Take a moment and consider these questions:
- What are the most important activities you do?
- What are the other activities that pull you from doing the most important activities?
- How could you do less of the least important activities?
- What paperwork, processes or requirements frustrate your customers?
- How could you redesign the customer experience so they could do less of the frustrating stuff?
Organizational complexity slowly creeps into a business and propagates. We don’t feel its tentacles slowing taking their grip before they start to strangle our best performance. The slow creep of complexity happens due to the typical growth pattern of organizations – as we get bigger, we add structures, defined roles and responsibilities, committees, strict processes and so on and so on. Before we know it, our days are taken up with low-value meetings, responding to emails and keeping compliant. We lose track of the highest strategic priorities, and because we’re so busy we get stuck in perpetual firefighting.
What many leaders don’t realize is the tremendous performance surge that would come if all the low-value activities and noise that distract and soak up energy from people could be removed. Imagine the impact on performance if people were crystal clear on their top strategic priorities, focused their most productive part of the day on these priorities and had time to really lean into creative problem solving or building relationships with clients or whatever the priorities may be. Furthermore, imagine the customers’ enjoyment if painful bureaucratic processes were removed from their insurance journey. The opportunity to simplify work is huge, but it requires focus and effort.
It takes commitment and perseverance to simplify work. It’s a lot easier to add complexity than it is to design a simplified solution that delivers the desired function. It requires intelligence and perseverance to reduce something complex and messy into something streamlined, prioritized, and simple. It’s much easier to add on another process, rule or detail than it is to design something simple that strips elements away to reveal critical elements that can serve to solve the root cause of a problem, enhance focus or accelerate understanding and buy-in.
See also: The Insurance Lead Ecosystem
While "getting to simple" may take hard work and persistence, there are some core ways to help those in this important endeavor. My list for how to simplify looks like this:
Get Clear on Purpose
- Get clear on purpose
There has to be a clear sense of what the bigger picture is so you can begin to remove the things that are not as useful. Without clarity on the strategy, mission or vision, you simply can’t begin to remove or reduce the things that are cluttering the business. When this clarity is missing in companies, people lose sight of or are unsure about what is most important and are left to blindly adhere to their manager’s instructions versus being able to think and act for themselves. A broader understanding of the strategic context has to be the first step in simplifying anything.
Some questions that can help you to get clear on purpose include:
- What does success look like?
- What is the best outcome we could achieve?
- What is going to deliver the greatest value?
Once a clear understanding of the strategic context has been established and key objectives are known, work can begin on organizing the chaos. A comprehensive picture of the current state, whether it be how work is done, content in a document or possible features for a product, should be obtained. When the laundry list or dump of current state information is collected, themes can be extracted and used to group and organize the minutiae. This enables sense to be made of the complexity as it creates a perception that the many have become fewer.
Some questions to help with organizing chaos include:
See also: Insurance and Fourth Industrial Revolution
- What are the themes?
- Can the themes be organized by relative strategic importance?
- Is there a way of assessing the degree of ease in removing or integrating non-core components?
Once you have the groupings or themes and you have a clear idea of what you’re trying to achieve, the next intuitive step is to prioritize and reduce and remove those things that are not essential. This is a key step in simplifying, but it is also very challenging. It takes a lot of creative problem solving, brainstorming and design to reveal how something can be streamlined and simplified. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the famous French writer, said it nicely: “Perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
Key questions that can be posed to help reduce something complex down its core include:
- What is most strategically important?
- What is least important and easiest to remove?
- How can non-core elements be redesigned or integrated?
The opportunity to take a step back and simplify the insurance industry is tremendous. It will take focus and determination but the potential return in innovation, productivity and customer satisfaction will be well worth it. I encourage you to take the first step.