chaos

How complexity & simplicity come together in the art of future HR design

written for insideHR August 2019

Simplexity is an emerging theory that proposes a possible complementary relationship between complexity and simplicity, and it has important ramifications for HR professionals looking to improve both the mechanics and dynamics of the workplace, writes Rob Scott

Many organisations are moving towards a digitised work environment. And while there are many facets to this transformation agenda, the one overriding message from many human capital thought-leaders around the world is the need for increased simplicity. Reducing complexity in HR processes and activities is seen as an elixir for Josh Bersin’s overwhelmed employee who is suffering from low engagement and negative trending productivity levels.

But does the adoption of a simplicity mantra just mean problem-solving and innovating by making things more logical and easier? That would be nice, but it’s a little more complex than that, it’s what we call simplexity, a term which describes a complementary relationship between complexity and simplicity.

Firstly, why do we have complexity in our HR processes? Well, we don’t typically aim to build complex outcomes, but over time we make modifications, often in a reactionary way to ensure continuity, to align with new technology, include a process owner’s ‘great ideas’ or to rectify ‘minor’ problems.

In many respects we don’t notice the ‘complexity accumulation’, just as we don’t realise our own weight gain until we’re confronted with a Facebook ‘Memories’ notification of our slimmer-self three years earlier.

“Trying to resolve processes which have evolved into complex problems is likely to result in a confusing mess”

Over time organisations spend a lot of effort and money trying to patch and rectify problems we can’t really solve. But at least the problem temporarily disappears right? This may last for a while, but eventually we reach an infliction point, where we move beyond a point of ‘functional complexity’, in other words a level of complexity which is still acceptable, but not optimal. We all know what the ‘chaos zone’ feels like and we often react with statements like “How on earth did we land up like this?”.

Simplexity graph

When we attempt to resolve problems within the ‘chaos zone’, often using simple logic and keeping other inputs or outputs constant, we end up with a confusing mess. Ownership, involvement and role clarity in understanding the problem becomes blurred. Re-imagining is often the best way forward in these cases. Painful, but gets you back in the right zone.

What we really mean by simplicity is the end-user experience, not the back-end design. It’s a dichotomous situation, which is why we refer to it as “simplexity”.

It’s a reality that if we want our organisations and people to adapt, grow, be agile and leverage new technologies such as AI, automation and Blockchain, then complexity by definition will increase. However, if we want efficiency and improved people productivity, then complexity from an experience perspective must decrease.

2 steps to simplexity
So, what do you need to do to manage this contradiction?

“Organisations spend a lot of effort and money trying to patch and rectify problems we can’t really solve”

Firstly, accept that effective simplexity is a function of our understanding, not our personal desire to solve a problem or introduce something new. This means we should engage the right skills who recognise the subtleties and nature of the complexity and who can unpack the problem in ways which allow others to give appropriate input and direction. Including the right design-skills can ensure you build the bridge between complex creations and simple experiences.

Secondly, ensure you don’t land up in the ‘chaos zone’. Make sure you constantly evolve within the ‘functional complexity zone’ and purposelessly block any silent creep into the chaos zone. Actions such as process effectiveness alerts, engagement results and continuous improvement cultures can serve as ‘chaos zone’ mitigation solutions.

Bottom line – simplicity is an experience, not necessarily the design.

Simplexity in a nutshell

  • While we all want process simplicity, it’s a reflection of the output or experience rather than the back-end design.
  • Simplexity is a dichotomous term because it simultaneously requires the adoption of more complex tools such as AI in order to progress, but at the same time needs the end user experience to seem simple.
  • Trying to resolve processes which have evolved into complex problems is likely to result in a confusing mess.
  • Achieving simplexity is a function of our understanding. We need to step back from what we don’t know and introduce the appropriate skills.