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Author's profile photo Kerry Brown

Leadership 2025 and the Complexity Conundrum: How Business Leaders Can Prepare The Workforce for a Culture of Simplification

It’s no secret that the world of work is evolving in ways that make everything we do today obsolete within the next five years. We are currently preparing ourselves for jobs that require yet-to-be-invented technology to solve yet-to-be-identified problems.  And even more incredible, it’s possible that the jobs we have now will morph into entirely different positions.

When you consider how work has changed over the last decade, it’s surprising that business processes have not moved along with it. In fact, many processes are still based on outdated technology and years of accumulated legacy from minor fixes over time./wp-content/uploads/2015/03/dreamstime_s_29216800_300x159_671944.jpg

Business simplification: An opportunity to strip away layers and take a leap forward

According to the “Simplifying the Future of Work Survey” conducted by Knowledge@Wharton and SAP, there’s a natural inclination to accumulate complex processes when organizations merge, deliver new products, implement new technological platforms, extend their reach into emerging regions or serve an increasingly diverse marketplace.

Under most circumstances, these layers of complexity make way for near-term benefits.  However, the cost of lost efficiency, inflexibility, wasteful resource utilization and slowing operational speed can far outweigh that short-term advantage. 

It doesn’t matter if a process is not showing signs of breaking – complexity is frustrating your customers and keeping your business from achieving its fullest potential. Do you need better reasons than those to simplify now? In the Knowledge@Wharton study, 51% of business leaders indicated that they did not.

3 steps to prepare the workforce for a culture of business simplification

As the mandate for simplification becomes of greater importance over the next three years, leadership must invest time and effort in preparing employees for a simplified Future of Work.

Here are three ways your business can get underway today:

1. Get the buy-in of all leadership levels

Change, in summary, is about managing expectations and accountabilities and  must be supported by top leadership in both words and action. With the move towards business simplification, this is no different. Only 27% of employees believe that senior leaders are clearly aligning their day-to-day decisions and actions with the desire to simplify. And even worse, 83% think simplification efforts are ineffective.

Leaders need to lead, personify and own simplification by understanding and communicating its importance, planning effective programs, measuring success and rewarding progress. When every level of leadership – from the executive suite to the plant-floor manager – integrates simplification principles in their daily responsibilities, interactions and decision making, employees are more likely to adopt this example as a standard practice in operating the business.

2. Assess how the organizational structure and talent ecosystem reflect your simplification goals

Business simplification is designed as an approach that peels away layers of bureaucracy and redundancy that limits innovation and quick response to changing market dynamics.  In the Knowledge@Wharton/SAP white paper “Business Simplification 2015: The Unmet Strategic Imperative,” Daniel A. Levinthal, a Wharton management professor whose research interests include organizational learning and technological competition, cautions that getting overly focused on simplification “may squash innovativeness. If there’s too much focus on a particular set of metrics, they’re going to get some dysfunctional byproducts of that.”

However, Denise Broady, chief operating officer of industry cloud at SAP, believes keeping a customer-centric approach will help ensure the organization and workforce do not lose their way. She advises, “We don’t exist except to serve our customers. In the end, if you put the customer at the center, the simplification process makes it easy.”

3. Create a culture of learning

Only 50% of workers believe they now have the skills they will need in three years. Plus, only 34% see their company is able to give them the training they need. See the problem? Obviously, there’s a gap in learning that needs to be filled to truly manage talent.

By placing emphasis on a culture that values career-long learning, businesses can help employees see that their talents and skills are well-used – specifically in the face of simplification. Rather than fearing the loss of their job in the process, they will become motivated to learn more about this new operating model and find ways to show their value and improve performance.

However, this type of culture does not come to life through happenstance. Leadership must still invest time, money and effort in providing learning opportunities. By integrating mentoring, coaching, action-based learning, shadow assignments, and access to educational resources that support collaboration, crowdsourcing, open learning, performance & knowledge management, employees can become adept at applying new and existing skills in their daily work.

For more tips and expert insight on how to simplify your business, take a look at the latest finding of the Knowledge@Wharton study “Simplifying the Future of Work Study,” and join the conversation at #FutureOfWork.

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