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Too much data is killing your business

A report says that employees in big organizations only spend 6.5 hours of meaningful work done each week while the remaining is spent on complexity.

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Companies love big data. It gives insights, uncovers patterns humans can’t notice, and if you’re the Golden State Warriors, it wins championships. But too much big data can be a bad thing. According to the Harvard Business Review article “Smart Rules,” companies are now collecting six times the number of performance metrics than they did in 1955.

With all this extra data to sort through, a Boston Consulting Group report found managers in the most complex organizations spent 30 to 60 percent of their time in meetings and the other 40 percent of their time writing reports (probably for those meetings). So with all that time spent sorting through data, would you be surprised to learn workers in complex companies only get 6.5 hours of meaningful work done each week?

If you think complexity is killing your business, then you might want to listen to Lisa Bodell, CEO of futurethink, keynote speaker, and author of the award-winning books Kill the Company and Why Simple Wins. In a recent BigSpeak Podcast, she said complexity is killing meaningful work and destroying your company.

The complexity trade-off

Businesses don’t start complex. Complexity is the result of business success. But if your company operates with complexity, it can no longer operate with speed. This means while you’re writing another report for yet another meeting, newer organizations, which provide faster and simpler answers, are stealing your business.

People love fast and simple. This is why companies such as Uber (simplified rides), Airbnb (simplified hotels), and Netflix (simplified media streaming) have grown their business while taxis, hotels, and movie rental shops have lost theirs.

Escape the complexity trap

To escape the complexity trap, you need to simplify your procedures and create more time for meaningful work. According to Bodell, companies that operate with simplicity operate with less waste, have reduced turnover, and increased customer satisfaction.

Bodell points to UPS as a brilliant example of reducing complexity. In 2004, UPS implemented a decision to avoid left turns whenever possible. UPS found left turns involved wait times in traffic, increased fuel costs from idling engines, and more potential for accidents as drivers crossed oncoming traffic. By eliminating left turns, UPS cut delivery times, fuel costs, and accidents, while increasing customer satisfaction.

Organize your workplace by creating a checklist of tasks that must be accomplished within the day.

Organize your workplace by creating a checklist of tasks that must be accomplished within the day. (Source)

So how can you simplify your own business? Here are four ways to kill complexity:

1. Stop measuring everything

Just because you can collect data on something doesn’t mean you have to. If you can’t justify how the data will impact your bottom line, stop collecting. And even if you can justify it, follow the 80/20 rule and only collect data on the 20 percent of things that have the 80 percent effect on your business.

2. Concentrate on meaningful work

To create space for change, Bodell suggests you make a list of the tasks you do each day. Next, circle the most important (and meaningful tasks). When you look at the uncircled masses that surround your meaningful tasks, you will know what is important.

3. Kill stupid rules

Too many regulations slow your business down. In fact, many rules are just a result of thinking “we’ve always done it this way.” Sit down with your co-workers and come up with a list of stupid rules (or assumptions) you can get rid of to simplify your work process.

4. Empower decision-making

When your organization was small, every person was empowered to make decisions. Now bureaucracy has slowed you down. By empowering your employees to make decisions, you will need fewer meetings, write fewer reports, and be able to act faster.

Start by asking team members to make two decisions a week without you (within parameters of the budget and what’s permissible by law, of course). As time goes on, increase the employee empowerment to make decisions. You will find your company responds quicker to events with more empowerment, and the company is gaining business instead of losing it.

And maybe, just maybe, you’ll avoid death by too much data.

DISCLAIMER: This article expresses my own ideas and opinions. Any information I have shared are from sources that I believe to be reliable and accurate. I did not receive any financial compensation in writing this post, nor do I own any shares in any company I’ve mentioned. I encourage any reader to do their own diligent research first before making any investment decisions.

Ken is the Senior Vice President and Chief Learning Officer at BigSpeak. Ken's main focus is marketing and partnering with Fortune 1000 clients to create specialized consulting programs with effective leadership development objectives. Ken is also responsible for BigTechnology, an initiative to develop best-of-breed learning management systems for BigSpeak's clients. Ken's background includes working with KPMG as a technology and management consultant, co-founding a technology company (cloud computing), co-founding an international, vertically integrated manufacturing company and working as Executive Vice President at a boutique asset management firm charged with operating real estate and hospitality assets. Ken holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership from the University of California, an M.B.A. from Babson College and earned his B.A. in Communication and Applied Psychology from the University of California.

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