Joe Scarlett: Want to Maximize Results? Learn to Keep it Simple


Nashville Business Journal

June 14, 2019


Ask what time it is and sometimes you’ll hear about how to build a watch. While even the most effective leaders try to keep things simple, in many instances that’s not so easy. It’s very common to get so wrapped up in our work that we over-explain because we are passionate about what we do. But it is up to us as leaders to keep communication flowing with just the right amount of detail.

Putting it in writing. Think of a written presentation as a business advertisement for your idea. The goal is to peak interest and then respond if the boss wants more detailed information. Most leaders will skim through or in some cases not even read long detailed paragraphs. So keep it concise: Don’t write more than you need. A few opening sentences followed by a half dozen or so headlined bullet points will go a long way to sell your thoughts.

Selling your idea. When you make your pitch to senior leaders remember that they generally don’t want to hear about the details; they want to know about the big picture. For example, a big-picture real estate plan might sound like this: “The proposal is to open a 20,000-square-foot store in Springfield at the intersection of Routes 1 and 2. The cost will be $1 million and the construction will be completed by September 1.” If the plan is well received, only then is it time to drill down into details that leaders need to make a decision.

Measuring performance. All employees want to know how they’re doing on the job. So design performance measures so they’re clear, readily available and easy to understand. Also, make sure your people know the criteria for measuring performance and hear from you regularly about progress. In retail, for example, the most important measure is sales. So report it daily and directly.

Setting direction. The people on your team can only carry out a mission if they can clearly understand it. Ten operational goals won’t cut it. It’s impossible to focus effectively on so many objectives. So limit your direction to two or three key goals for your organization. Then repeat those simplified directives. Repetition will increase focus on the few big-picture topics that are really important.

Taking charge. If you are in one of those meetings where the inundation of detail has obscured the big picture, speak up. If you are leading the meeting, quickly move the agenda back to the big picture. If not, ask for a short break to speak with the leader. When participants are overwhelmed with minutiae nothing with get accomplished. So take charge of the situation.

Dealing with techy types. Some leaders in the tech world are excellent communicators and some tend to devolve into details that are hard for others to comprehend. Our role as leaders is to recognize these situations and then coach our tech people in the most effective ways to translate and sell their important ideas.

Teaching simplicity. Both in writing and speech, coach your people to put everything in terms that are easy to understand. Sometimes you will have to help team members cut out excess sentences and unnecessary words in written materials. When communicating verbally, you may have to guide them get to the point faster. When you detect too much detail, it’s time to put on your coaching hat.

Leaders who preach simplicity in everything often get the best results. Why? At the most elemental level, when teams are not bogged down with excessive data, organizations can accomplish more. So make simplicity a core topic of your leadership discussions. And watch others follow your lead.


Joe Scarlett is the retired CEO of Tractor Supply Company
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