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Ideas to Read and Pass Along

Kevin & Jackie Freiberg

The Key to Execution—Simplicity

Simple Truths

1. The world is more complex today than ever before.

Fifteen years ago all you had to remember was your phone number and address. Today it’s your phone number, address, social security number, PIN code, alarm code (house and car), fax number, cell phone number, computer password, internet access code, and so on.

While a lot of these things make life more efficient, they also COMPLEXIFY it. And complexity often dilutes our resources and distracts us from our core focus.

2. Simplicity is the key to safety.

Standardizing equipment enables operators to become more familiar with it. The less a person has to re-orient him or herself to a new piece of equipment, the less chance for error. Southwest only flies one type of aircraft—the Boeing 737. The consistency in cockpit configuration increases safety because the pilot knows the equipment inside and out.

3. Simplicity can lower costs.

When you inventory parts for one type of equipment, when you train people to use the same process or the same equipment, and when you train people to maintain the same type of equipment, you lower costs substantially.

4. Simplicity is the key to speed and agility.

Simple processes, informal communication practices, and standardized procedures enable people to make faster decisions. Consequently, the organization is able to respond to crises and capitalize on market opportunities much faster.

The positioning of ground equipment, the boarding process, and the design of the aircraft inside and out, all contribute to Southwest’s ability to “turn” an airplane in 20 minutes. The 20-minute turn enables the company to get better aircraft utilization (11 flights a day) than any competitor.

Simple and informal communication practices also make for faster decisions at Southwest. An employee with a new idea is encouraged to use the kind of common sense that would dictate taking that idea straight to the point of action. Employees are freed from the bureaucracy that would cause an individual to run an idea up through the chain of command to a vice president who would take it to another vice president (after weeks of calendar coordination), who would in turn run it down through his or her chain of command before a decision could be made.

If you’re not simple, you can’t be fast, and if you’re not fast you’re dead in a global world.

Jack Welch, Former Chairman and CEO, General Electric

5. Simplicity is the key to outstanding service.

Employees who are weighed down with complex procedures and bureaucratic communication practices become distracted from the real issue—adding value to their customers internally and externally. Southwest pilots spend more time building relationships with customers and co-workers than pilots from other carriers do because they don’t have to spend that time re-calibrating themselves to the cockpit of a different aircraft.

With no assigned seating, Southwest gets customers on the plane faster. There’s no jockeying for seats. You sit down and the plane takes off.

Southwest avoids the more complex hub-and-spoke system and flies you directly the shortest distance between point A and point B. Rather than fly into larger, more congested, slot-controlled (you only get so many slots to land and take off) airports, Southwest opts for smaller airports close to downtown areas when it has a choice. You get there faster, the company burns less fuel along the way, and you pay less.

Discussion Questions

1. Is it incredibly convenient for our customers to do business with us? If not, what needs to change?

2. Is it incredibly convenient for us to do business with each other? If not, what needs to change?

3. Faced with the challenge of doing more with less, are we working smarter or are we just working harder?

4. What redundancies or complexities can we eliminate to:

  • Help leaders spend more time leading and developing their people?
  • Help people at all levels stay intensely focused on the customer?

5. What are 5 ways in the next 6 months we can simplify practices or processes to either:

  • Lower costs?
  • Increase speed?
  • Improve service?