“Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler”. Albert Einstein
Why is productivity in some organizations so disappointing? Despite all the innovations in technology and all the investment in training and developing employees and managers to adapt to more and more complex organizations, why does it appear (and statistics would seem to bear this out) that a significant number of workers are disengaged from their jobs and feel unhappy at work?
In his insightful presentation, Yves Morieux gives his views on the main drivers of employee disengagement. More than that, he offers 6 simple rules for driving employee engagement and higher productivity.
For Morieux, traditional approaches on how to engage employees to be more productive have up to now focused on two main management pillars:
- the “Hard” pillar which seeks to improve productivity by working on structures, processes, systems, statistics, KPIs,…
- the “Soft” pillar which seeks to work on the interpersonal communication and personal relationships, the traits and personalities of the individuals in order to help them adapt their personalities to the constraints of the organization
Many companies spend large amounts of money on reengineering their structures, processes and systems in order try to drive higher productivity and engagement and/or on training their managers and employees to adapt to these new structures, processes, systems.
But for Morieux, these two pillars of management are obsolete and are even counterproductive. Why?
All organizations are becoming more and more complex and by trying to improve engagement using one or both of these two traditional management pillars (work the structure and train the people to adapt), they in fact only add on more complexity. Rather, they add on layers of “complicatedness” to an already complex environment.
For example, in the car industry, a drive to reduce repair time led to the creation of a specific “repairability” requirement which in turn led to the creation of a specific “repairability” function, the role of which was to align design engineers to repairability objectives. This inevitably led to the creation of a specific “repairability process“, a “repairability scorecard” and “repairability KPIs “to measure engineering alignment to process objectives. But when one considers that there were 25 other competing functions each with its own process, scorecard and KPIs, very quickly one realizes how complicated it was for the engineers concerned to comply meaningfully with so many competing constraints and requirements and for “Mr Reliability” to impact positively on the “repairability” issue in a meaningful way.
The inevitable result is that rather than improving productivity, such a traditional approach only complicates things by adding extra layers of administration, back office work and non added value tasks. Costs are higher for zero results.
The secret for Morieux lies in not drawing additional boxes with complicated reporting lines or adding on extra organizational layers. It lies, as he says, in understanding the “interplay“, the connections and cooperation required between functions to deliver the required result. In simple terms, what is key is how the parts “cooperate” or should “cooperate“. As Morieux points out, “every time people cooperate, they use less resources and not more“.
Conversely, when functions don’t cooperate, they always need “more time, more systems, more processes, more teams….which means higher costs.
But who pays for this?
Not the shareholders. Not the customers. Individual employees must eventually pay by overcompensating for the lack of functional cooperation through higher effort and this inevitably leads to burn out, stress, disenchantment and disengagement.
Faced with such productivity problems, the “Hard” management pillar seeks to add on extra boxes to the “organizational skeleton”. The “Soft” pillar believes that if functions like one another and fit better together, this will solve the problem. But in fact, the result is often the opposite because to maintain the relationship, functions will seek to add on extra organizational layers expecting these extra layers to resolve the conflicts or deliver the tough trade offs required which they don’t want to address themselves for fear of endangering relationships.
These two approaches are therefore obsolete in a complex organization because they only generate unnecessary complicatedness and Morieux offers instead 6 key rules for smart simplicity :
Rule 1: understand what people really do.
We need to go beyond the job descriptions and the organization charts and understand what others really do operationally so that we know how different functions depend on and interact with one another. The designer should understand the consequences of his design for the customer services team and for the repair teams before he commits a design and generates costs further down the line.
Rule 2: we need to reinforce the role and powers of the integrators.
Integrators are not middle offices but managers who must “have an interest in and be empowered to make others cooperate“. How do you empower managers? Firstly, by removing unnecessary organizational layers. When you have too many management layers, you have more and more managers who are “too far removed from the action” and who need “KPIs and score cards” to see reality. What they see is not reality but a proxy of reality. Secondly, you also need to simplify the management rules because the bigger and more complex an organization becomes, the more you must give discretionary power to managers to solve their problems at their level. Quite often, we do the contrary and we end up by creating huge systems of rules which freezes initiative and drains local managers of responsibility. That doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be rules but it is vital to ensure that the rule book is lean and that managers can act effectively and quickly.
Rule 3: Increase the quantity of power to everyone
If you want more employees to take initiatives and “engage” more with the organization, you must give more power to everyone so that they feel they can use their initiative and intelligence to good effect and that they have all the cards in their hands to make a difference. Only then will they be ready to take risks and really seek to cooperate meaningfully with others.
Rule 4: Create a shadow of the future
You must expose employees to the consequences of their actions by constantly creating feedback loops, thereby creating a shadow of the future. This is what the car industry did when they told design engineers that they would move to the after sales service three years on so that they would have to live with the consequences of their own designs. If you empower more people, you must also ensure that these empowered people get effective feedback on their actions so that they are constantly adapting their behaviors to organizational expectations and can clearly link their actions and organizational results.
Rule 5: Increase reciprocity
This means “removing the buffers that make functions self-sufficient”. There is too much dysfunctional self sufficiency in organizations, largely fed by increased organizational layers and sub layers. Remove these unnecessary layers and interfaces which interfere with meaningful cooperation and we will encourage greater productivity. Above all, seek to design your organization in a way that creates interdependencies between functions so that only cooperation can deliver the required result.
Rule 6: Reward those who cooperate, blame those who don’t cooperate
Rather than promoting a culture that blames failure, we should promote a culture that rewards cooperation and blames non-cooperation. Morieux cites the CEO of Lego who believes that “blame is not for failure, blame is for not helping or not asking for help“. This indeed changes everything because it encourages us to be transparent and to cooperate.
These 6 rules have profound consequences for organizational design, for finance policies, for human resource management in complex organizations. Above all, if we implement these 6 simple rules, we will manage complexity without being paralyzed by complicatedness. We will create more value at lower cost. We will simultaneously improve performance and job satisfaction because we will have removed the root cause that hinders both : “complicatedness“. This is the real challenge facing all leaders of complex organizations.