By Peter Armaly
Corporate complexity operates in stealth mode. It is born as simplicity, something initiated with the purest of intent. Its goal is to solve a small, straightforward, departmental problem through the implementation of a solution with just a few basic steps. It achieves that modest goal and is deemed by its developers and internal customers to be a success. Its success triggers ideas for how it might evolve and grow from that base. It gains confidence as people make requests for it to add more steps to accomplish more tasks. More people take notice of its developing scope and it is granted the right to expand and consume even more adjacent problems and challenges. It meets with more success but with some mediocre results too. The latter are dismissed by decision-makers as likely meaning the plan was slightly off-target, the requirements poorly assembled. Nothing to worry about. No need to throw unnecessary shade. So, most people hear only of the successes and begin to think of it as being the right way to do things. Various leaders meet to plan strategy and being eager to solve problems they attach their ideas to it and adopt the ways of it too. Its tentacles now reach across teams and its effects are felt across organizations. Like a centrifuge, people’s careers revolve now around how well they can work with it. They need it and it needs them. Before long it becomes arrogant. It looks around, sees no serious challengers, and declares itself the modus operandi for the entire company. There is very little disagreement. Sometime later, quite a way down the road of time, after the company has struggled through 19 consecutive quarters of disappointing results, when buyers and customers no longer react to the efforts of marketing, when the sales cycle takes exceedingly long to get to a point of no decision or worse, loss, when product teams strangle themselves to create features and functionality for only the highest revenue customers, and when post-sales teams spend all their time focused only on fixing problems and zero time on enablement and driving product adoption… in that environment no one in the company knows the answer when a newly-hired and eager employee asks a very simple question, “Why is it so complex?”
Setting aside the dangerous implications buried within the mind of the questioner (How does it even work? Is there any empirical proof that it does? No wonder their Glassdoor reviews are spotty. I can’t believe I accepted this job offer), the question of why something is so complex is actually a good one.
It’s also one that has no answer because the truth is, companies grow, problems arise, problems get resolved, more problems arise, leaders come and go, employees get hired, they move around the organization, they leave, shareholders grow impatient, and Boards of Directors become more demanding. Processes pile up and rarely ever get stripped back to a state of simplicity. Why? The Boston Consulting Group discussed this topic in this article titled, The Twelve Forces that will Radically Change how Organizations Work. Their research shows that 75% of executives believe complexity is making it harder for them to reach their business goals. Worse, only 17% of them believe that their company’s efforts to reduce complexity will resolve the issue. Ouch.
We see it that way too. One of the inhibitors to success we discuss with our marketing clients, who are seeking guidance around digital transformation, is unnecessary, or obsolete, complexity in the way their processes operate. Sclerotic processes gum up the machinery of modern corporations and make them vulnerable to more nimble competitors who suffer less from a history of process enlargement. McKinsey has touched on this subject a number of times and in this article there is one sentence that sums up the perfect prescription:
Successful digitization efforts start by designing the future state for each process without regard for current constraints…
I inserted those italics to emphasize the criticality of shedding a historical context when designing a process. It’s the end that’s important and if a corporation is to be truly and authentically customer-centric, then the process, all processes, will be designed to achieve an improvement for the customer with the results.
Back to our clients, it helps when we begin by asking a few questions to surface some critical information. Our intention is that the information will improve our understanding of the client’s maturity with respect to process, customers, organizational agility, and creativity.
- Are you optimally sharing data across the marketing eco-system?
- How well are you tracking the customer across their journey with your company?
- Where does their journey start and end, from your POV?
- Who owns the customer?
- What does innovation mean to you?
Steering clear of discussions of Lean Principles and Six Sigma, what we’re hoping to achieve through our conversations is self-realization by the client that a) their environment is needlessly complex, b) it’s mostly due to organizational barriers that inhibit communication, collaboration, and the development of coherent and consistent customer engagement strategies, c) the environment, despite the purest of original intent, is not actually focused on creating customer value, and finally, d) hope grows from despair but only when it is first seeded by honesty.
Do you know which questions to ask in order to yield relevant customer data? Once you have that data, you need to know what to do with it. Download this guide to Maximize Your Marketing to learn how to get what you need and how to make it work for you.
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