When dealing with complexity, simplifying it to the point of unrealism so it’s easier to understand becomes a major danger. As the article, “What VUCA Really Means for You” (Harvard Business Review, January 2014 edition) by Nathan Bennett and G. James Lemoine, indicated; when any of the four horsemen of apocalyptic decision making (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity [VUCA]) confront us, we frequently shirk planning and strategizing. This series provides tips for avoiding this.
Situations containing many parts, variables and aspects are complex. Of all the four horsemen, complexity is the most particular to the enterprise. Complexity to small organizations could be routine for large ones. Regardless though, complexity usually arrives in the form of scale, refinement, coordination and politics.
As Bennett and Lemoine point out, complexity can come from sheer scale of things to consider. For example, companies used to doing small mergers might suddenly become overwhelmed by larger ones. Basic tasks aren’t different. Their scale and scope are though.
Complexity as refinement often appears as improving quality and efficiencies well beyond current norms. Suddenly picking up customers with more stringent product specifications, delivery requirements or product customization are examples.
Coordination becomes complex especially when crossing functional and reporting lines. Opening a new location far from current ones will often requiring coordination among many aspects of the enterprise.
Internal political considerations can add complexity to the simplest efforts. For instance, high growth involving hiring of new and better talent can destabilize jobs, relationships, reporting structures and “pecking order.”
Dealing with complexity of these types often involves:
- Allocating project and program managers to coordinate activities
- Assigning executive or senior managers comfortable with complexity to provide vision and guidance to project managers and teams
- Beefing up needed specialties
- Fully tapping systems and data to monitor and manage
- Augmenting general staff to handle scale complexity
- Producing extensive internal communications and allocating human resource professionals to temper political complexity
- Contracting consulting firms to provide needed expertise and experience
- Readjusting timeframes and deadlines
- Establishing new processes and infrastructure
The complexity’s permanency will modify these activities, contracting versus hiring for instance. In short though, dealing with complexity usually means teamwork.