2 Steps to Cultivate Simplicity at Work

March 31, 2016 Derek Irvine

By Derek Irvine

Recognize This! – Competencies are one example of how organizations can achieve simplicity by paring down and leveraging everyday practices.

I was thinking recently about how simplicity can be applied to improving the human experience at work. The idea grew from Josh Bersin’s report on creating irresistible organizations. In this report, he describes simplicity as fundamental, involving “the removal of formal bureaucratic overhead” while favoring “trust, autonomy, and a focus on cooperation.” Far from being easy, simplicity is something that companies have to work hard to achieve.

As I thought more about it, there is an additional aspect of simplicity to point out. Essentially: simplicity involves both paring something down, as well as putting it into everyday practice.

On the latter point, because simplicity is the desired end state and not a beginning, there is a subjective quality that comes from all that hard work. Something that is practiced and second-nature to one person or organization can appear as very complex and unfamiliar to another, which ultimately impacts the effectiveness of the practice.

Competency modeling illustrates this principle well. Many companies spend considerable time developing and refining these complicated models of the knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors that lead to superior role performance and organizational success.

Done effectively, competency models can succinctly describe core people attributes in the language of the business, align to strategy, and integrate HR and talent functions. Unfortunately, these benefits are difficult to realize with overly complex competency models that become burdensome to use in a meaningful way.

As it stands, competencies typically only show up during hiring decisions and performance reviews- effectively a few times a year at most. Combine the complexity of the models with the unfamiliarity from infrequent application, and it is no wonder they are often viewed as largely ineffective (much like the performance review process upon which competencies can be based).

How do you overcome these challenges in 2 steps?

  1. First remove some of the formal complexity and hone in on the most impactful competencies.
  2. Then, and more importantly, put those streamlined models into practice so they are a familiar part of the organization’s fabric.

How can we actually accomplish this?

We often discuss the effectiveness of social recognition as a solution to align employee behavior to a company’s core values. Given a shared emphasis on superior performance, this same solution can be leveraged to call attention to competencies that employees demonstrate through those very same behaviors that lead to effective performance.

Moments of recognition can catch not only what employees contribute and why it matters, but how the contributions are made, calling out the specific competencies that managers want to develop on their teams or that peers recognize in their coworkers. The social aspect of this solution ensures that an organization’s competencies become part of the everyday language of the business. As employees become well-versed in that language, more sophisticated competencies take on a level of simplicity and ultimately, effectiveness.

Are competencies a part of your everyday work experience? How are you recognized for behaviors that capture those competencies?


About the Author

Derek Irvine

Derek is senior vice president, client strategy and consulting, at Workhuman.

More Content by Derek Irvine
Previous Article
Putting Recognition Out to Pasture?
Putting Recognition Out to Pasture?

What lessons on recognition have you come across in unusual places?

Next Article
Are You Psychologically Safe at Work?
Are You Psychologically Safe at Work?

Successful work teams require a sense of psychological safety, which is key to working human.