Posts Tagged ‘Simplicity’

SimplicityWe’re nearing the end of this five-part series covering the five corporate values of my company, Humana.  Those values, again, are:

I’ve also written about the helpfulness of using these values in decision making.

With five excellent, simply stated values such as these, it’s hard to have a favorite, but today’s subject of Pioneer Simplicity may be my favorite of the bunch.  Why is that?  Why is this value important?  How can I model it and encourage it in others?

At a personal level, I’m a fairly simple guy.  I live in my modest 70-year-old Cape Cod home that I would happily empty of half its contents.  I drive a 12-year-old car that I will drive until it has no more miles left in it for anyone to drive.  I try to live out my core values of faith, family, hard work, integrity and kindness daily.  I’m planning to cut my hair back to a buzz cut or shaved completely soon because I’m tired of messing with it.  My happiest trash pickup days are the ones where I’ve cleared out more clutter from the home or garage that we haven’t needed or used in years.  One or two weeks a year I book a room at a monastery for an extended period of reading, silence, solitude, rest, reflection, study and renewal.

I am perfectly happy having a few slices of bread and butter or peanut butter and crackers for dinner.  I like my personal spaces at home, work or on the drive between the two to be clean and orderly.  I want no drama queens or kings complicating my daily existence.  I subscribe to the most basic cable service available for $15 a month that gets me 24 channels.  You will rarely catch me spending $4-5 for a cup of coffee at Starbucks (which should have been named “Five Bucks”) because I prefer my hot tea with honey in the morning, water in the afternoon, and my nightly luxury of one soft drink. I have an extremely low tolerance level for institutions, organizations and processes that are unnecessarily complex and time-consuming.  Ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat!

So when I consider the value Pioneer Simplicity, it resonates with me personally.  Still, I know that there is more I can do to model this value in my personal life.  I could still have far fewer things.  I could be less dependent on technology.  I could choose not to fill every waking hour of the day with things to do from my unending task list.

Professionally, my perception of this value is shaped greatly by the fact that my company is a large, Fortune 100 company, over 50 years old, in a highly-regulated industry, with about 45,000 employees scattered all across the U.S. and Puerto Rico.  It is probably inevitable that as companies grow, they get more complicated.  Processes get new steps tacked on to the simpler steps that accomplished them before.  New concerns and fears spawn new steps, processes, approvals, policies, restrictions and the corresponding frustrations that go with them.  But is all of that really necessary and beneficial?  I doubt it.

Old ways of thinking and those who harbor them tend to hang on for dear life when challenged by newcomers, outsiders and others more concerned with getting things done than with getting things done in a certain way.  Turf wars linger.  Silos emerge.  Barriers get erected that stifle creativity, innovation, ingenuity and fluidity.  If companies aren’t careful, they eventually morph into complicated, bureaucratic, hierarchical, controlling entities more concerned with protecting tradition and process than they are with accomplishing their business objectives in the most efficient and effective manner possible.

That’s why it is a beautiful thing to stop in the midst of a convoluted, complicated process and ask, “How does this pioneer simplicity?  What can we do to simplify this for ourselves as employees and for our customers to improve their experience?”  We need to develop the habit of asking these questions in conversations and meetings before bad, complicated processes get written in stone.  Let’s start thinking of radically simple ways of doing what we are charged with doing.

Take corporate policies, for instance.  How many internal policies are so detailed that it would take one’s full-time effort just to be aware of the details we are supposedly adhering to, much less to actually abide by them?  By attempting to imagine every scenario and respond via policy update to every unfortunate situation that occurs, we try to take simple human thought and accountability out of daily decision making, thereby dehumanizing the environment and constricting creativity.  This is an area where I’d like to know how many pages of policies we actually have on file, and then mandate that they all be simplified to no more than 1/10th their current size, maybe no more than one page each.  If you can’t explain something to me simply in a way I can grasp it, that’s your problem, not mine.

What about the processes we follow by choice or my mandate?  What would happen if individuals and departments selected just one process that they believe to be too complicated or time-consuming, and worked on simplifying it?  Do all of those approvals really have to happen in that order over that time frame via that method, or can we empower the people we have hired to make decisions to do things in the manner they deem best within, of course, the confines of state and federal regulatory requirements?  Similarly, do we have to lock down our technology devices to such a degree that many employees have better tools and software at home to work with than they have at work?

I don’t know what processes and policies contradict the value of simplicity for other areas of our company, but you can rightly deduce from the above examples that the ones that most often cause our team to bang our heads against the wall are related to restrictive policies, time-consuming approval processes, and efforts to control technology to the point of keeping us from doing our jobs efficiently and effectively.  We still find ways to get things done and to do them well, but there is room for improvement.  Your experience may be very different.

As we consider this value, let’s not forget the verb in the phase Pioneer Simplicity.  The word pioneer brings to mind those daring people of old who didn’t wait for others to lead.  They took off in directions uncharted because they believed in the value of the adventure and the potential of what that exploration might yield.  With or without others, they weren’t afraid to try something new.  They faced the danger.  They left behind the familiar.  Perhaps they suffered some along the way, but in the end, our world is a better place because of their efforts.

There is an elegance and beauty in simplicity.  For ourselves personally and professionally, we really should try it more often.

Pioneer simplicity.

Corporate ValuesHow do you make work-related decisions?  Do you fly by the seat of your pants and do what seems expedient at the moment?  Do you go down the easiest path?  the hardest one?  Do you do what you think will get you the most attention, glory and upward mobility in the organization?  Do you have some clear goals, objectives and strategy in mind by which you evaluate the pros and cons of options?

There are many processes and criteria people can use to make decisions at work.  Some are more noble than others.  Some are more effective than others.  I’d like to share with you some thoughts about values-based decision-making that stems from some discussions and communications at my company about our corporate values.

Recently, five simple values were presented by senior leadership to all associates.  To be more accurate, many associates at all levels were involved in the process that resulted in the set of values, but the final communication about them to everyone came, naturally, from top leadership.  I’m very impressed by them, and especially by their clarity and simplicity:

  • Inspire Health
  • Cultivate Uniqueness
  • Rethink Routine
  • Pioneer Simplicity
  • Thrive Together

Nearly all companies of any significant size have a variety of statements they tout from mission statements to purpose statements and value propositions and guiding principles and mottos and blah, blah, blah, ad nauseum.  I never was able to figure out the difference in all of those types of statements.  Too often they sounded like corporate-speak mumbo-jumbo that nobody outside the little cocooned offices that unveiled them really cared about.  So it was with a slight bit of skepticism that I listened to and read communications from our leaders and others about newly defined values.  Was this just the corporate-speak du jour spawned by a change in leadership, or was it more substantive than that?

I’m glad to say I think it’s substantive.  Yes, promotion of the values is being championed by our new CEO, but he believes in them, speaks often and convincingly about them, practices them, and expects others to do so as well, all of which is very encouraging.  The five values are simple, easy to remember and communicate, and something the average employee can buy into, keeping them in mind as we do our work and as we make decisions about what we do and how we do it.

For example, one cause I’m championing right now at work is opening up our internal social network to allow all employees to use the vendor’s excellent mobile apps on their personal mobile devices so that anyone can access the network simply, quickly, and effectively from anywhere, anytime, without losing any functionality they expect from the app.  That isn’t possible currently because of security measures and access processes in place.  Some clunky and inadequate workarounds make the current mobile experience so dreadful that nobody uses them.  Consequently, leaders and others on the go rarely participate due in part to the lack of mobile access.

Looking at the five values above, I have to consider the “pioneer simplicity” value when looking at possible solutions to this matter.  Do the current workarounds pioneer simplicity?  No.  They take complexity and user-unfriendliness to extremes.

What would happen if the stakeholders involved with coming up with a solution sat around a table with each of them buying into the idea of pioneering simplicity?  I am confident we could reach a solution that meets the security needs of the enterprise while maintaining the simplicity, user-friendliness and full functionality demanded by those who use the internal social network.  As we have future calls and meetings about the matter, you can rest assured that I will, if needed, respond to suggestions of complicated solutions with the legitimate question, “How does that mesh with the corporate value of pioneering simplicity?”

And that is where the beauty of having clear, simple corporate values can come into play for the average employee.  If I challenge a complex solution, it isn’t because I’m being a grumpy old man or I have some personal vendetta against others involved.  It is because I believe in the value of pioneering simplicity, and I think living and making decisions accordingly is in the best interests of the company, its employees, and ultimately its customers and stockholders.

As individuals, we have deeply-held personal values that are inseparable from decisions we make in our personal lives.  Such values are what guide us day by day in decisions big and small.  So why should we not also have a few simple, important values undergirding our business decisions?  I think we should.  I’m willing to adopt and promote the five values above as appropriate for my company.  Your organization’s values will likely be different and in accordance with its unique purpose.

Do you know your organization’s values?  Do you agree with them?  Do you consider them when making decisions?

Today we celebrated my mother-in-law’s birthday.  My wife, son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter joined me at Jean’s apartment for a simple lunch, some birthday ice cream cake and some time together.  Jean likes White Castle burgers, so we surprised her with some and all enjoyed them (except my daughter-in-law who doesn’t like them).  Then we brought out the tasty Dairy Queen ice cream cake and enjoyed that as well.

We had a gift of a custom photo book my wife had put together of photos from a trip she and Jean took recently.  We got to hang out for a couple of hours and just spend time together with much of the focus as usual on my granddaughter who never fails to entertain.

Walking away, my wife and I were pleased with the simple celebration of her mom’s birthday.  The food was good.  The gift was good.  The best gift, though, was time with those we love.  Jean hearing her great-granddaughter tell her “love you, Mawmaw” surely melted her heart as it did mine.  Hugs and kisses from 20-month-old Abby are always the best gifts.

Occasionally I hear of and observe others spending massive amounts of money on celebrations of various types from weddings to birthdays to anniversaries and other occasions.  Sometimes the amount spent just seems obscene to me and poor stewardship.  There are more important things to do and focus on than elaborate externals.  There can be beauty in simplicity.

Leap year lesson #312 is Simple celebrations can be best.

I wrote the following while on a Southwest Airlines flight yesterday from San Francisco to Las Vegas.

I have long been a fan of Southwest Airlines for several reasons, and each flight with them reinforces the notion that more businesses would do well to learn from them.

For example, some of the positives include:

  • They don’t gouge the customer with extra baggage fees, still allowing two bags per customer without fees, all while maintaining a low fare.
  • The boarding process is simple – first check-in, first board without assigned seating.  Some don’t like that, but I do.
  • The flight attendants are allowed to show their sense of humor in making announcements.  Moments ago, one announced “If you’re traveling with small children, what were you thinking?” and then after giving the instructions for inflating the life vest in case of a water landing, she said “If none of that works, I hope you can swim really well.”  There were other nuggets scattered throughout the flight.
  • Lastly, they have a long-standing reputation of excelling at customer service.

Too many companies get caught up in presenting themselves in some so-called “professional” manner that they forget to do what is in the best interest of relating to and serving the customer.  Older, larger companies are especially prone to this mindset.  If they would loosen up some, they may just find that people relate to them more and like them better.

Oh, to have more leadership in businesses that value simplicity in business processes and a culture that makes the experience for the consumer a positive one from start to end.

Leap year lesson #237 is More companies should be like Southwest Airlines.

A very simple thing happened at work today.  Without going into details, suffice it to say that to many it would seem anything but remarkable – good, but hardly anything to write home about.  Yet, for me, it was the culmination of a wish and effort in a major area of responsibility for me for over the past two years.  It was a very big deal, I think, for the future of communication at my company.

There were a lot of different thoughts and feelings occurring as it unfolded today:

  • The personal satisfaction of knowing it was finally happening;
  • Gratefulness for all the others in a very long process for the role each played in making it happen;
  • Anticipation of what the reaction of others might be – who would note the significance and who might miss it.

Once the deed was done, I could not stop smiling.  Even out walking the dog tonight, that was foremost on my mind and caused me to smile with satisfaction.  It still does.

The truth is that even though the act itself was very simple, what went into it was anything but simple or quick.  Whether others recognize that fact is up to them.  At least I see it as the culmination of much work.

In December 2010 I spoke at a conference in San Francisco.  The moderator asked me what my goal was for embarking on the internal communications route we had been discussing.  My response to him was “I want to change the way communication happens at my company.”  Today’s seemingly small step was really a major one in making that come to pass.  If nobody else notices, it is enough for me to know we made a huge stride today, because I know what has gone into it and because I know its significance.

Leap year lesson #188 is Nothing beats deep personal satisfaction.