MRO Magazine

Trouble all around? Simplify!

By Richard G. Ensman, Jr.   

Human Resources

"I remember when ...."...

“I remember when ….”

You may hear that refrain whenever the people around you feel engulfed in the complexities of today’s world. Technology, regulations, production methods and the rush of urgent e-mails and marketing messages make work life so much more complicated and difficult than it was in the past.

All of this is true. But it’s also true that today’s leaders and managers can foster a spirit of simplicity in the workplace. No, they can’t retreat to the techniques and technology of 30 years ago. But when complex issues arise, leaders can focus attention and energy on ‘the basics.’

The spirit of simplicity may be all around you, right now. Want to release it? Here’s how.


*Search it out. When facing a difficult or complex project, often the best way to begin is to study. Start by reading up on the methods others have used to successfully complete similar projects. This modest investment in time can reap big dividends — in time savings and simplicity — later on.

*Map it out. The natural tendency of busy, active people is to charge aggressively at new tasks. But wait. Pause before beginning the next big project and outline it. Use a step-by-step project planner, visual map, or old-fashioned list to specify exactly what needs to happen, and when.

*Spell it out. Most complex tasks and projects involve detailed procedures. So take the time to write out each procedure or process involved. This simple activity will familiarize you and your people with the job at hand, and give you a handy reference guide next time the task comes up.

*Help out. Tackling a difficult project can be tough, especially when you have to go it alone. So when one of your people is facing a complex task, offer your guidance and assistance. The offer will usually be appreciated, even if you’re never taken up on it.

*Talk it out. Just as study is a valuable planning tool, consultation with experts — people who have completed the task before — is equally helpful. Identify one or two people within, or outside of, your organization who can verbally walk you through the tasks at hand. You’ll gain confidence and save time later on.

*Chill out. When your people are feeling anxious and stressed over an upcoming assignment, creating a sense of simplicity may mean one thing: time away from the pressure cooker. A team lunch, a half-day retreat or even just an informal gathering at work can do.

*Time it out. Often the best way to ensure simplicity is to build speed into the task at hand. Can you aim for a single marathon work session to complete your task? Or parcel out each piece of the task over a time-limited period, such as three or five days?

*Hold out. Under normal circumstances procrastination is not a good habit. But if the deadline for a complex task is not imminent, you might simplify matters by stretching the work out. This simple action can give you and your people time to complete other pressing matters, or even to think about and plan the difficult task ahead.

*Rank it out. Ask yourself: while the task might be complex, is it critical? How much time needs to be devoted to the task? Remember: even lower-priority tasks can be complex! So if you’re facing a low-priority need, consider putting a time limit on it, and easing off on some of the rigour that would normally be involved in completing the task.

*Farm it out. A great way to bring an air of simplicity to a project is to bring in someone else to handle it. Who can you call? A peer? Consultant? Vendor? Can you contract out parts of a project, or arrange for temporary assistance? Take these steps and you might end up with a faster, and better, result.

It’s true: time was that things were simpler. You can’t go back to those days, but with attention and creativity, you can create a tone of simplicity that the people around you will appreciate. The result will probably include happier people, an upsurge in motivation — and outstanding achievements.

Richard G. Ensman, Jr., is a regular contributor to Machinery & Equipment MRO.

Simplicity: Why it’s important

Yes, simplicity is important in today’s workplace. Here’s four reasons why.

1. Simplicity fosters speed and effectiveness. When you and your people concern yourselves with what really counts, you focus attention on success — and you’re more apt to get things done fast and well.

2. Simplicity breeds a sense of calm. The people around you know what’s important. They can focus their energies on the basics, and avoid becoming emotionally entangled with things that don’t make a crucial difference.

3. Simplicity keeps good people around. Simplicity helps good people understand your vision, and often leads to a genuine sense of security. The end result: stronger employee retention.

4. Simplicity brings about positive communication. You and your people understand what the entire team needs to know. And a spirit of simplicity often stimulates a spirit of upbeat communication.

Simplicity can be critical in moving your people forward – and the spirit of simplicity begins with you.


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