Complexity – the case against

Complexity – the case against

A few years ago I was asked to draft a paper setting out how a global Group should approach the construction of the annual business plan for each of its subsidiary trading companies around the world. The thinking was that I – as the manager of a trading company – should have a handle on the art of the possible when it comes to writing and presenting such a plan.

The aim was for a sustainable consistent approach to preparing this business plan which the head office commercial team could read,understand, compare and review with ease. Bearing in mind there were many different operating models across the globe, ranging from wholly owned subsidiaries with a management team in place, to third party distributor markets where first line management has responsibility for multiple markets and isn’t located in market – I set out to deliver something which had a chance of being produced for each market on an on-going basis.

My Annual Plan pro-forma document ran to 5 pages.

It covered – I believed – the major elements required to help centralised senior management understand, by way of narrative and supporting numbers, how each business had been trading over the last 12 months; what the threats and opportunities looked like ; where the competition was placed and what key initiatives would need to be actioned over the next 12 months to deliver the plan.

To check my approach and my thinking I shared the draft pro-forma with 2 or 3 of my colleagues each running their own subsidiary business. They gave me the green light. I sent my work through to my leader at head office. He was supportive. Then the work was then sent on to the Business Process Manager (to be fair I didn’t know we had one of these) who reviewed the inputs and outputs and added a few thoughts of his own.

It came back to me at 41 pages total. With appendices. And flow diagrams. And a page on how to keep it simple.

We then went around in circles for a few months until there was a re-organisation and the Process Manager moved to a new role. The idea was a good one but the process was never implemented. So in the end, it was largely a waste of management time – a scarce resource.

This may resonate. I’ve seen it happen in other ways in other places.

Why do we seek to make simple commercial tasks like selling and marketing complex ?

If we are going to have a Business Process Manager maybe his brief should be – in part at least – to review how things get done and to simplify wherever possible. Give someone back an hour of their day and you will be a hero.
Maybe companies should have someone who is in overall charge of reducing complexity and simplifying ways of working…

Anyway, the global Group never did produce a process for delivering management with easy to understand annual plans from subsidiaries. They did however go on to produce a monthly performance report for the Non-Executive Chairman which in truth features almost 1200 key indicators.

I rest my case.

Brian Sharp

Brian Sharp

Brian Sharp is both a marketeer and a business manager. He combines global big brand experience and communications creativity with commercial insight – a blend that builds sales and profits via memorable communications.