate this item altogether now? If so, encourage management to spread the practice to teams.
  7. Empower direct reports with decision-making:
    Taking a tip from leadership at Standard & Poor’s, train managers to charge each person on their team to make two decisions this week without input from superiors. At the next status meeting, a discussion should be initiated about which decisions were made on their own. Expand this behaviour to three, five and 10+ decisions per week and tie decision-making to individual performance or to a simplification metric for their department.

A successful simplification program isn’t about making employees do more with less. It’s about enabling teams to do more of the work that matters—and less soul-sucking busywork.

While change is rarely easy, the above training techniques are designed to produce tangible results: newly freed-up time, fewer barriers to productivity and improved morale. An ongoing investment in simplicity is your organisation’s path to cultivating a healthy culture and increasing employee retention.

1) Siegel+Gale Simplicity Index


About the author
Lisa Bodell is the CEO of innovation-training firm futurethink and author of several books, including the Why Simple Wins Toolkit.


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