Six Simple Rules
Complexity in the 21st century comes from clients having many options and with a rapidly changing
marketplace. The state of business in the 21st century has become slow and cumbersome for many large organizations in spite of increasing performance measures. The author asserts that this is due to the way that organizations have responded to complexity, and by adding more rules, processes and departments to react to each new challenge (the author calls this complicatedness.)
The aggregation of these processes and departments makes it difficult to get work done. He reports that managers spend 40% of their time writing reports and 40-60% of their time in meetings, leaving little time to work with their teams. Eventually productivity is disappointing.
When organizations face hard problems they often use the hard or soft approaches taught by business schools. The hard approach uses processes, structures, systems and financial incentives. The soft approach uses cultural and psychological techniques such as team building. Both of these approaches seek to achieve control. However, in doing so, they often make the organization complicated, slower and more bureaucratic. The author suggests six simple rules to improve productivity which are detailed below.
Rule 1: Understand what your people do
When I first saw this I thought it meant to look at the job description (or what the person is supposed to do, but it is deeper than that. “Know the contexts that shape behaviors – what’s really happening in your organization. Learn how your people cooperate, find resources, and solve problems – or fail to do so.”
One of the keys is to look at what your staff are doing by using techniques such as observation and interviews. Don’t be satisfied with the first answer, rather look for underlying motivation. Assume that everyone has a rational reason to do what they do in order to solve their problems or meet their goals. Find that reason. Look at what resources people use and what constraints they sidestep, avoid or minimize.
Rule 2: Reinforce integrators
Find the people in the organization who bring others together and drive processes. Eliminate unnecessary layers and processes and give these people the authority they need to get an entire task done. Adding a middle office to solve the problem between front and back offices does not improve performance. Giving more power to those that can get these teams to cooperate will have a much better result.
Rule 3: Increase the total quantity of power
When everything is defined in terms of processes and practices then the people at the bottom have the least amount of power and yet have to try to get cooperation from other groups to get their work done. This often causes individuals to retreat into their siloes.
Adding to the total amount of power means to give more power to those that are doing the work to get the work done. Power allows workers to make decisions and solves localized problems.
Rule 4: Increase reciprocity
Work is becoming more interdependent, which means that individuals are reliant on each other. Some of the departments we have created are able to exist on their own. Reciprocity is ensuring that groups have a mutual interest in cooperating and having their success dependent on each other. Sometimes this requires removing resources to force dependence on another group. This forces cooperation to occur which improves outcomes for work that touches many parts of the organization.
Rule 5: Extend the shadow of the future
“Actions have consequences – and living the consequences boosts performance.”
Large organizations often run long projects and the people responsible at the end of the project are often different to those at the beginning. The originator of the decision often avoids the consequences. This rule is to find a way to bring those consequences closer. One practical way is to make projects shorter, which also fits with the lean principles of smaller batch size and shorter cycle time.
Rule 6: Reward those that cooperate
Many large organizations have a culture of blame and risk aversion. Instead of punishing failure the authors recommend punishing those that fail to help or fail to ask for help. Using questions such as “what personal risk are you taking in this?” and “How can I help you get the cooperation you need?” get people focused on cooperation.
This is an important book that highlights cooperation as the key to much of the productivity issues faced today. The book explains each of the rules above and uses case studies to illustrate them further. The authors wrote a Harvard Business article in 2011 which led to a book in 2014. Yves Morieux has also presented some of the content in two TED talks. Please find the links below.
By Yves Morieux and Peter Tollman 2014
HBR Article – Smart Rules – Six ways to get people to solve problems without you – Yves Morieux 2011
As work gets more complex, 6 rules to simplify – Yves Morieux 2013
How too many rules at work keep you from getting things done – Yves Morieux 2014
Highlights from the book – Yves Morieux