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State of Business: Simplify or Ossify

A few months ago, I visited one of our rail customers to discuss our locomotives. At their request, I spoke to a group of leaders and managers in the transportation industry. I have addressed thousands of customers in my career but something has changed.

I launched into my take on the big themes and what we are working on at GE. But when I started talking about our leadership culture and how we are changing for our customers, the atmosphere in the room went from polite listening to active participation. I touched upon something that is keeping people up at night, something they can relate to. It was like electricity.

Every company is looking for ways to be faster. Technology is transforming all our processes and there has never been more global competition. We need laser-like market focus to achieve effective customer outcomes. We need to permanently remove costs and eliminate bureaucracy, not just cope with it or move it around.

At GE, we are transforming our culture around what we call Simplification. This is not just management speak, it’s a crusade.

We’ve already simplified to shape our company around the big growth drivers of this era – advanced manufacturing, the Industrial Internet, and the Age of Gas. Now we are applying Simplification at every level of the organization.

Simplification defines the way we make decisions, how we work together, and work with our customers. It is about organizing ourselves to be continually focused on efficiency, speed and market impact. We use it to drive decisions closer to customers and make our teams accountable for outcomes, not process.


By cutting through the layers and empowering our employees, we are putting accountability where it matters and bringing new ideas to market at a faster pace. We are using simplification to reduce the time it takes to introduce a new product 30 percent, boost field approvals 50 percent, and cut the deal cycle in half.

I’ll give you one example. In our Oil & Gas business, customers feel pain when a drill rig goes down and stays out of service. So we created an app called Rig Down. It allows us to track the response across our service, engineering, and operations groups, respond as fast as possible and keep the customer informed in the process.

The app pushes the issue directly to the top of the list, and makes all of the parts for that customer immediately available. Now, the person on the ground can make the right decision. And, by the way, they can be rewarded for making it faster.

Complexity is our past; accountability, speed and market impact are our now and our future.

Simplification is GE’s most important culture change in more than 20 years. Our customers are smart and they measure us by what outcomes we can deliver for them and how fast. That’s why speed and commercial intensity must be part of everything we do. Embracing simplification is a victory for us, for our customers and our investors.

Jeffrey R. Immelt is CEO of GE.

State of Business: Simplify or Ossify was originally published on Ideas Lab

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