Can You Benefit From a “Simplicity Sprint”?

Google is under financial pressure to get a handle on its workplace inefficiencies. But even healthy associations can take a lesson from its approach.

Google is in a hurry. Late last month, the search giant convened its employees and announced it would be pursuing what CEO Sundar Pinchai called a “simplicity sprint,” a collective effort to more quickly generate ideas and bring them to market. The effort to “get better results faster,” as Pinchai put it, began with a companywide survey of employees about its processes. 

According to a report from CNBC, some of the questions in the survey are:

What would help you work with greater clarity and efficiency to serve our users and customers?

Where should we remove speed bumps to get to better results faster?

How do we eliminate waste and stay entrepreneurial and focused as we grow?

There are reasons to be skeptical about Google’s intentions here. The all-hands-on-deck meeting came on reports of weaker growth at Google’s parent company, Alphabet, and ensuing concerns about layoffs. It’s possible that terms like “speed bumps” and “waste” are metaphors not just for clunky processes but for actual people. The company that once prided itself on a perk that gave employees the equivalent of one day a week to spend on professional development and skunkworks projects is now more rigorously focused on efficiency than ever. (For the record, that storied “20 percent time” perk hasn’t been officially in place at Google for nearly a decade now.)

Every organization has systems for how it gets things done, but the pandemic has also exploded those processes.

But taken at face value, the questions that Google is asking aren’t bad ones. It’s a recognition that silos (or “waste” and “speed bumps,” if you prefer) have a way of slowing down processes and keeping the right people from communicating with one another. Every organization has systems for how it gets things done, but the pandemic has also exploded those processes. In some ways for the better, but not always. A collective check-in can give people an opportunity to pinpoint where those challenges are.

Moreover—and this is a good lesson for organizations of all kinds, including smaller associations—the questions are an acknowledgment that upper management doesn’t always see those issues. Org charts can be wishes more than facts, and employees often harbor hidden agendas. But rather than trying to identify them presumptively, in a top-down manner, Google’s effort to survey employees expresses a willingness to better understand what problems need to be fixed. As Inc. columnist Nick Hobson wrote about Google’s move, “they’re not asking people ‘how can you be better,’ but rather ‘what can we do to help you do your job better.’

It’s still uncertain whether Google’s goal is to cultivate efficiency by better understanding employee needs, or just looking to reduce headcount. But if you’re asking questions in good faith, your own “simplicity sprint” can be a useful tool to understand where your employees are, where they want to be, and what’s standing in between. With the labor market still running hot, any opportunity to help employees feel heard is a meaningful one. So long as those asking also commit to act on what they’re hearing. 

What have you done as a leader to surface employee concerns about inefficiencies? Share your experiences in the comments.

(wildcat78/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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