6 Rules to Simplify Increasingly Complex Work

Why are corporate employees often disengaged and miserable at work? Why is employee productivity so disappointing – despite all of the leadership and training programs and other human resources programs they are forced to endure? In this TED Talk, Boston Consulting Groups’ Yves Morieux discusses the problems inherent in the traditional pillars of management and offers six rules for creating organizational “smart simplicity” and a less stressful work environment at the same time.

Traditionally, when companies reorganize, reengineer or restructure, they look to two main pillars of management: the hard (structure, processes, systems, metrics) and the soft (feelings, interpersonal relationships and traits). Despite the wide use of this dual approach, Morieux believes it fails because it adds ever-increasing layers of organizational complexity, making problem solving more time-, resource- and capital-intensive, and employee cooperation more difficult. Fighting through an overly complex, siloed environment creates stress, and ultimately burnout, in employees who are often powerless to act, removed from outcomes and incentivized in perverse ways.

The solution to this problem, Morieux says, can be found in employees’ natural intelligence and ability to adapt. To remove stress inducing complexity, Morieux recommends what he calls the “smart simplicity” approach:

  • Understand what your people do – beyond their job descriptions;
  • Reinforce integrators – fortify existing management, don’t add more;
  • Increase the total quantity of power – empower employees and leverage their judgment;
  • Extend the shadow of the future – link managers with the consequences of their actions;
  • Increase reciprocity – remove buffers between employees; and,
  • Reward those who cooperate – and deal with those who don’t.

These 6 rules have a lot of implications for organizational design.