How to Keep Your Life Simple When Work Gets Complex

Why do people feel so miserable and disengaged at work? In his TEDx Talk below, director of the BCG Institute for Organization Yves Morieux theorizes that companies are too complex. This complexity causes individual employees to suffer. Check out his talk below, wherein Morieux offers six rules for how “smart simplicity” can streamline the workplace.

Why Is Productivity So Disappointing?

Morieux notices a trend in today’s workforce: Despite so many advancements, employees are actively disengaged. He thinks this is because so many company frameworks are built on obsolete pillars—either on hard or soft structure systems.

To understand what he’s talking about, we need a quick lesson in structure systems: A hard structure system is one that complicates things unnecessarily. This 2004 study from IEEE International defines hard structure systems as “the relationship between all the activities which are required by its organization to complete its physical functions, and which does not consider the pursuit of people’s interests.” In other words, hard structure systems “solve” problems by adding more layers of middle management to deal with problems. The hard approach is unable to foster cooperation. It can only add new boxes, more problems, more money. But Morieux points out that doing so just adds more levels at which problems might arise.

A soft structure system, on the other hand, is one that focuses on individual feelings and emotions. The same study defines soft structure systems as “the relationship among all the factors of interest coordination, which takes into account of the pursuit of people’s interests to support the hard structure functions.” The soft approach says that for people to cooperate we must make them like each other, but Morieux says this is totally wrong and in fact counterproductive: the more we like each other, the more we avoid the real cooperation that would strain our relationships by imposing tough tradeoffs.

So, hard structure systems create the environment which make soft structure systems necessary. They go hand-in-hand; one only exists because the other creates a need for it. But according to Morieux both are obsolete.

When People Don’t Cooperate, They Use More Resources

In business, when different levels of any company don’t cooperate, we must constantly add more resources to make things work. Imagine a department in a company that produces consistently low results: in many cases, the company will “solve” this problem by hiring a new manager for the struggling department. Who will pay for that? Not the customers or shareholders, Morieux claims, because they’ll refuse and the market won’t bear it. Instead, when a company functions ineffectively and the cost of productivity increases, it’s the employees who bear the brunt of the cost. This can manifest via stress, burnout, fatigue, and even workplace accidents. No wonder employees disengage!

Smart Simplicity Approach

Morieux’s solution to all of this unnecessary complication of the workplace is his Smart Simplicity Approach. By embracing these rules, companies can replace the outdated hard- and soft-structure frameworks, and get their business running more efficiently, inexpensively, and most important, happily.

  1. Understand what work others do. In your office, make sure you as an employee understand the work that your colleagues do. What is their real work? Go beyond the boxes, the job descriptions. Go beyond the surface of the container to understand the real content. This will help you see the long-term impacts of *your* work, when you understand how it will affect your co-workers’ jobs.
  2. Reinforce integrators. Instead of adding more layers to solve problems, try reinforcing existing managers with the power to help others cooperate. Do this by remove layers: when there are too many layers between managers and their team, they are too far from the action. They don’t understand the reality because they don’t see it up close.
  3. Increase total quantity of power. The bigger we are, the more rules we make, and we end up with rulebooks hundreds of pages long. Morieux says this is exactly opposite of what we should be doing. Even though it seems counterintuitive, he says that the bigger our companies are, the fewer rules we should give our integrators. Instead, we should empower them to use their judgment and intelligence for making critical decisions. Otherwise they will withdraw and disengage.
  4. Extend the shadow of the future. Create feedback loops that expose people to the consequences of their actions. When you don’t understand the impact your work has on later projects, it’s easy to resist cooperation and trade-offs. Morieux uses the excellent example of an automotive company who moved some engine designers and engineers to the repair department after their work on the design was finished. When the engineers began to see firsthand how designing a difficult-to-repair engine actually affected warranty work later on, they were able to make important tradeoffs back at the design table.
  5. Increase reciprocity by removing the buffers that make us self-sufficient…but dysfunctional. When employees have everything they think they need to do their jobs alone, or in a vacuum, it deprives them of one crucial element to success: the ability to ask for help.
  6. Blame the uncooperative. Stop blaming departments for individual failures. Instead, blame the employees who resist helping, or asking for help. Morieux says that blame is not for failure; it is for failure to help or ask for help. By truly reserving discipline for cases of non-cooperation, it will become clear how much your company values teamwork and compromise. This will help employees understand how important it is to become vulnerable at work, and help others overcome their weaknesses as well. Reward those who cooperate for success, and blame the ones who don’t for failure.

The real battle, Morieux says, is not against competitors. The real battle is against ourselves, our bureaucracy, and our rules. If we can streamline these clunky outdated practices by following these six rules, we can create more value with lower cost.

About The Author

Camille Fairbanks

Camille Fairbanks was born and raised in Arizona and now resides in Lethbridge, AB. She received her BA in English from the University of Lethbridge; she now raises her children and her garden full time, and enjoys writing about minimalism and the Zero Waste lifestyle on her blog, The Non-Waster.