Does Simplicity Scale?

I'm a fan of simply-engineered human resources. I strongly believe we have over-engineered the living bejeezus out of this profession. And we're so good at chasing our tails it's comical (and depressing). I had a conversation with an HR Exec for a larger organization (5,000+ EEs) about the merits of breaking through the complexity in some of the HR programs and practices and getting down to a very basic approach to how we design and deliver our services to our employees. Her response was, 'that's a great concept, but simplicity doesn't scale to organizations of our size.' I've been scratching my head ever since. Really? If you have a big organization your HR programs and practices have to be complex by design? I don't buy it. What do you think?


Stephanie Halliday Kelly (Managing Partner, apt talent partners, inc.)
Does simplicity scale? Absolutely: Nothing scales as well as simple, clear and focused strategy, processes and tools. Simplicity, however, often gets confused with ‘dumbed or watered down’ and that’s where large, multi-faceted and diverse organizations get hurt. Complexity can mean sophisticated as opposed to tangled.
Simplicity ‘gone wrong’ is referenced in the peanut butter’ analogy so often used in compensation circles: spread it too thin and no one gets any nutrition. I was recently discussing job titles with a client who has a huge number of software engineers. Why not call them, ahem, software engineers? Well, in many locations the use of the term engineer is restricted. So why not call them something else? Well, in many locations, software engineer is the accepted market definition. Is the right answer to call them different things in different places or one thing in all? It seems the simple answer would be one name for all, but would this actually be simple or would this create a need to ‘translate’ every day, all the time, in many locales? Using the market relevant title in each locale seems complex, but, on a use basis this may actually be the simplest solution. I’m not yet convinced of the right approach for this client, but I think this demonstrates that the simple answer is defined by use. Simplicity scales, so long as simple is purpose-built!
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