Thursday, 2 April 2015


Keep It Simple, Stupid.  Good advice often given to me throughout my career and which I try wherever possible to follow.

Early on in my career, in that interregnum period between me leaving secondary school teaching and deciding that HR was the profession for me (basically, the time between when I lost my hair and when I lost my mind) I worked for a multinational chemical company in their group finance section and spent a lot of time trying to make things simpler.

At the time that particular company was contracting fast, and divesting businesses left right and centre.  As a result the group finance section needed to go from having around 250 employees to around 50 as the "group" it serviced became proportionately much smaller.  And processes that worked for the organisation that was five times larger, suddenly became unwieldy and expensive to operate.  In short, KISS became the order of the day, and my role was to help manage that transition to slicker and more efficient processes, aswell as training staff and shaping new structures.

This was actually Business Process Re-engineering, but I wouldn't have recognised the term at the time.  The whole business was undergoing it and I was in one small but important part.  Some much bigger and far reaching changes were going on, but in my little cocoon I only knew about what I was doing and that I needed to make things simpler for the group finance section however I could.

My involvement in the project lasted two years and I used a BPR method called PRISM to help people to learn about process management and improvement.  I'm sure there are other methodologies out there, but I liked this one.  It was visual and really easy to understand.  It kept it simple (, stupid), and focused on identifying and quantifying the voices of the customer, the process and the user in relation to the chosen process, visually mapping it and using data analysis techniques including variation and statistical process control to really get on top of process performance.

The methodology stuck with me after I left that company and I've applied its principles in every company I've worked for since, keeping to the mantra of "Keep it simple, stupid".  I believe that organisations grow and are effective when they are as simple as they possibly can be.

The same is true of people, and I know a few simple folk believe me.  But people perform when they fully understand themselves and their organisation or personal lives, and when arrangements in both are simple and straightforward.

In my new role at Torus, which I took up this week, I am leading on the integration of two companies from an HR/OD perspective.  It strikes me that if KISS was relevant when that multinational company was contracting and divesting subsidiaries, then it will be even more applicable to Torus, which has ambitious plans for growth and is currently bringing together two already-complex organisations and fusing some elements together into one larger parent organisation.

So I consider it one of my responsibilities to KISS as much as possible.

Without breaching the Staff Code of Conduct obviously.

Torus needs to think fast, be fast.  Torus will grow when it is as simple as it can be and when its staff understand the process flow around the group.

In my first year in my new role, I want to assess the process flow myself from an OD perspective, and would be interested to hear from others who have done similar work, and to discuss my own ideas with anyone who has an interest in learning about what I'm doing.

In particular I am wanting to visually map out and get to grips with:
  • The flow of people - understanding what happens to people as they move into, through, up and (eventually) out of the group and its subsidiaries - this is core OD work and an important piece of work to complete as we integrate two distinct OD teams and establish one way of working
  • The flow of performance - understanding how we define performance, how we know when it is happening, how we reward it, support it and if or how we penalise its absence - from a people perspective this is important as both organisations will have slightly different ways of doing things, and I need to ensure these are aligned from an OD perspective
  • The flow of information - understanding what information people need, how they get it and what they do with it - too often I find people give or receive information without a good understanding of why, and sometimes do nothing with it.  I remember producing a complex report each year on staffing data for another manager and then one year asking what they did with it, only to find the answer was "nothing".  From an OD perspective I need to ensure that the information we are producing and receiving is worthwhile, and for a time there's likely to be some duplication.
  • The flow of work - who does what, where, when and how.  This is likely quite visual in nature, but I need to understand how work gets done from an OD perspective across the two teams to minimise duplication and ensure that, as Torus grows, we're not introducing or maintaining too many steps in any process and that OD is as fast and as simple as it can be.
It will be an interesting time doing these things.

And that's just for starters.

So my aim in integrating the two OD sections, and in providing OD input on other transformational activities, is to KISS as much as possible.

The two organisations are complex enough, so Torus needs to be simple and straightforward in order to grow.

From an OD perspective, too often I've seen things become too complicated and convoluted, so by applying KISS and some of the PRISM methodology I think I can make a big difference.

Would be very interested to hear from others who have embarked on similar projects, or discussing my ideas with anyone who is interested - contact me offline if you want to chat about these things.

Till next time...


PS In other news, I got engaged this week to my partner Katie.  Took her, on her birthday, to her favourite place Ironbridge and proposed on the Ironbridge itself, to her great surprise.  Thankfully she said yes - so we're now into full planning mode for an August 2016 wedding.  Exciting times!

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