Sunday, March 16, 2008

Jack Welch and Simplicity

Jack Welch when CEO of General Electric:

“Insecure managers create complexity. Frightened, nervous managers use thick convoluted planning books and busy slides filled with everything they’ve known since childhood……. They worry that if they’re simple, people will think they’re simple minded. In reality, of course, it’s just the reverse. Clear, tough minded people are the most simple.”

Thank you Jack - I couldn't have said it better. We all know those managers!


Richard Lipscombe said...

I vaguely remember reading this book some time ago (at the time, I contacted Jack and Suzie about one aspect of it).

Overall, I was struck by Jack's portrait of his own ruthlessness. Jack took no prisoners - you either made the numbers or you got put out to pasture.

Simplicity in action was Jack Welsh - he loathed under-performance. Winning - it is an apt title for his book.

Creating complexity to confuse, defuse, and deflect is poor form. People do it all the time - I am as guilty as anyone else. But it takes great luck and hard work to remain clear and tough minded as Jack says we should be. Take the case of the pristine Google homepage - it was pure luck that it was ever so clear of mess, clutter, and distraction.

It began as a mocked up from the Google founders - at the time they needed a front end to their search engine. They put it up as it is now as a temporary measure.

Marissa Mayer (one of the legendary figures at Google) has been the guardian of a complex process of keeping the Google home page 'pure'. Their home page is prime (virtual) real estate - it is now worth incalculable millions of dollars. Mayer has fought the good fight repeatedly to keep it as we see it today - pretty much just as it was created.

My point is the simplicity of the iGoogle homepage today is a matter of luck and hard work. Today it serves as our gateway into one of the more interesting bits of complexity in the world - that is the Google search engine and its passive revenue model.

Simplicity is not always what it seems. Those who are not clear are not examples of complexity they are usually just obtuse, messy, or under-prepared.

Complexity is always a challenge - it is always a sign that there is something interesting going on.

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Richard – I hope you are keeping well

By reputation Mr Welch must have been a hard task master but if people have integrity then followers generally respect leaders. I worked for one particular Chief Exec who had a reputation for being really hard but in fact all I ever found was that he expected people to work hard while at work and that is perfectly acceptable to me. I never had a problem with him. His reputation went before him and there were so many myths! The sort of leaders I had a problem with were the ones who dithered and could not make decisions.

I think Mr Welch is correct about many managers who create complexity to protect themselves because they are insecure - I've never understood that.

Google home page is an excellent example of simplicity and I’m sure that behind the scenes there has been pressure to put more information on the home page but then the Google brand will change. I love the Google homepage as it is.

I have communicated briefly with Marissa Mayer and I endorse everything you say about her – she is an icon of simplicity and cutting through the crap quite frankly.

I know what you mean when you say simplicity is a matter of luck and hard work -that is true in everything we do.

I would add to your 2 words another word. That is ‘practice.’ If people try and make things simple and fail then don’t give up. Just keep trying. Many people put things in the 'too hard' tray too soon. I would ask anyone who writes a two page report to reduce it to one page. Someone who writes a one page report to reduce to half a page. It is possible. We just need to practice.

I agree complexity is always a challenge. I would say simplicity represents true joy in breaking down complexity into understandable language - and that is a greater challenge.

Anonymous said...

I never was a really big Jack Welch fan. However, I think with Jack you didn't really get too many surprises. His message was simple. Get on board or get out the door. Perform or perish. He really did keep it that simple. I think people can deal with circumstances if they know what they are dealing with and what is expected of them. If he had come in and said one thing and done others then his method would have been ineffective and the people would not have followed. He stated it pretty simply. Be number or number 2 in your area or expect to be gone. The people knew what the expectations were and they either met them or they didn't. That kind of clear expectation worked well for him and generally does for most departments.

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Rocky – sounds like Mr Welch was definitely not my type of leader at all but it seemed to work for him. I do love the opening words of his quote – ‘Insecure managers create complexity'

I saw much evidence of that in my healthcare career.

Anonymous said...

I recall reading this book and one of my biggest take-aways" was Mr. Welch's views on how a lack of candor affect an organization in such a negative way. "Lack of candor basically blocks smart ideas, fast action and good people contributing all the stuff they've got." Speaking your mind, feeling comfortable being able to bring your ideas to front. That is splendid simplicity indeed. When done consistently and credibily, people respect and respond to it. I have heard much said about Mr Welch based on the 20-70-10 differentiation system used for employee evaluation and the #1 or #2 in the industry "mission statement" yet never have heard anything that said the folks who had to meet those standards did not have the tools and resources needed to achieve them. That is leadership in it's simplest form. Set the standard, define the measure/metric used to assess performance, provide the tools, resources, leadership and work environment to succeed and get the hell out of the way. Wasn't one of the attributes of Level Five Leaders in Jim Collins "Good to Great" the fact they got the right people in the right seats on the bus? Simplicity is indeed a marvelous thing!

Trevor Gay said...

Hi Dave - I love your leadership model;

'Set the standard, define the measure/metric used to assess performance, provide the tools, resources, leadership and work environment to succeed and get the hell out of the way'

The best leaders will do all that and then just let people get on with the job.

Brilliant - and thanks again!