Rynkeby killed complexity

Rynkeby had the courage and confidence to kill complexity

How Rynkeby generated growth through increased simplicity and reduced complexity

Many organisations want to make it simple – with an edge. What we call kill complexity. Unfortunately, the good intentions rarely lead to anything. In 2010, Rynkeby Foods A/S began a kill complexity journey. The purpose was not to cut costs and the number of employees. In fact, it was quite the opposite - the purpose was to generate growth.

Rynkeby had the courage and confidence to kill complexity

The reason why Rynkeby appear to be successful in their endeavour is most likely to be found in the courage and confidence displayed by Rynkeby and the company’s management. Here are some of the highlights from Rynkeby’s kill complexity journey.

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Strategy boiled down to half a piece of paper

Like many other organisations, Rynkeby has been in the habit of developing relatively complex strategies, and it was primarily the management team who had an intimate knowledge of them. Rynkeby’s new strategy is not less clear, coherent and understandable than previously – in fact, more hours have been put into it from several parts of the orga­nisation than before – but the result fits into half a piece of paper. Half a piece of paper that contains an illustration of the three must win battles which Rynkeby needs to win in the strategy period (2010 – 2014) as well as “our business”, “our mission” and “our vision” which have been formulated more clearly and with more edge than previously.

The six messages that form the new strategy are widely known in the organisation, and they are important guidelines in all large decisions taken at Rynkeby. The objective of the new strategy was to simplify it and turn it into a shared strategy for everybody in the organisation instead of a strategy which only comes into play at a few specific management meetings during the year. Rynkeby’s clear focus on fruit and healthy products is one of the elements that are even more focus on now than before.

HMS Dreadnought

During the process, a kill complexity language arose that supported the process and which lingers in some of the solutions. This applies to the future production strategy, which is illustrated as a battleship from the First World War – HMS Dreadnought. One of the revolutionary features of HMS Dreadnought was that the armament scheme on board had been simplified significantly – something that demanded so much courage that the Italian naval engineer behind the idea could not sell the Italian Navy on the idea, but ended up handing away the idea to the Royal Navy of United Kingdom.

In Rynkeby’s kill complexity process, the story about HMS Dreadnought was told several times to different groups of employees, and exercises were carried out where HMS Dreadnought was compared to Rynkeby. One of the focus areas in Rynkeby’s kill complexity process was to simplify production, and the result was depicted as a battleship where the different production lines are illustrated as guns. The message conveyed is clear – to everybody at Rynkeby.

Niels Teilberg Søndergaard
Niels Teilberg Søndergaard
+45 3085 8080

Three must-win battles

One of the disadvantages of Rynkeby’s previous strategies was that it could be difficult to see what was most important. In the kill complexity process, Rynkeby’s management team introduced the concept of must win battles, which resulted in a selection of three must win battles to function as lighthouses that illuminated a clear strategic path for Rynkeby. Furthermore, there is absolutely no doubt in case there is a need for prioritising decisions where the three must win battles are in play – the three lighthouses always win the resources!

Kill complexity is a driver of growth

It has been a clear message from the beginning of the process at Rynkeby that the purpose of kill complexity was not to cut costs and the number of employees. In fact, it was quite the opposite – the purpose of kill complexity was to generate growth. The idea was that a prerequisite for creating growth is that we focus on what is important and avoid putting a lot of effort into something that is not important. For many months, the project was referred to as “Growth Through Simplification (GTS)”. Rynkeby was by the way in remarkably good shape before the beginning of the kill complexity journey. Thus, the project has also disproved the old saying that you can only make changes if there is a burning platform in the form of e.g. negative balance sheets.

Cut the tail in an appreciative way

Although the logic is sound, most organisations find it difficult to cut down their product portfolio to a level which provides the most value to the organisation. In Rynkeby’s kill complexity project, product portfolio rationalisation was also an element in the solution, but the approach was new. Rather than talking about the “problems” generated by the existing product port folio, focus was on the dream of the future – the dream of doubling the turnover.

Based on the strategic goals, the following question was asked: “Which products do we need in our product portfolio in order to reach the ambitious goals in 2014?”. The answer was a number of specific products that turned out to be much fewer than the number of products in the current product portfolio. Thus, this answer became the goal of the future. In many ways, the task is the same, but now that task is driven by the dream of the future rather than current problems. That seems to make the difference.

In the same boat

Early on, the process involved the entire expanded management team at Rynkeby, and halfway through the process the involvement in the organisation was wider and deeper than ever before in Rynkeby’s strategy history.This has provided a common ground for the management team at Rynkeby. Now they fight for a common cause, and the goal and the priorities are clear to all with management responsibility.

In the management team, more focus is aimed at developing the business than previously – seeing that the guiding principles are so clear and concise – and now the management team meetings are divided into two types of meetings which are clearly separated: run the business and change the business. In this manner, discussions about development initiatives will not be put aside to make room for the daily tasks and fire fighting. “An important clue to succeeding with kill complexity is to get SCM (Supply Chain Management) and S&M (Sale and Marketing) to embrace the initiative together and at full speed”, states Lars Petersen (Logistics Manager, Rynkeby Foods A/S)

Trade-offs and clear communication

A recognised, classic strategy guru once said that if a company has not made any tradeoffs, they do not have a strategy! In the kill complexity process, Rynkeby’s expanded management team has had deep – and long – discussions about trade offs and focus, which resulted in new clear and concise definitions of 'our business, 'our mission', and 'our vision'.

All the way through the process, everybody agreed on focusing on fruit and healthy products as the core. However, it was important to make it more specific to give a clear direction for the entire organisation. This involved a tough tradeoff process. Decisions which the expanded management team was in charge of taking. And this, most of all, is perhaps the reason why the lighthouses in Rynkeby’s strategy shine so bright.

The time was right

The fact that the time was right for Rynkeby in 2010 – following a successful financial year 2009 – was perhaps not so obvious to all, but perhaps it is a sign of the courage and confidence shining through on Vestergade 30 in Ringe on Funen south of the small village Rynkeby. “It was important to find the right timing for kill complexity. And the right time for us was now”, says Jørgen Dirksen (CEO, Rynkeby Foods A/S).

The clear tradeoff process, which many organisations often try to circle round, but in Rynkeby’s case provides a clear and concise strategy, reflects the same courage and confidence. Perhaps courage and confidence are prerequisites for kill complexity.

The above text is an extract – you can download the entire article at the top of this page.