A few years ago the WSJ ran an article titled “Speech of the Year” which highlighted a speech delivered by Jackson Hole, a Bank of England regulator. The thesis of his speech? The dog and the frisbee. Basically Jackson explained, border collies can often catch frisbees better than people, because the dogs by necessity have to keep it simple. He went onto explain that banking regulations are way too complex to be effective.

For example as Bear Stearns was about to rescued in 2008, it was actually compliant with complex regulations. Complex regulations but clearly ineffective.

Now I’m not saying that every problem can be solved with a simple solution. But I am saying that complexity gets in the way of clear thinking. Let me show you some examples of complexity getting in the way of building your business. But first, let me first define my audience as owners of small businesses employing less than 100 people (US Census states there are 5.9m firms of which 5.8m employ less than 100 people).

Complexity Fails

  1. The story on your web site is verbose, rambling, jargon filled and confusing.
  2. Your sales scripts and engagement strategies with your prospects are peppered with complex features and terminology way above the understanding of your audience.
  3. Leadership gives conflicting, complex messages to their staff making it impossible for them to assess priorities and resources required.
  4. Responsibilities for projects are shared, leading to missed deadlines and lingering issues.
  5. Dozens of minor tasks suck up precious resources while the big audacious goals are missed.

So let me offer a few practical examples of keeping it simple and why it works:

Simplicity Wins Every Time

  1. As the owner and CEO, please ensure you communicate your positioning to the whole company. What are you going to be #1 at? What are you going to be remarkable at? People are motivated by simple, believable goals.
  2. As the owner and CEO you believe in Customer Service. Well, structure the company in such a way that proves you believe in it. Appoint a Customer Happiness Manager/Customer Support Manager. Create a concierge level of service as my portfolio company HRK does. Give clients a human being to reach out to. Technology can be marvelous but offering “Humanity” is a game changer.
  3. Build a product or service that’s easy to understand. Check out Carbonite – Saves your data 24/7.
  4. You want to motivate your sales team with a great commission plan. So far so good! The next step? Keep it simple. Every sales professional should be able to instantly understand (perhaps using a simple little table) their exact paycheck.
  5. Prospects have complex problems. But you don’t solve them by delivering complex questions. You ask diagnostic simple questions to get to clarity quickly.
    • What are you trying to achieve with your team?
    • Why has it failed to date?
    • What is missing from the solution?
    • What are the consequences of this issue continuing?
    • Are you prepared to do what it takes to solve it?
    • In your own words why is this a priority?
      It’s called serving first, selling second.
  6. The product road map has a plethora of opportunities ahead of it. However think simplicity in terms of building the product, selling it, using it. Remember you are building the product to be used not to win an award.
  7. Big data thinking drives us all to imagine a million things to measure. The problem with measuring everything is that you end up managing nothing. Keep metrics measurement down to items that you want to manage. Allocate one person to cover each family of key metrics, to manage, to correct or at least to flag up to management that there is a problem.
  8. Financial management can be a complex affair. Don’t let it be. Understand the answers to these basic questions then get sophisticated:
    • Why did sales miss target this month?
    • What cost increases materially affected margins and why?
    • Why was cash at bank below what I predicted at the end of this month?
    • What Trailing 12 trend line covering any major financial metric worries me?
    • What customers did I win or lose last month and why?
    • For any income or expenditure item that exceeded budget by 5%, what was the volume and yield reasons behind the result? eg engineering payroll was higher by 7% or $35,000 because the salary (yield) of 5 software engineers was inflated by bonuses.
  9. After every meeting whether it involves two or 22 people, ensure there is a set of actions with ownership.
  10. For all challenges within your business decide whether it merits being tagged as a Project. If it does further define five things: Project Manager, objectives, success criteria, resources and timetable. Simple.

Simplicity is the key. Your are either remarkable or invisible. Your choice.