These are 2 terms I use pretty much everyday in conversations.
For those of you who haven’t come across these terms here is a bit of context:
The term V.U.C.A. (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) was coined from the US military and was introduced by the U.S. Army War College to describe the more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous multilateral world which resulted from the end of the Cold War but has been widely adopted in the business world is typically spoken to with clients.
K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) however I like the Keep It Simple and Straightforward version – a little more 2016 and inoffensive! This acronym was reportedly coined by Kelly Johnson, lead engineer at the Lockheed Skunk Works (creators of the Lockheed U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird spy planes) states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore, simplicity should be a key goal in design and unnecessary complexity should be avoided
So in a VUCA world can we keep to a KISS principle?
You would think on the face of it this would be hard or impossible, as all we hear is change, new, unsure, complicated problem…. ironically it is my belief that the KISS principle still works.
Maybe I am a pragmatist, but with every problem, there is generally a solution and I have noticed a trend with our clients: it is the easy fix that they go for rather than the complex solution.
Why is this I hear you all ask?
Well, I am not sure – maybe it is due to one or all three of the usual project results clients look for: cost, time and quality.
As we know budgets have decreased, time is poor and people are looking for simple, cost-effective solution that will make some instant impact.
I find it fascinating sitting in Board meetings, People and Culture committees and leadership meetings. Every business is experiencing problems and generally, in the same room, there are the same character traits. There is the big picture, blue sky thinker; the Risk Adverse / Devil’s advocate individual and: a clear thinker / pragmatist – the person who hears everything and asks a simple question such as:
“So what is the problem again? Ah… that’s right, so can we just focus on what we can do to fix that one thing?”
There it is: KISS!
Here are some situations I have been involved with recently:
I was privy to a recent discussion with a CEO last week who is about to undertake a major re-structure across an organisation.
During the conversation I asked to see the current organisational chart, what I received was not what I expected. I was taken aback by the complex, confusing diagram that was before me.
It looked like a drunken spider had stepped in some ink, ran across the page and someone had filled in the boxes with some names…
“Who did this structure? I bleated out (I was supposed to keep this thought in my head but inadvertently it escaped though my verbal filter…) after a chuckle the CEO responded…
“Now you know why we need to restructure – I need to simplify things around here.”
At the staffing level I sat down with a team member to go through a monthly catch-up (we do things a bit differently at my organisation… we believe in real-time performance and get together regularly rather than 6 or 12 months).
This quarterly catch-up presented me with a complex business plan, with multiple contacts in multiple organisations at various levels. After talking through this plan, we identified it was far too complex to actually do and get results, so we came up with just 5 targets:
“Let’s concentrate on these this month and revise next month to keep the plan fluid and check in to see how it is working…”
In a VUCA world, things change and change quickly, so we as leaders and managers have to react and set goals quickly and in line with the changes.
In another executive meeting with one of our clients the topic of Goal Setting was brought up as a problem area. I reviewed some goals that some managers had set their teams and there were in some cases 25 goals that the poor individual had to hit on a weekly basis.
I asked one question:
“What is the one thing that this employee needs to do to help the organisation achieve its goals?
After a bit of a pause the answer came back:
“They just need to focus on the quality of their delivery.”
From there we eliminated 23 KPI’s to concentrate on the 3 things this individual needed to achieve to help the organisation get to where it needs to be.
Here are just some of my experiences but I hope this is evidence that in a VUCA world KISS can survive and indeed thrive.
Try it out and let me know your thoughts.
Stephen Cushion – General Manager; Consulting