The cost of complexity

My colleague Naz Sadri, recently took part in an EVCOM webinar about the role and rise of film in internal communications. In her article she highlighted a potential dilemma of these COVID times: a critical need to communicate more, and more effectively, but with fewer channels (and possibly resources) available.

This highlights what I think is a core challenge we have always faced in employee communications- simplicity. It has been often overlooked but it is acutely relevant now and in the near future.

"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."

-Albert Einstein

Of course, employee communications have to deal with complex issues, and a wide variety of them too. Everything from business strategy to cyber security compliance, and from performance management to recognition and reward systems. Each area highly detailed, each with its own jargon and each with its own relevance to the individual.

But too often that complexity is left unaddressed and retained with the communications. Or the communications approach becomes a push of all the information known, rather than an informed understanding and translation of what employees might want or need to know. Or both.

I once had a project to help a very large organisation communicate a major change programme. The problem as defined by the business was that employees weren’t getting it. As part of the essential discovery and diagnostic phase, I asked to be treated as a new manager and get the planned communications experience. I lasted 4 slides before I admitted defeat- but sensed the source of the problem. The deck had 80 more slides lined up, all with unbelievable word counts, entire spreadsheets and disparate unfathomable models.

Conversely there is the issue of oversimplification. Where the distillation process is flawed and has gone too far, and ambiguity reins, leading to every kind of interpretation. Employees are left with the equivalent of the edge pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and expected to describe the scene. Or they are spoon-fed prescriptive answers with little opportunity to interrogate or get involved in revealing that answer. Either way it is unlikely to be effective.

Simple isn’t.

This is a common and recurrent issue, because simplicity requires effort, expertise, and experience - and therefore, and perhaps more tellingly it is an expense. And as such it can attract red pens. However, sidestepping is a false economy at best, a likely route to failure at worst. All that will happen is that the employee will instead be required to do the work. In other words, the single task at source now gets multiplied by the number of employees. Factor in that they may not have the necessary expertise and experience to understand, translate and define the necessary actions. And then add in their level of busyness and how they might perceive and feel about being forced to invest their precious time and energy into trying fathom out what it all means. And finally consider the cost to the business of that message never actioned.

The good news is that simplicity is a natural implicit pillar of creativity. Any design, headline, film, website, or logo are all elegant and effective exemplars of the ability to translate, distil and express complex abstract thoughts in accessible appropriate and compelling forms.

We have large teams of simplicity experts available in a variety and combination of flavours (design, film, digital) to ensure that your employees are engaged, and can play their part in ensuring business success.

The starting point for employee engagement is simple.

If you would like to talk to us about your employee communications, please contact Phil Morley or speak to any of our global team.

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