Back to basics: How to simplify and improve your business

Simplicity is proven to drive great performance – here's how to simplify your performance management system


Results from a recent five-year workplace study of more than 5,000 business professionals have revealed the most powerful factor that drives top performance – simplicity.

The study showed that great leaders are great communicators, primarily because they are practiced and efficient when it comes to simplifying and getting their message across. As such, employees know where they stand, they understand their role better and they are familiar with overarching business objectives.

Simplicity in performance management is hardly a new thing. After all, one of the UK's leading researchers and authors on the topic, Michael Armstrong, once said that to be truly effective, performance management systems needed to be "ridiculously easy to understand". When employees and managers have to deal with too much red tape and unnecessarily complicated processes and software, they become overwhelmed, frustrated and don't perform to their real potential.

Whether you're an SMB or an international conglomerate, you should always be on the lookout for ways of simplifying business processes. Below are just a few ways in which you can streamline your performance management system to get the best out of your employees.

Eliminate annual performance reviews

If you were to start a performance management system from scratch today, it would not include time-consuming appraisal forms but instead, involve performance discussions that occur more frequently than once a year.

Annual performance appraisals are often dreaded by managers and employees alike, most of whom find the whole process to be pointless. Not enough gets achieved in a single yearly appraisal, but so much needs to be accomplished and discussed that they often feel haphazard, overwhelming and stressful. When you try to do too much at once, you generally end up not doing much of anything at all. This is why companies around the world are becoming more agile and incorporating continuous performance management.

Continuous performance management involves regular monthly check-ins between manager and employee. Though more meetings might sound more complicated, these check-ins are shorter, simpler and more informal. Such meetings give employees the opportunity to discuss goal progress with their managers, and managers can provide critical feedback promptly to their employees. Continuous performance management doesn't require the use of performance ratings or lengthy forms, so the entire process is streamlined and painless with a bonus – performance generally skyrockets and voluntary turnover lowers.

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Cut out business jargon

Business jargon has become a running joke in popular culture. We only have to look to shows like The Office and films like Office Space for great examples of how certain phrases are becoming meaningless. The study mentioned above clearly demonstrates that communication needs to be simple and precise at all times. "Circling around" certain topics and "tabling" them won't make employees "think outside the box". It will only clutter your language and cause confusion. When in doubt, keep George Orwell's five rules for writing in mind:

1. Avoid the use of metaphors and similes

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do

3. If it is possible to cut out a word, do it

4. Never use the passive when you can use the active

5. Never use a jargon word if you can use an everyday equivalent

Streamline business processes

You probably have a number of business processes that are overly, and unnecessarily, complex. To find out what these processes are, who better to talk to than your own employees? After all, they deal with these processes on a daily basis. Use your regular performance discussions to ask for employee feedback on how to simplify existing processes or eliminate unnecessary ones. If you make the lives of your employees easier, they will have more time and effort to focus on their jobs, which will add value to your bottom line.

Use SMART objectives

For employee objectives to be effective, they need to be simple and clear. For this reason, most companies use SMART objectives. This acronym stands for:

Specific and stretching


Achievable and agreed

Relevant, and


Using the SMART objective system, managers will simplify their goal-setting process and employees will have clear, concise objectives that will motivate them rather than hinder them.

Pick simple, intuitive software

You might be tempted to purchase business software that has all the bells and whistles. While these software packages may look and sound impressive, they will likely prove frustrating in reality. Complicated software often requires training for it to be used effectively and you might discover you don't have a need for all the features provided. Opt instead for a software package that prizes simplicity – you'll spend less time getting to know the interface, less time on the phone with the software providers and more time getting real, productive work done.


About the author: Stuart Hearn is CEO and founder of Clear Review, a performance management system that has helped companies around the world improve employee engagement levels and productivity through the introduction of continuous performance management.

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