Simplify (The Welch Way)

Make Things Complex

Jack Welch did not think business had to be complicated. To him, keeping things simple was one of the keys to business. He said that his goal was to "de-complicate everything we do and make at GE."

He often said that as long as people had access to the same information, they would almost always come up with the same answer to any problem put before them. "This is not rocket scientist work," he declared more than once.

Welch felt that simplicity requires "enormous self-confidence." Welch felt that confidence is one of the other vital ingredients of any learning organization, and that like simplicity, it thrives in an informal arena. Many of his signature programs and initiatives were specifically designed to make GE a simpler organization.

The roots of Welch's desire for simplicity can be traced back to his early days at the company. When he started, he worked in a small plastics lab, in which he was one of a very small, yet nimble, team. In that setting, simplicity ruled, and bureaucracy was nowhere to be found.

Instead of battling bureaucracy, Welch and his colleagues focused on competing, building business, creating new products, and all of the other things that Welch loved about business. Those early days showed him that business could be exciting, yet simple, and did not have to be filled with jargon and complexity. He spent most of the next four decades instilling that brand of excitement and simplicity back into the "big body" of GE.

Anything that you can do to make your organization simpler would take it one step closer to the Welch ideal:

Simplify the workplace:
Most organizations have far too many complicated forms, processes and ways of doing things. Identify those that waste the most amount of time, and work with colleagues to eliminate or streamline them.

Make meetings simpler:
When Welch met with his business leaders, he made sure to have no complicated minute-by-minute agenda. Instead, he encouraged his managers to simply tell him the best ideas they have come up with n the last 90 days.

Eliminate complicated memos and letters:
Welch had no use for complicated memos, preferring simple, handwritten notes. He felt that communication should be filled with ideas and simplicity, not complexity and jargon.

You can't believe how hard it is for people to be simple, how much they fear being simple... Clear tough-minded people are the most simple.

From: Jeffrey A. Krames. The Welch Way: 24 lessons from the world's greatest CEO. New York, McGraw-Hill, 2004.

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