Insight article

How to survive complexity

I wish I had been a fly on the wall at the recent Management Today lunch discussion between some of the UK’s top corporate leaders (Adam Crozier, Royal Mail, Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP, David Brennan, AstraZeneca, Val Gooding, Bupa, Lord Crisp, ex-NHS, Paul Coby, BA, Jane McKenzie, Henley College, Miranda Kennett, First Class Coach and Ian Powell, PwC).

Some refreshingly honest views were expressed on how to manage complexity. Whether you agree with how these leaders are managing their businesses or not, the debate demonstrates a great mix of past experience and learning, which I found a fascinating read. Ian Powell (PwC), hit the nail on the head when he said: “If you have a very complex organisation that you are trying to control, your messages from the top need to be absolutely crystal-clear. I guess all of you at some point, when you first get to any leadership position, think you have to be terribly clever and come up with a fantastic strategy; it happened to me. Then you realise about two weeks into it that you have to articulate that strategy about two million times over the next five years so that everybody understands it, and that it is simplicity that really matters.”

This rings so true for us. The business stories we tell for our clients hide layers and layers of complex financial modelling, processes, systems, plans, projections, insights and analysis, based on past experience, current reality and future vision. Even the most simple businesses add layers of complexity as they grow, yet the people who make it all happen cannot hope to understand the level of complexity that makes up the big picture. Which is why we focus on making it simple. People remember things if they are made simple and are joined up in a logical way, and articulating strategy just has to be done in a clear and simple way. Of course, those messages will create the start of a new level of complexity, but you have to start somewhere.

Nailia Tasseel