Smart Simplicity-6 Rules For Over-Complicated Organizations

Six Simple Rules, Yves Morieux, complexity, managementYves Morieux has an intriguing idea….6 simple rules for managing complex organizations. Morieux is a senior partner and managing director in the Boston Consulting Group and so has studied organizations and how they stumble. In his TED talk, he explains that it all started with a question regarding why productivity levels are disappointing and workers are so disengaged. Morieux points out that these conditions persist despite all the programs, events and training that is provided to employees at all levels of the organization.

Some background information

According to Morieux, there are “two pillars of management” and they are obsolete.

  • Hard: structure, process, systems, matrices
  • Soft: feelings, interpersonal relationships, traits

Morieux explains that the more complexity a business encounters, the more it creates “complicatedness in the organization.” Simply put, a new “rule”  or requirement is encountered in the business environment adding to the existing complexity. The organization responds by creating a new person who then creates a new system. Thus, everyone is more removed from see how the organization might respond more effectively in the future.


The answer put forth by Morieux is that people within organizations should cooperate more. In a 2011 Harvard Business Review article, he wrote,…

it entails creating an environment in which employees can work with one another to develop creative solutions to complex challenges. This approach leads to organizations that ably address numerous fluid and contradictory requirements without structural and procedural complicatedness.

To reduce or eliminate disengagement, there must be more cooperation

Morieux states that the hard approach (adding more matrices, systems and employees to respond to changes) creates more problems than it solves. He also places a greater emphasis on why the soft approach to management fails to engage workers. He states the “more we like each other, the more we avoid cooperation” so we don’t have to deal with uncomfortable “trade-offs.” These trade-offs might be having one set of resources rather than duplicate resources, requiring different sections of the organization to swap personnel and tolerating poor performance or mistakes.

 6 Simple Rules

Morieux derived these rules from game theory and organizational sociology. He advocates that we stop over-complicating our companies and still respond skillfully to the complex business environment.

  1. Understand what others do – Take the time to find out what is the real work, not the job description
  2. Reinforce integrators – Give managers (these are the integrators) discretionary power and interest to make others cooperate
  3. Increase total quantity of power – Empower everyone to use their judgement, intelligence and skills
  4. Extend the shadow of the future – Create a feedback loop for people to directly experience the consequences of their actions; how my real work affects customers and the company
  5. Increase reciprocity by removing buffers of self-sufficiency – Eliminate systems and processes that support and maintain silos
  6. Reward those who cooperate and blame those who don’t – Morieux quotes Jorgen Vig Knudstorp of The Lego Group as saying blame is for failing to help or for not asking for help; not for failing

Using these rules will reduce creating redundant systems which prevent cross-disciplinary communication and positive effect both financial and human resource policies. Basically, these rules create improved performance, more work satisfaction and lower costs.

Are these rules that different than in other management theories?

Much of what goes on in today’s organizations seems to echo an early 20th century management philosophy put forth by F.W. Taylor (and even has been revived as neo-Taylorism) We may have gussied up the terms but there is still a pervasive idea that workers are supposed to be the “best and the brightest,” fit into a mold, stick with linear processes and systems and be motivated by reward and punishment (there is more in this fascinating critique of Taylorism and neo-Taylorism). Morieux’ simple rules seem to step away from Taylorism in any form and offer a different way of viewing both management, development and management of systems and how employees both interact and perform.

In past discussions, Morieux has acknowledged that pieces of the rules resemble Six Sigma, Lean and other management theories. It certainly seems like it could incorporate the concept of kaizen (continuous and incremental improvement). Curiously, he has not gotten more specific about what type of leader or management style would complement his rules.

What do you think about these rules? A new way of thinking? A rehash of current ideas? Join us this Friday, January 31, 2014 on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz, at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT and share your thoughts and insights. 

Would  you say that today’s larger organizations are complex or over-complicated? Why?

As you read through the Morieux’ rules, what did you find most intriguing?

How practical are these rules in the day-to-day operation?

Although Morieux claims the 2 pillars of managment are obsolete, how do his rules use them?

What management style would best support execution of these rules?


1 thought on “Smart Simplicity-6 Rules For Over-Complicated Organizations

  1. Thank you for another interesting topic. The chat will pass me at 2 am local time. Just a quick thought here,

    re: “2.Reinforce integrators – Give managers (these are the integrators) discretionary power and interest to make others cooperate”

    As I see an organizational system, the “power and interest to make others cooperate” can be command authority, or preferably time / money budgets offered and dispensed in exchange for performance.

    I believe running an internal labor market enables cross-divisional trade of qualified resources, it un-siloes underused competence to satisfy unmet needs. I would aslo expect internal open trade to build skills and frameworks that ease project management, reduce or remove the fight over resources, and provide data and evidence for simpler make-or-buy decisions.

    Enjoy the chat. Looking forward to the transcript.

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