Sunday, January 08, 2006

Simplicity - 10 Practical Tips

I am currently writing an article that will be published in March or April and the editor of the magazine asked me to include practical tips that healthcare managers can follow to implement simplicity.

This is a brilliant question to challenge me because I guess everyone can say ‘lets simplify things’ but what managers are looking for apparently are practical tips about what they can do personally to simplify the workplace.

Based on my own experience there are many things managers can do and here are 10 for starters. These tips relate to healthcare but I suggest they apply in any organisation – for ‘patients’ and ‘carers’ simply read 'customers'

Let me know what you think of this list – it is no order of priority;

1 When you have written your next report ask two people who are paid significantly less than you to tell you honestly if they understood it fully

2 Make time in your diary every week to ask a patient about their recent healthcare experience

3 At least once a month ask a carer to explain to you how they became a carer

4 At your team meeting every week or every month depending on the frequency of meetings, ask someone to do a five minute presentation called (without using PowerPoint) “My big simplicity idea for our team is …..”

5 Invite a patient or a carer to read three e mails or letters you have sent in the previous week and ask them to give you feedback about the language you used

6 Invite two 16 year old students who are friends to attend your team meeting and ask them to give the team members honest feedback at the end of the meeting about the language used

7 Find a report about absolutely anything two sides of A4 long. Send the report to a colleague and ask him/her to return it to you reduced to one side of A4. Judge for yourself whether one side is adequate to get the message over

8 Ask one of your team members to write a story on one side of A4 called “A complicated problem in this department/team explained for an audience of secondary school students (11-16 year olds). Send the story to a local schoolteacher and ask for feedback from the students at his/her school

9 Send a report you have written to;
2 Cleaners
2 Clerical staff.
Ask the four of them to rate your report on a scale of 0 to 10.
0 = I did not understand it at all
10 = I understood it completely
Think about how you can improve your score in your next report. If you score 40 points congratulations you are the new Simplicity President :-)

10 In your next written report of more than 200 words do not use any acronyms


Steve Sherlock said...

Gee Trevor, of all the items here, I think #10 would be the most difficult to adher to. I would accept to NOT use an acronym without having first defined it in the context of a sentence. This at least ensures use of the same acronym for what it is intended, to help make speech easier (i.e. simplier) and still forces the writer to really think about making their writing simple.


Rocky said...


Trevor Gay said...

Hi Steve - Thanks for that - I accept Acronyms must be explained the first time we use them in our writing. That is accepted protocol. Generally thought I am uncomfortable with what I see as EXCESSIVE use of acronyms that may be INTENDED to simplify but in fact they end up confusing the reader by what I call ‘professional speak’. The use of occasional acronyms is fine but not too many of them PLEASE!

Rocky – it is so easy (and I have often been guilty of this too) – to use language that is understood by our peers but not by people who are not in our ‘circle.’ My view has always been that we shouod aim to find a language that can be understood but people above below and level with us in the pecking order. I genuinely believe that is possible. As the concept of simplicity becomes more high profile I am intrigued how some may want to put forward complex theories to explain simplicity – that is so ironic isn’t it??!! I would rather just keep it simple. We can ALL do something to make language more generally understandable.

Anonymous said...

That's a sneaky approach Trevor: Opening up new communication channels via review of letters and email :)
But seriously I think these are all very good ideas, because they can be implemented easily but require significant cultural changes.

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks Frank.

I never sease to be amazed how often words on paper have a meaning to the writer and a totally different meaning to the reader.

Reviewing each others letters and e mails and giving honest feedback can be painful but rewarding.

Good to hear your comments - Sneaky? Moi? ..... Never :-) ..I call it constructive dialogue!

Marilyn Jess said...

Thanks, Trevor.
All of these suggestions resonate with me. I teach speaking skills (my side/niche job) and I always emphasize using the simplest words that get the meaning across. I have a term for this in communication for healthcare-"The Jargon Trap." I have worked in healthcare for many years so I know how easily people in my field can fall into the trap. Now I answer subscriber questions online and believe me I explain every acronym and every word I think needs explaining. Otherwise I use simpler words. Bravo!

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks Marilyn

I had 35 years in health care so I agree there is plenty of work to be done to find a language that the ordinary person can understand. One of the chapters in my book is called 'Professional Speak - Guaranteed Protection'. It is about how professionals invent their own language which then keeps them at a distance from ordinary people. All professionals do it - solicitors, hairdressers, car mechanics as well as health professionals. It is a comfort zone for people and that is fine but most of the language is confusing and unnecessary.