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HBR: Seven Strategies for Simplifying Your Organization

In many ways library organizations can be too complicated, overly complex, too hierarchical, too bureaucratic, … etc.  Here’s some advice on simplification.  The goal of a simplified organization is nimbleness, flexibility, speed, and change adaptability.

Seven Strategies for Simplifying Your Organization

  1. “Clear the underbrush. An easy starting point for simplification is to get rid of stupid rules and low-value activities, time-wasters that exist in abundance in most organizations. Look, for example, at how many people need to review and sign off on expense reports or small purchases; or how many times slide decks need to be reviewed before they are presented. If you can shed a few simple tasks, you will create bandwidth to focus on more substantial simplification opportunities.
  2. Take an outside-in perspective. Simplification should be driven by the need to add value to your customers, either internal or external. So a key step in the process is to proactively clarify what your customers (internal or external) really want and what you can do to make them more successful. One manager, for example, took her team to visit a customer plant so that people could see how their product was actually used, which gave them ideas about how to improve it.
  3. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. One of the keys to simplification is to figure out what’s really important (and what’s not), and continually reassess the priority list as new things are added.
  4. Take the shortest path from here to there. Once it’s clear that you are working on the right things, root out the extra steps in core processes. Where are the extraneous loops, redundancies, and opportunities to make our processes as lean as possible?
  5. Stop being so nice. One of the patterns that causes or exacerbates complexity is the tendency to not speak up about poor practices. This is particularly true when people hesitate to challenge more senior people who unintentionally cause complexity through poor meeting management, unclear assignments, unnecessary emails, over-analysis, or other bad managerial habits. To counter this trend, use constructive feedback and conflict to keep your colleagues (and yourself) honest about personal behaviors that might cause complexity.
  6. Reduce levels and increase spans. Another source of complexity is the structural tendency to add layers of management, which often leads to managers supervising just one or two people. When that happens, managers feel compelled to add value by questioning everything that their subordinates are doing, which adds work and reduces morale. To reduce this kind of complexity and stay away from micromanaging, take a periodic look at the organization’s structure and find ways to reduce levels and management and increase spans of control.
  7. Don’t let the weeds grow back. Finally, remember that complexity is like a weed in the garden that can always creep back in. Whenever you feel like you’ve got it solved, do steps 1 through 6 over again.”

So think:

1. Is your policy manual bigger than most of the books in your library?

2. Is it current or were the policies written for another era? the last century?

3. Have staff stopped thinking about solutions and just refer to the manual?

4. Do your processes get in the way more than they help?

5. Does some needed change stop just because the process is so hard and long?

6. Are too many people involved in decision making such that no one has accountability for the decision?

7. Are things being duplicated and done manually that have already been overtaken by automated reports and just no one said “stop, it’s OK”?

Just like in your spring garden, it doesn’t take a huge study to prune.



Posted on: May 28, 2013, 12:02 pm Category: Uncategorized