Improve the system. Don’t overcomplicate it.

puzzle piecesI hate to cook. I can easily spend hours watching Giada or Ina or any other number of folks on The Food Network but will do anything and everything to stay out of the kitchen myself.

Fortunately Mr. S. not only enjoys cooking but does a damn fine job. While I lounge on the sofa and he rattles the pots and pans I remind myself, while refusing to feel too guilty, that I’m doing so because too many cooks spoil the broth.

After all, if I jump in to “help” I may merely end up adding unnecessary steps and confusion. My advice on how to stir the roux or in what order to chop and dice the vegetables may just complicate the matter. Right?

There’s also a lesson in there for HR.

How so you ask?

In HR we’re known for our propensity to create convoluted byzantine procedures for the simplest things. We add layers to processes without evaluating each component to determine necessity. Sometimes it’s because we see a predicament where none exists. Other times we add complexity in an attempt to demonstrate our worth and prove that we’re needed.

We stir the pot, add a pinch of this, toss in a dash of that…and spoil the broth.

When mired in a system rather than taking a step back and determining if more is better we tend to add (rather than subtract) in a misguided attempt to fix or clarify. A position requisition approval suddenly requires 5 signatures. Our onboarding process expands from one based on ease, simplicity, and common sense to one with flowcharts and multiple checklists.

Somehow, in the midst of all this, we lose sight of our end-users; employees, managers, candidates and other stakeholders. We forget to wonder if they want more for the sake of more or if, perhaps, they would prefer to receive less for better.

We need to stop, step back, and breathe. I like to evaluate every action, process or plan through the lens of continuous improvement by thinking in terms of the Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) Cycle (also known as the Deming Cycle after W. Edwards Deming).

  • Plan: identify a goal or purpose, formulate your theory, define the metrics to measure success and put a plan into action
  • Do: Implement the components of your plan
  • Study: Monitor outcomes to test the plan’s validity; look for signs of progress and success while also watching for problems and areas for improvement
  • Act: Bring together the learning acquired from the process and use that to adjust the goal, methods or even the theory

Adding approval steps to your procurement process for contract staff? Define the why (Plan), try it out (Do) and check to see if it’s working (Study). But don’t get stuck in study mode for months or years; monitor, evaluate and adjust quickly. Act. Don’t hesitate to act. That’s important.

Then repeat. Over and over.

This doesn’t require a chartered project team with spreadsheets, charts and dashboards. You can start thinking this way for every action you take and for every process you touch.

I once worked with an organization where the PTO approval process went like this: (1) employee completed PTO request to schedule a day off (2) routed to their manager for approval (3) routed to 2nd level manager for approval (4) routed to HR Department for approval (5) employee received approval/denial from HR Department to schedule the PTO day

What the what? Why in the world was the HR Lady part of this process? Why, for that matter, was the 2nd level manager getting looped in to this? Surely, I asked, managers had the ability to plan and coordinate scheduling for their own departments? Upon investigation I found, as is often the case, this process had steps added over time for reasons ranging from “Acme Corp does it this way and they run a tight ship” to “remember that one time when Joe took PTO time and he didn’t have a sufficient PTO balance?”


Improving something does not include adding additional intricacies or replicating what we’ve heard is a “best practice” at another organization.

Let’s stop overcomplicating everything.

Let’s review…think…improve.

Let’s refuse to get bogged down in the bullshit.


“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Leonardo da Vinci


2 thoughts on “Improve the system. Don’t overcomplicate it.

  1. This could be an example of someone who created a process for the creation of the processes’ process. (Or, in English – I want to feel important so I create something that is SO overzealous it MUST make me look good, right?)

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