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Do we really need all this complexity? By David Smith on May 13, 2024

complexity concept

This modern world is getting so complicated. There are complex accounting standards, ESG reporting, gender equality reporting, WH&S, and countless HR policies. There are surveys for almost everything. The list is endless. I sometimes wonder how anyone can make a profit.

This complexity also brings some danger. Solutions can often be simpler than they appear, but dealing with the systems and processes can mean that the simple solutions are lost in a cloud of processes.

Perhaps I’m old school, but sometimes simplicity is much better, cheaper, and easier to manage, with more effective outcomes.

I wonder if people are losing faith in trusting their intuition. Have you read the book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking? It’s about mental processes that work rapidly and automatically from relatively little information. Spontaneous decisions being as good as carefully planned and considered ones.

complexity concept

How often have you interviewed someone for a role and known in the first minute whether you’ll employ them or not? I recall many occasions when it was obvious to me in the first 30 seconds that someone wasn’t the right fit, and I then had to spend the next 45 minutes talking to them so that they felt they had a fair hearing. Equally, I almost always knew straight away that someone was the right appointment. I never changed my initial impression. I was rarely wrong.

I wonder about the value of tests and surveys in helping identify the next emerging leaders. To me, it has always been obvious. Energy, enthusiasm, commitment, rapport, and talent can be obvious if you have regular cups of coffee with your team. I worry that surveys and tests will result in a blandness in leadership. There are many instances where left-field, out-of-the-norm appointments can bring a new vision and a new way of managing that can transform organisations. They may ruffle a few feathers, but they may also drive the organisation to new levels of success – think Jobs and even love him or hate him, Musk. I wonder if they would ever pass the leadership tests.

I get concerned about Net Promoter Scores, where management hides behind the apparent high scores of their business. I’ve seen instances of high scores where it is obvious to others in the organisation and customers that the business is failing to deliver. There are obvious examples related to the accounting profession. Over the years, I have conducted round table meetings with clients of many accounting firms. The qualitative feedback from these sessions has been invaluable in understanding what needs to be improved in customer service. As an aside, the top need communicated over and over again by clients was, “Please provide proactive advice that helps me manage my business better, sustain it for the future and/or build my family’s wealth”.

Do we really need surveys and complex assessments to help us identify what needs to be done to nurture a high-performing workforce? We’re overcomplicating it. What do the stars want? Over many years, my interviews with star team members have shown that they want interesting work, recognition, client contact, advancement, feedback, and opportunities to be challenged and developed. Few firms focus well enough on these basic things. Let’s get the basics right before we go further.

By now, I’ve probably offended half the business community, but I hope I might challenge you to take a step back and consider what you’re doing. Are we overcomplicating things? Can it be simplified? If it can be simplified, both your team and your clients will thank you.

Perhaps I’m getting old and grumpy. I think not. This blog has been growing slowly inside me for years. Like the boiling frog, one doesn’t notice the intrusion of complexity until it is too late. Now, say after me, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore”.

David Smith conducts firm reviews and facilitates the development of strategic plans and business plans. Contact David at [email protected] to explore how he may be able to help your firm.


1 Comment

  1. Philip Keir on May 14, 2024 at 5:21 pm

    Well said David, I think we have all been surveyed to death. I see little value in them these days.

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