Thursday, January 25, 2007

Specialist roles in internal HR : An endangered species?

Let me begin by clarifying what I meant by the term 'specialist roles in internal HR'. Here I am taking about those roles in internal HR that require deep specialist skills in one of the functional areas in HR (e.g. organization development, reward management, leadership development etc.). What I have noticed is that the number of these positions is reducing. There could be many factors influencing this. Many organizations feel that these kind of deep specialist skills are not required on a continuous basis as they come into play mainly in special initiatives (or even only in particular phases of special initiatives) that happen once in a while. Thus this could lead to underutilization these costly expert talent which does not make sense either for the organization or for the specialists involved. Instead of this the organization can hire a reputed vendor/consultant (who has great expertise in this area) as and when these skills/inputs are required. Of course someone will be required internally to identify/articulate the business need and to interface with the vendors. But this calls for a somewhat different skill set.

If we look at the HR departments in the in the Indian operations of MNCs (that are headquartered outside India), this reduction in HR specialist positions is more pronounced. This could be because of additional factors that come into play here. Most MNCs are driving standardization of HR service delivery with a view to achieve cost efficiencies. This would also mean that they don't want separate design work to happen in the different countries. Thus it make sense to do most of the design work (that require deep expertise) out of a central location. This location often turns out to be the location of the organization's headquarters as 'proximity to business leadership' is supposed to be an advantage to ensure business alignment of HR systems/initiatives.

Now, I am not saying that I fully agree with the above line of reasoning. Often significant amount of customization is required to make the global design effective in particular geographies. This calls for deep HR specialists who also have a good understanding of the local context. Similar factors (lower degree of understanding of the client context - especially those pertaining to the 'informal organization'/how things really work in the organization) also reduce the effectiveness of external vendors. My point is just that the reduction in the number of specialist HR positions in India is reducing.

Of course there are other trends that could be relevant here like the move to build specialist skills in HR generalists. For example I feel that OD 'function' is moving towards a more 'distributed structure'. This 'distributed structure' would involve developing OD capability in HR generalists and this structure/model is essential for ensuring that OD can make a significant contribution to the business. In order to make a significant impact on a complex (with a high degree of interlinkages) and rapidly evolving organization, multiple OD initiatives have to be carried out simultaneously. Also, the sensing of the business needs and the planning/ implementation of the OD interventions have to be done quickly. A distributed/ embedded OD structure is in a better position (as compared to a centralized OD structure) to meet these twin requirements of bandwidth and speed of response.

All this leads to interesting implications on the career options available to deep HR specialists in India. The obvious one of course is to move to consulting. Another obvious one is to move to large Indian companies (say in corporate HR). Another one (in the case of MNCs) could be to move to the organization's headquarters. This could get difficult in those contexts where headcount reductions are happening in that country (where the organization is headquartered) and hence HR staff in that country might have a greater chance of moving into the few HR specialist positions available. Yet another option is to move to a broader role (which is more like a generalist role) and leverage the 'specialist' skills (say consulting skills, change management skills etc.) to create a greater business impact. Any comments/ideas?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Mass career customization : Is that feasible ?

Recently, I came across an interesting article in Knowledge at Wharton titled "Plateauing : Redefining Success at Work" that talks about how people are redefining their careers (deciding how they can keep contributing to the organization - but in their own terms/according to their own work preferences). It goes on to discuss how organizations are responding to this trend. In this context, the article mentions an initiative at Deloitte aimed at 'mass career customization'. While I have heard about this concept before, I am quite impressed by the way the program is designed - going by the broad level information given the article (multiple choices available to employees on multiple dimensions with the rewards, advancement implications defined for each possible combination of choices, negotiation/guidance on them etc.). The article says :

" At Deloitte & Touche USA LLP, senior advisor Anne Weisberg is involved with a pilot program called mass career customization, which allows employer and employee together to customize an individual's career "along a defined set of options." It's a realization, she says, that "the 'one size fits all' approach no longer works." In the pilot program, which started in June with a practice group of 400 people and will run for a year, "we have unbundled the career into four dimensions: role, pace, location and schedule, and work load." Under the role dimension, employees can specify, for example, whether they want an external role involving significant client interaction, an internal role without that client service aspect, or a role somewhere between the two. Under pace, the issue is how quickly an employee wants to move up. Under location and schedule, issues such as part-time hours, working at home and willingness to travel are included, while work load looks at variables like the number of projects an employee is wiling to undertake at any one time. "There are tradeoffs to these choices," Weisberg emphasizes. "A totally internal role has a different compensation structure and advancement route. But the tradeoffs are articulated and an employee can move from one set of options to another. It's a recognition that people need to fit their work into their life and their life into their work over the course of their career, which is 40 years. No one solution will work" for all that time."

I feel that it would definitely be a 'next generation HR practice' if such a system can be successfully implemented. However, I also feel that the implementation could get very complex and challenging. Since there are many combinations (i.e. career choices) possible (based on the possible choices on various dimensions) and since it is possible to switch between career choices, the system could get difficult to track and manage. A more fundamental issue could be whether the organization continues to be in a position to keep its part of the bargain (regarding the availability of the choices and its defined reward/advancement implications). This because the definition of the set of choices and their implications are based on a prediction of how the business will grow/develop/change. If there are unexpected changes in the business/industry (e.g. significant change in the demand for various services, new service lines coming up, change in industry practices, change in the service delivery model etc.), the organization might need to redefine the implications of some of the career choices.

If these kind of factors can be factored in to the implementation plan and if there is enough flexibility (and trust) to innovate and adjust, this kind of systems can be made to work and this could in turn contribute significantly to employee engagement and productivity.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The curious case of missing 'solution orientation'

One of the most frequent complaints that I have heard about the employees in BPO/Shared Service Centres is that they lack 'solution orientation'. While this complaint gets expressed in many other forms also, the essential issue is something like this: When there is a customer request, the employee does come up with a response within the time stipulated in the service level agreement (SLA). However, the response does not really help the customer/ does not solve the customer's problem adequately.

Often this is considered as an 'attitude issue' (e.g. lack of customer orientation/ unwillingness to go the extra mile etc.) and there is an attempt to address this by attitude training and/or pep talk. But this might not work as there are often deeper issues at the awareness, ability and structural levels.

In high growth - high attrition environments often employees are put on the job after basic training. While this enables them to take care of most of the standard scenarios, they have limited ability to respond in those cases where the customers requirement is (slightly)different from the standard/text-book scenarios. Also the employees have limited understanding of the customer's context and the desired outcome for the customer(beyond the immediate output requested). In addition to this there could be issues with the work-load and the way in which performance is measured. For example, if the employees are already overloaded it might be very difficult/impossible to 'go the extra mile' in most cases. Again the performance management system should have measures that recognize and reward going the extra mile.

Thus building solution orientation needs to go beyond attitude training. Based on the above discussion, we can say that some of the following ideas might worth looking at (depending on the context) in order to improve solution orientation.

(a) Help the employees to gain a better understanding of the customer expectations & the customer’s ‘frame of reference’/where they are coming from. Provide better ‘big picture’ understanding/build knowledge of the larger process and the impact of their work on the larger process( where only a part of the process is outsourced).
(b) Improve the capability and confidence level of employees. Encourage/enable the employees to build expertise in their area of work.
(c) Teach ‘general principles’ in addition to teaching the processing rules.
(d) Encourage people to think and not just do . Be less authoritative. Encourage people to take decisions and take responsibility for those decisions. Provide support/ ‘safety net’ so long as ‘reasonable care’ has been exercised.
(e) Provide manager support/encouragement & act as role models
(f) Enable employees to have a sense of achievement and create pride in being able to help the customer.
(g) Provide the room/space to ‘go the extra mile’(don’t overload the employees to an extent where it is impossible to stretch)

In addition to all this, it is very important to ensure that the employees themselves experience good responsiveness/solution orientation from the support services in the organization (like HR/Finance/IT/Admin. etc.). This also gives a strong message to the employees that responsiveness/solution orientation is a way of life in the organization.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

"Nature abhors vacuum" - HR Reengineering efforts hope so !

It was Aristotle who came up with the hypothesis "Nature abhors vacuum". While this hypothesis might not be strictly true in the original sense meant by Aristotle (that nature is full), it seems to work in many situations. For example, if we create a vacuum, air rushes in to fill it.

Now, why am I taking about all this here ? The reason is that this 'hypothesis' seems to inspire a key underlying assumption in many HR reengineering efforts. I have seen this happen in many organizations. The plots are quite similar. HR function decides to reengineer/transform itself. Transactional HR activities are automated or outsourced so that HR generalists are free to focus on strategic HR work. The objective is to become a 'strategic business partner' and add more value to the business. The objective is certainly a worthwhile one. The automation/outsourcing of transactional HR activities also takes place and they are removed from the job description of HR generalists. Now the problem starts. Transformation to the strategic business partner role does not really happen. Some of the transactional activities creep back (often in a slightly modified form) into the de facto job responsibilities of HR generalists . There is confusion and frustration all around.

As you might have suspected, the key issue here is with the assumption that we were taking about. The assumption was that by removing transactional responsibilities and thereby creating 'space' (or shall we say vacuum!!!) for HR generalists, strategic HR work would automatically rush in to fill the space(vacuum) and hence HR would move into the strategic business partner role. However, there are at least two main difficulties here. The capabilities required to perform the strategic business partner role are very different from those required for performing the administrative role.

In addition to this, there is a problem with client expectation mismatch. If the HR generalists have been providing mainly transactional support to the internal customers, it shapes what the internal customers (especially managers) expect from the HR partner in terms of both capability and deliverables. So if on one fine day HR declares itself to be a strategic business partner it might lack credibility. Again it might not be aligned to what internal customers(managers and the employees) expect/want from HR.

The solution lies in handling HR reengineering as an integrated change management initiative(and not mainly as a technology-driven change in the way HR processes work). This should devote adequate attention and time for

(a)discussing the business case for HR reengineeting(with business leadership)
(b)renegotiating the HR deliverables/HR engagement model (with the business leadership)
(c)HR capability building/getting the correct people on the job (to ensure capability to perform the strategic business partner role)and
(d)communicating the business case & new HR deliverables/engagement model (to managers/employees) and repositioning the HR roles/role-holders (to gain credibility and acceptance)

Of course, this would call for a lot of effort over an extended period of time. Some amount of fine-tuning of the new HR model (without compromising the basic nature of the model) would also be required to address new/context specific issues that were not anticipated initially. Difficult? - Yes; Messy? - Yes; Time consuming -Yes ! Any major change like HR reengineering is unlikely to be easy/simple. But it can be made to work.

Now let us come back to Aristotle and his hypothesis. In our context the problem was not with the hypothesis per se. The fact that the transactional activities often creep back back to fill the void created in the job responsibilities of HR generalists is in line with the hypothesis. The problem is actually with the assumption on what exactly would move in to fill the void. The mistake was to assume that strategic activities would move in to fill the void, where as it was more natural/likely for transactional activities to move in (keeping in mind the skill sets of the HR jobholders at that time and the internal customer expectations at that time). So our challenge is not to exorcise the ghost of Aristotle's hypothesis ! Our real challenge is to manage HR reengineering as an integrated change management effort !!

Unorthodox concepts in HR : Part 1 - The 'attrition principle'

Let me begin with a warning. I did not learn this this very interesting HR/People Management related concept at XLRI (or from any of the other 'reputed' sources). I came across this principle in one of the organizations that I am familiar with.

The principle is simple. It can be stated something like this.

"If one hangs around in the organization for a long period of time, most of the good people will leave the organization during that time, and, one will be kicked upstairs(i.e. promoted)".

If we look at the statement closely, we can deduce that there are some conditions to be satisfied for this principle to work well. They include inter alia

(1) The organization tolerates not-so-good performance
(2) The organization is not able to retain very good performers
(3) The organization is not able to attract/hire very good new people from outside
(4) The organization prefers to promote people internally even when they don't have requisite competencies
(5) The organization is doing reasonably well (so that there is no shrinkage of promotion opportunities)
(6) One is able to stay in the organization for a long period of time without doing anything very stupid/atrocious.

While this principle gave me 'hope' as an employee, it worried me as an HR professional . Allowing this principle to work is a sure prescription for mediocrity.

Fortunately, the conditions for this principle to work (listed above), give us a clue. We can make a good beginning in preventing this principle from becoming operational in our organizations by ensuring that the first four conditions listed above are not met. This calls for effective performance management, rewards, career development and staffing systems - i.e. the basics of good people management!

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

'wisdom-level' consulting

I worked as an external consultant for the first five years of my HR career. Consulting allowed me to play to my strengths and it gave me an opportunity to do some decent work. It also enabled me to get exposure to various domains in HR and to the various roles in a consulting firm. So it was a good way to invest the initial years of my career. I moved on to other kind of roles after that to broaden my perspective/expertise.

I still want to go back to consulting at some point in my career. However, the kind of HR consulting that I look forward to do is somewhat different. In the initial years of my career, the kind of consulting that I was doing was mainly at the level of applying tools/ techniques/ methodologies/ approaches. Of course it also involved choice of the tools/approaches & customizing them to suit particular contexts, and, in a few areas, developing new tools/approaches. Still it was essentially tool/methodology driven. This is likely to happen in most large consulting firms, as this (tools/methodology driven way of functioning) helps the firm to create leverage and scalability that are essential for profitability and growth/size.

The kind of HR consulting that I now look forward to do goes beyond tools/ techniques/ methodologies/ approaches. It is highly customized (to the client context) and highly 'personal' (that would enable me to 'bring more of myself into the work'). In addition to the difference in terms of the degree (of customization /personalization), there is also a difference in terms of the intention (see the note below). This way of consulting mainly uses patterns/broad principles (and not methodologies) so that effective solutions can be developed and implemented in complex and dynamic environments. While it uses tools/analysis as an essential input & to validate the output, the core of diagnosis/solution design is driven by a highly intuitive/non-linear/apparently discontinuous process perfected by years of individual experience/capability building/evolved consciousness ! The output reflects simplicity at the other side of complexity !! This is what I call 'wisdom-level' consulting !!!

I am not saying that 'wisdom-level' consulting is appropriate in all contexts/for all problems. It is needed only for special problems in complex contexts where a purely analytical/ methodology-driven approach can't arrive at the optimal solution. Now, many of the typical HR consulting assignments do not fall into this category and hence it is appropriate that they are handled in a tool/methodology driven way. My point is just that there are situations that require a type of consulting that goes beyond tool/methodology driven consulting and that I hope to do that kind of consulting (wisdom-level consulting) at some point in my career.


Even in methodology-driven consulting, some degree of personalization happens by default (as the work is being performed by a particular human being/consultant). However, in the case of large consulting firms, in the case of 'main-stream assignments' often the implicit attempt is to play down the personalization aspect. This is useful for managing risk (after all it is the firm's reputation that is at stake and hence the deliverable can't get too person dependent) and for creating leverage (so that less experienced people can be trained to do most of the work). However in the case of 'wisdom-level' consulting, 'personalization' of the output (by a highly skilled consultant) becomes a key part of the consulting value proposition. Similarly, the pressure to ensure scalability (across many client contexts) makes too much customization (beyond the absolute minimum required) not so attractive for large consulting firms. More importantly, customization requires a relatively higher level of skill and hence it works against 'obtaining leverage' objective . Thus, similar to our discussion on the aspect of personalization, high degree of customization of the output to the client context (by a highly skilled consultant, who is not looking to maximize the volume of work) becomes a key part of the consulting value proposition in the case of 'wisdom-level' consulting.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Competency frameworks : An intermediate stage?

I have done quite a bit of work (both as an external consultant and as an internal consultant) in the area of developing behavioral competency frameworks/competency based development. I still feel that they are useful in particular organization contexts. However my current thinking on competency models is to consider them more as an 'intermediate stage' in the evolution (of capability building efforts) rather than as the final stage.

One of the basic assumptions behind developing a behavioral competency model is that there is one particular behavioral pattern that would lead to superior results in a particular job(i.e there is 'one best way' to do the job). This might not be a valid assumption, in the case of most of the non-routine jobs(where it is not desirable to specify, in micro detail, the exact procedure to perform the job). Thus in the case of non-routine jobs, competency models might lead to 'theoretical'/'copy book style' behavioral prescriptions that might not be optimal for effectiveness on the job.

However, competency models (like copy book style training) has its own usefulness in particular contexts. It is useful to teach the beginners the 'copy book style' of doing a particular task, with the understanding that once they master the basics they are expected to improvise and modify the 'copy book style procedure' to suit their personal style and the specific context/ particular task at hand. Let is look at a simplified example (outside the work context) - cricket coaching. As part of coaching kids/beginners they are taught the copy book style of playing each shot (e.g. how to play a cover drive, sweep shot etc.). However, if we look at established cricket players, most of them play a (slight) variation(s) of the shots based on their personal style and the demands of the situation.

Thus I feel that we should use competency models and then go beyond them !!!

Friday, January 5, 2007

Measurement as an intervention

I started my career as an alleged 'rocket scientist'(as a scientist/engineer on the satellite launch vehicle side of the Indian Space Research Organization - to be precise). However I got carried away by things like organization psychology and found a 'socially acceptable escape route' in the HR MBA programme offered by XLRI. Since then I have been 'in HR' (for good or bad - mostly good, I suppose). However I have remained a 'scientist' at heart and I have often thought about the differences between a working in physical sciences/engineering and in social sciences.

While there are many important dimensions here(e.g. difficulty in finding one optimal solution to HR related issues & proving the the correctness/superiority of the same to the satisfaction of all - as mentioned in my previous posting, difficulty in establishing causality etc.) the one I want to discuss here relates to the concepts of measurement, observer/measurement influence and using the measurement itself as a part of the intervention. Of course, I am using the term 'measurement' in a broad manner and it includes all actions to sense/diagnose/measure the state of the system as part of a behavioral science intervention.

In general, when one tries to do a measurement in the physical sciences context(outside quantum mechanics), the attempt is to do the measurement without affecting the phenomenon/system that is being measured (to the extent possible). However in many well-designed HR/OD interventions the measurement(e.g. administering questionnaires, conducting fact-finding interviews etc.) itself is a key part of the intervention & they are integrated into the overall change management plan. Another (somewhat different kind of ) example is the Appreciative Inquiry technique where the positive energy generated by the process itself is a key deliverable in addition to the specific action items coming out of the exercise. I feel that there are many good reasons for this. It is very difficult to do the kind of measurements that we were talking about without impacting the system/subjects(e.g. raising fears/expectations). Keeping in mind the dynamic, interlinked and complex nature of the human systems we can neither make the system stand still (for the intervention) nor do we have the luxury of investing time only for measurement. Again, these measurements (if they are properly designed and integrated to the overall plan for the intervention) provide an excellent opportunity to influence the system in the desired direction. Thus it makes a lot of sense to use measurement itself as an intervention tool.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Of competencies and carbohydrates

Today I saw an e-mail message from one of my previous bosses. Actually, this person was my first boss in my career in HR. This mail brought back vivid memories of the 'interesting' interactions that we have had during my first year at work. While some of these interactions were 'not so peaceful' (because of the differences in opinion), almost all the interactions were very much intellectually stimulating. He was a person who could stretch me in areas that I am good at. Over the years, I have realized that I produce the highest quality work (also learn/enjoy the work most) when I am challenged in areas that I am good at.

While there are many interactions that I remember quite vividly, the one that comes to my mind first is the interaction on the approach for assessing behavioral competencies. Before I went to XLRI for my MBA, I was trained to be (and working as) a scientist. Thus, I was trained to question everything and to discuss/argue technical points comprehensively with all the people involved regardless of the level/position. While this worked fine in the area of physical science(where there is one correct answer/best solution for most problems), this habit got me into quite a bit of difficulties in a relatively 'fuzzy' field of human resources management(where there could be multiple 'acceptable'/'logical' solutions to the same problem - often based on different assumptions that can't be verified). It took me quite a bit of time to figure out the best modus operandi for me (that integrates my personal style with the nature of the filed) and this interaction happened before I made that transition.

We were discussing the different approaches to assess behavioral competencies for a group of people. Competencies are defined as a combination of knowledge, skills and attitudes that lead to superior performance on a particular job. The approach that was being followed was to list out the knowledge, skill and attitude elements of each competency and to give an assessment on each of the elements. I was very new to the organization and I had joined the project mid-way. I felt that something was wrong with the approach though I could not articulate it well enough initially. Then it came to me in a flash. Competencies are like carbohydrates!. They are a combination of knowledge, skills and attitudes. The key word here is 'combination'. The properties of a combination/compound (as opposed to that of a mixture) can't be explained in terms of the properties of its constituent elements (e.g. properties of carbohydrates can't be explained in terms of the properties of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen). Thus, we can't assess a competency just in terms of the assessments on its knowledge, skill and attitude elements. We have to look at the behavior that emerges from the combination of these elements and assess that behavior directly.

I still remember staying back late in the office and sending of an e-mail to the entire project team (including the boss) making this point in a rather colorful fashion. The mail had the subject line as 'Of competencies and carbohydrates...'. For rhetoric purposes, I had used a quotation from 'Through the Looking -Glass' (by Lewis Carroll) as the buildup to my argument. The lines I had quoted were

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--

and I then added 'Of competencies and-- Carbohydrates--' as the next line.

On hindsight, I realized that while this mail was logically sound, it was a quite tactless. The boss could have reprimanded me for sending such an e-mail. However, he did not do that. He actually wrote a mail back with the subject 'Why pigs have wings' (adapted from the same source , this particular line appears one line after 'Of cabbages-- and kings--' in the original text) providing another perspective on this issue. This lead to a good discussion and the issue was settled to the satisfaction of all the parties involved(For the curious - the solution was to assess only the behavior in the Assessment Centre and to but leverage the Knowledge-Skill-Attitude matrix as an input while facilitating the creation of Individual Development Plans to develop the competencies).

At that time, I did not fully understand the quality of his response (beyond the technical/ rhetorical merit of the argument, which I understood immediately). I came to appreciate the real quality of the response (in the overall context of the situation) only much later - when I was more experienced and I had started managing people (especially people similar to 'Prasad at the beginning of his career' ).

everlasting or timeless ?

While I have always wanted to 'go to heaven when I die', I was often a bit concerned about one aspect of the common descriptions on the life in heaven'. The main issue was that the descriptions often painted a static picture of everlasting bliss. My fear was that I might get bored after some time, even in a state of bliss.

Recently I came across an insight that would make this problem irrelevant. The problem was with my understanding of 'eternal bliss'. I was confusing between 'everlastingness' and 'timelessness'. The heavenly bliss is timeless and not everlasting. Time exists only in the physical world and hence time does not exist in heaven and hence there is no question of 'getting bored after some time'.

Now I realize that I could have derived this 'insight' from a story about St. Augustine that I had heard a long time ago. The book of Genesis begins with the verse "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth". One person came to St. Augustine and asked him "what was God doing before he created the heavens and the earth?" Of course St. Augustine could have answered some thing like "God was making the hell for people who ask these kind of questions". But St. Augustine did not do that. St. Augustine told him that "time is a property of the physical universe and hence time does not exist before God created the heavens and the earth". Actually, St. Augustine has done deep exploration regarding the nature of time. Considering that he lived in the fourth century AD, it is truly amazing !

Note: There are fundamental differences (at the level of basic underlying assumptions) in various worldviews about the nature of time. For example, in the Judeo-Christian worldview, time is linear, where as in the Hindu philosophy time is cyclical. This has implications for any statement about 'before' or 'after' including what we are discussing in this post. Of course, it can be argued that even if we consider time as cyclical, there is a singularity at the point where one cycle ends and the next one begins. In a singularity, the laws of physics break down & hence a physical property like time also vanishes!

U-curve and simplicity at the other side of complexity

A few years ago I came across the concept of a 'U - curve' in anthropology. The basic idea is something like this: Many phenomena follow a pattern that resembles a 'U' - shaped curve over a period of time. They start in one state (i.e. in a particular manner/fashion), then gradually move towards the other end (i.e. the opposite manner/fashion/state) and then they come back to the original state at a higher level/plane. For example, early humans were naked because they did not have any cloths. Then, over a large span of time, humans moved to the other extreme of very elaborate clothing. Over a period of time this in turn has changed to the recent tendency to wear less cloths. Now if we look only at the outward appearance, the third state looks similar to the first state(wearing less cloths). But the third state is, in essence, very much different from the first state because in third state 'wearing less cloths' is a matter of choice which was not the case in the first state.

I remembered this concept while I was thinking about 'simplicity at the other side of complexity' which is the theme for this post(and in a broad sense the theme for this blog). In the case of complex non-linear systems (most of the human systems and business contexts are likely to fall in this category) there is simplicity at both sides of the complexity. Of course the apparent/obvious simplicity is 'simplistic' and it often comes out of the inability and/or unwillingness to appreciate the complexity. This leads to quick-fix solutions and fads (which essentially say "follow these 'x' steps to arrive at the solution") that do not really work in the long term.

However there is a simplicity that is achieved after working through the complexity. This simplicity is at the level of patterns underlying complexity. These patterns can be used to manage the complexity effectively. However there are two difficulties:
(1) One has to work through the complexity to uncover these patterns
(2) These patterns lead to 'directionally correct steps' and not to instant solutions
But these difficulties are the dues we have to pay for operating effectively in a complex world. While we can learn/benefit from the patterns discovered by others, often we have to 'rediscover' the patterns ourselves to fully understand/appreciate the patterns. The dynamic nature of the situation and hence the patterns makes it necessity to learn the patterns through personal experience (often the 'hard way'). The novel 'Siddhartha' by Herman Hesse provides a beautiful illustration of this point.

Related Link : See here for more discussion on this topic.