The #1 complex challenge and simple opportunity for business leaders

I apologise upfront. This post may offend some readers. However if you can be open to self-reflection, and setting yourself a goal in 2014 to change one habit, then hopefully you will read on.

This is a great quote from Sir Richard Branson. And for me, it sums up the greatest challenge facing business leaders in 2014.

Why? Because every manager I speak to these days seems to be swamped and over worked, under resourced and lacking time to stop and think, and saying that their business is “very complex” to understand.

“So simplify it” I say?

“Well it’s not that easy” they retort. 

Bollocks. It takes people to make change. And there are plenty of great people in business. You are most likely a great business person – although you can become even greater. I’ll show you how.

Lets take these 5 critical areas where complexity is showing up in business today, and explore some simple solutions:

1. Business structures

Businesses have become siloed,. The more siloed a business becomes, the harder it is to create unity, consistency and simplicity. One impact of silos is that your roster of agency service suppliers can grow out of hand and become extremely complex – and costly – to manage. However there is a process that can be undertaken to reach simple strategic alignment.

2. Communication channels

The digital and social media landscape has dramatically increased the number of marketing channel opportunities. Who is in control of your owned versus paid channel decision making – internal departments? Your media agency? Your Creative agency? Your digital and search agencies?  Or all, in their own little way. I worked with a client last year where each of the above believed they were in control of the process. As a result their marketing activity was dysfunctional. With careful measurement and the ranking of effectiveness, options can be simplified.

3. Data proliferation

IBM states that the volume of business data is doubling every 1.2 years. As businesses jump on the Big Data bandwagon and gather data from every digital activity, reporting and insightful measurement has indeed become complex. However you can select agencies to help you maximize the insights and minimize the pain.

4. Customer service

It’s a minefield for marketers nowadays. Customers are in control and they can vent their spleens in many social media avenues without ever walking into a branch, store or calling your contact centre (whether that be in-house, outsourced &/or off-shore). I had to vent recently with a major Australian airline after being treated like an idiot. The art is not integrating the channels, but creating and implementing a simple customer experience charter. I was speaking to an elderly medical specialist yesterday about this. And he simply said, “isn’t it all about creating a good (and consistent) customer service experience?”

5. Technology platforms

Businesses have re-engineered themselves around technology, quite often with bandaid, high tech solutions built upon old infrastructure. So it’s no wonder that technology has created complexity.  Now this is not an easy area to get your head around, as most IT people are often found peddling solutions that keep themselves in a job or creating complexity to show that they’re valuable. The real value in evaluating any technology solution is ensuring that your tech teams have mapped opportunities to customer needs that will deliver on your business objectives, rather than starting with an internal business lens only. Simple – yet many businesses fail to do this early in the decision-making process and are stuck having to find work-arounds when it comes to customer marketing activity.

So there you have it. I’ve purposely been succinct when exploring these five areas. Light? Yes. Complex? Hopefully not. Actionable? Definitely.

Here are five questions for you to ponder, and then action and solve: 

  1. Business structures – how are you aligning your cross agency goals and allocating ownership?
  2. Communication channels – how are you ranking the effectiveness of your activity?
  3. Data proliferation – how could you discover 3 data insights that could transform your business?
  4. Customer service – have you got a customer experience charter? Rewrite or write one from your perspective as a customer. How could you embed this in your business?
  5. Technology platforms – have you ever stopped to question why you are using all the technology that you have in your business?

And to answer them you will need to break a current habit. You may wish to use the 3 R’s of habit formation – a common framework that behavioural psychologists refer to.

  1. Reminder (the trigger that initiates the behavior)
  2. Routine (the behavior itself; the action you take)
  3. Reward (the benefit you gain from doing the behavior)
Habit formation
Graphic based on Charles Duhigg’s “Habit Loop” in The Power of Habit. Created by James Clear.

To make a change, you first need to pick a habit to change and then assess the behavour you perform around the habit.

So please re-read the 5 questions above and pick one area to focus on. Then look at the habits and behaviours that you exhibit within that area. Now think about different routines that may create a different result. Because as you know insanity is defined as doing the same things over again and expecting a different result!

Once you’ve created a new plan of action, then it will be critical to celebrate the milestones business wide. Give yourself and your team some credit for achieving each milestone rather than simply ploughing on to reach the final goal. And not just a glib congratulation – really reflect on the success you have achieved. Many managers feel it’s inefficient to be seen stopping and reflecting. However this is critical if you want to successfully move forward as a team. Richard Branson does it.

May I challenge you to simplify one thing in 2014?

What will it be for you? I’d love to hear via a comment below.