Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Bunch of One-Pagers

"A Bunch of One-Pagers" by Oren Harari. September 14, 2006

I just spent a delightful day with Harold Gray, a Senior Vice President at State Farm Insurance. In my recently released book Break From the Pack, I describe how Gray led a turnaround in the Pacific Northwest region that was so dramatic that the CEO of State Farm, Ed Rust, proclaimed it one of the most exceptional outcomes he had ever seen at State Farm.

In my book I thought I did a pretty good job describing the strategic, operational, and leadership steps that Gray took, but he reminded me of something that I’d overlooked because it was so ridiculously simple. Yet that simple thing had profound consequences.

Like many large, mature companies, State Farm’s culture was bulging with lots of people preparing lots of long, complex reports and documents. These long complex reports and documents were continually copied, earnestly distributed, and often presented in long, complex meetings. The result? Slow communication, slower follow-up, and vanilla decision-making.

One of the many ways that Gray attacked this beast was to insist on ever-shorter and shorter documents. Ultimately, he led with a ridiculously simple commitment to “a bunch of one-pagers”, in his words. With some exceptions, all reports and documents that advocated action had to be one page long. He told me, “I actually said that ½ page would be better, but I’d accept one page.”

So any action plans about customer retention, employee morale, sales enhancement, agent relationship, and such became “a bunch of one pagers.” The impact? The ideas had to stand on their own merit. Less b.s., less grandstanding, less “padding”, less time and resources devoted to verbosity and explanation of ideas that were inherently ambiguous or suspect. More “KISS” (keep it simple, stupid), more urgency, and more clean, crisp, communication of ideas and decisions.

All this led to more clarity, more consensus, more speed, and more accountability—and shorter meetings! These attributes were essential in carrying out Gray’s very specific blueprint for transformational change and enhanced performance.

So if you want to turn your corporate culture into something more agile and productive, start demanding a bunch of one-pagers.


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