Yves Morieux is a Senior Partner and Managing Director at The Boston Consulting Group, a BCG fellow and director of the BCG Institute for Organisation.Yves’ Six Simple Rules of Smart Simplicity, has helped CEOs with their most critical challenges, for instance, moving their companies from quasi bankruptcy to industry leadership.
1. What is the chief thing that managers/leaders get wrong about what effective leadership means today, in your experience?
Managers often don’t understand what their teams really do. They understand the structures, the processes, the systems. But this is not what people do – it is what people are supposed to do. A company’s performance or a department’s performance is what it is because people do what they do, because of their actions, decisions and interactions – their “behaviours”. Because we don’t understand what people do, we create solutions – new structures, processes, systems, scorecards, incentives, training, and communication – that don’t address the root causes.
We don’t solve the problem, we simply add more internal complicatedness. And the more complicatedness we create, the less we understand what is really happening, the thicker the smoke screen, and then the more rules we add. This is the vicious circle of modern management. This is why the first rule of what I call Smart Simplicity is “understand what people really do at work.”
2. Do leadership principles work best when understood as a top-down process, or is this understanding of leadership out of touch with the modern workplace?
From collaboration to performance to employee engagement, everything we know about work is changing – but our businesses are seemingly slow to respond. People are more attuned to sharing posts, writing blogs, and providing instant feedback through ‘likes’ and ‘favourites’ than they are to completing surveys, so why does our approach to employee engagement still centre on a set of fixed statements and a rating scale?
In their personal lives people collaborate naturally with those around them and have an amazing propensity to share even when there is no immediate benefit to them, hence the success of crowdsourcing sites like Wikipedia. So, why do we spend so much time and energy in organisations on encouraging people to practice these seemingly natural behaviours at work?
The challenge for businesses is to disrupt every process and practice in the organisation by asking: Why does it exist? What are we trying to achieve? If we were to start the organisation from scratch, would we choose to create this? And perhaps most tellingly of all, would this practice exist if we trusted our employees?
3. A core feature of your approach to leadership and better workplace productivity is the concept of ‘Smart Simplicity’. How does this play out in a world where the data available to companies now – be it through consumer feedback, predictive modelling, data analytics etc – has surged? Does the effective use of all of this data necessitate more complexity, rather than simplicity?
The environment is more complex – the problems to resolve in order to attract and retain customers, in order to create value and build competitive advantage – are more demanding than in the past. This is a fact of life. Based on our analysis, complexity has been multiplied by 6 over the last 60 years.
The real problem is not business complexity. The real problem is internal complicatedness – the solutions companies typically use to try to respond to this complexity: a proliferation of cumbersome structures, interfaces, coordination bodies and committees, procedures, rules, metrics, key performance indicators and scorecards. Based on our analysis this complicatedness has been multiplied by 35! This complicatedness creates obstacles to productivity and innovation.
People spend their time writing reports, in meetings. There is more and more work on work, and less and less work! A lot of data, a lot of information is always good. The difficulty – and the value-added – is sense-making, to derive meaning and knowledge from the data, so that companies can interpret and act on the data. But complicatedness makes it increasingly difficult for companies to make sense of the data. There is at the same time a data indigestion and a knowledge deprivation.
4. When it comes to Irish businesses, how do their workplace dynamics compare with other countries and what would be your principal advice to them on what to change?
Irish businesses face the same problems as other mature economies. They need to manage the new business complexity without getting complicated. Smart Simplicity is not about becoming simplistic, we cannot ignore the new complexity of business. This is why I refer to “Smart” simplicity. The six rules of Smart Simplicity concern Irish businesses because Irish businesses are also confronted to a greater complexity.
5. Should business leaders focus more on improving employee productivity per se, or should this be balanced with also ensuring that staff are happy at what they do and not afraid to be creative? How does one strike an effective balance?
We must not strike a balance here! We must break the compromise between productivity and happiness or creativity. We must not improve one at the expense of the other. In fact organizational complicatedness hinders productivity while demotivating people and making them suffer at work. They lose direction, purpose and meaning in the labyrinth. They have to work longer and longer, harder and harder, but on less and less value-adding activities.
This is why Smart Simplicity and removing complicatedness simultaneously increases performance and satisfaction at work: because you remove the root-cause common obstacles that hinder both.
6. What do you think are the key organisational challenges that face a country like Ireland over the next few years, for both business managers/leaders and their staff?
Organizations are going through a deep revolution in their ways of working. We are going through a new economic revolution, and every economic revolution entails and organizational revolution. The organizational solutions on which we have built profitable growth over the last 30 years are obsolete. Irish managers and employees will have to invent new ways of working.
Smart Simplicity provides guidelines for this, but what mainly matters is boldness and courage in breaking with conventional wisdom. Irish people are certainly well placed in this respect!
Yves Morieux is a keynote speaker at the IMI National Management Conference taking place on Thursday 8 October. Apologies but this event has now reached maximum capacity.