Thanks to our friends at KA+A, I had the good fortune to hear Todd Henry (author of The Accidental Creative) speak last month. Todd shares ideas about those things that truly add value to businesses, and one of them centers on being the best version of ourselves at work. Todd’s onto something really important, and it’s made me think a lot in the weeks since.
As I’ve pondered what it means to be the best version of myself at work, I’ve been focusing a lot on the concept of complexity. You may have different experiences, but as we work on building talent processes or even leadership programs at FlashPoint, I often find this fact to be true: Many times we confuse something complex with something of value.
Why do we want complex?
I think we gravitate toward complexity partly as a common defense mechanism. When we feel uncomfortable, we tend to make something (e.g., a process, a concept, an idea, etc.) as complicated as possible. We do this to mask our own insecurities. We fear that if we produce something simple, others will question our knowledge or expertise.
We also turn to the complex when we’re confused about our objectives. If we truly don’t know what we’re trying to achieve (i.e., we don’t have well-defined agreements on the front end), we create layers of bells and whistles to hide the fact that we’re not clear about this.
So, what do we do to avoid complexity and focus instead on clarity?
First, we must not lose the “why” in favor of the “what,” “how,” “when,” and “who.” We like the latter elements because they make us feel as if we have momentum and are making progress. The “why,” on the other hand, forces us to take time to stop and think things through. It’s important to do this, though, in order to understand the purpose for our actions and to assess whether we’ll really make the impact we want.
When looking at the “why,” it helps to know our customers and what they want. Ask your end users what value means to them. What are the minimum amount of bells and whistles they need to achieve their objectives or strategy? Then do just that, period.
Second, we must make the effort to get more connected to our end users—our real customers. Other stakeholders are important too, but just because they’re in our face doesn’t mean they’re the most important. If you’re an HR/talent management professional, for example, the first customers you often think about are your employees or business leaders, when in fact the real customers are the end users who are buying or using your organization’s products or services. These end users are the people we should be most concerned with, and keeping them in mind will help us hone in on more simple solutions.
Finally, we must take a close look at our current systems and processes. Do we know why each process exists and the purpose or outcomes? What seems off the mark? Which components are creating bottlenecks? What adds real value to the business and to the end customer?
It’s easy to confuse something complex with something of value. Don’t let yourself get trapped. Instead, stop and ask yourself some of the simple questions above. By doing so you’ll better define desired outcomes, plot the best route to achieve them, and better connect to your customers. You’ll also go a long way toward being the best version of yourself and truly adding value to your business.
Krista Skidmore is cofounder and principal of FlashPoint. She leads FlashPoint’s consulting team in the delivery of services, and she offers strategic advising to clients, helping them to define their talent strategy, build and execute talent processes, and design and implement leadership and management development initiatives.
Image: Stuart Miles
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