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Simplify and prosper

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

For many managers, a job isn’t just a job. It’s a blob.

If you keep adding task after task to the point where your duties expand like a monstrous blob, you’re in trouble. The resulting complexity can immobilize even the most organized executive.

Think simplification, says Ron Ashkenas, managing partner at Robert H. Schaffer & Associates, a consulting firm in Stamford, Conn. By streamlining internal processes, you operate more productively, adds Ashkenas, author of Simply Effective.

Ashkenas has a conversation with Managing People at Work:

MPAW: How does a manager simplify a complex job?

Ashkenas: Look in the mirror. Ask, “What do I do to overcomplicate my job?” Maybe your presentations go on too long and don’t lead to anything. Maybe you send too much e-mail. Maybe you give unclear assignments without defining success.

MPAW: What if your presentations must cover a lot of ground?

Ashkenas: Be selective. At General Electric, an executive noticed one of his managers was about to give a presentation with 40 slides. The executive called the manager aside and said, “Pick three slides you want to talk about.” He gave him three minutes to think about it. The manager limited his talk to just three slides, which left more time for discussion.

MPAW: That must have irritated the manager who prepared 40 slides for nothing!

Ashkenas: Actually, it taught him to focus on what matters most. He’s less apt to complicate his next presentation.

MPAW: What else can we do to simplify our workday?

Ashkenas: When you pass documents in draft form back and forth to get others’ feedback, it can get difficult to tell who has the final version. Don’t send in-process versions to 10 people or they’ll send out their changes to 10 others and it’ll be a mess tracking it all.

MPAW: Do managers realize they overcomplicate their jobs?

Ashkenas: They tend to think, “I want to do more,” instead of asking themselves, “How can I simplify this?” or “What can I eliminate?”

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