How to Manage Complexity without Getting Complicated


Unlike what’s often said, the complexity of their environment is not what makes businesses struggle. Their real issue is their internal complication what makes them unable to face the external complexity. That’s what Yves Morieux, Senior Partner & Fellow, Boston Consulting Group writes about in Six Simple Rules: How to Manage Complexity without Getting Complicated

I had the chance to see Yves Morieux on stage twice in a year, at HRtech Europe in Amsterdam in 2014 and at the HRTech Word Congress 2015 in Paris, and each time his words full of common sense hit the target.

Quick overview of a book I recommend anyone to read.


Yves Morieux, Senior Partner at  BCG.


Six Simple Rules: How to Manage Complexity without Getting Complicated

The big picture.

As the external world was getting more and more complex, businesses replied by adding more and more internal complication (more managers, more processes, systems, scorecards). Today this complication prevent businesses from meeting market expectations and the organization and managerial causes of this complication should be replaced by more cooperation.

In details.

Morieux proposes 6 rules to simplify businesses

1°) Know what people are actually doing

People don’t wake up with the purpose of not doing something. Not cooperating, not serving customers, not contributing to the success of the company. They wake up to do things and it’s important to know what in order to understand why.

As irrational as work behaviors may look they are the result of employees rationality. They do what they think is best to meet a goal according the their constraints. But businesses seldom know what these goals are (in fact they’re not the ones people have been assigned), what their constraints are to understand why they behave this way. Most of times, businesses biggest problems are caused by competing goals.

2°) Reinforce integrators

Being an integrator is not a function but a role anyone can fulfill in his job. The idea is to identify and reinforce those who can favor cooperation because of their position or interest.

Integrators are not always managers but we can wonder if a “good” manager can not be an integrator.

3°) Expand the amount of power in the organization

Power is the ability to have an impact, to change things. It’s not the same as authority or legitimacy. A business can distribute the existing power, ie the the ability to make things happen, to change things, but it won’t increase the overall ability to move forward. By increasing the amount of available power, businesses increase their ability to adapt and improve.

4°) Increase reciprocity

Everyone must understand and admit the need for cooperation. It implies new mechanisms to set goals (individual, collective, mixed) and more autonomy that, unlike self-sufficiency, reinforce the ability to act and cooperate.

5°) Make employees feel the shadow of the future

Everyone must understand the future consequences of his actions to better understand the impact of his decisions on others. That’s true for individual decisions but also for the implementation of systems of procedures which counterproductive impacts must be anticipated.

6°) Reward those who cooperate

Cooperation can’t be measured, its impacts do. Businesses must rely on observation and judgement to reward those who cooperate. In the same way, the costs of not cooperating must be supported by those who don’t cooperate instead of those who are impacted by those who don’t cooperate. What requires a transparent organization.

Worth knowing

• In 1955, businesses had between 4 and 7 performance imperatives. They have between 25 and 50 today.

• 15 to 50% of the related indicators are competing, what was not the case in 1955.

• In the most complicated organizations, managers spend more than 40% of their time writing reports and from 30 to 60% in coordination meetings.

• In the most complicated organization, staff spend 40 to 80% of their time wasting it. Not because they do nothing but because what they do is not productive.

• Over the last 15 years, the number of interface and coordination structures, of control processes grew by 50 to 350%

• There is no relationship between the size of a business and its complicatedness. One can be big and simple or small and complicated.

My comment.

That’s a book full of common sense that should be meaningful to any manager or leader. This book also goes against lots of received ideas on management, processes, accountability and measurement but in a logical and argued way.

That said, I also see in this book the confirmation of a deep tend : beyond technology, the digitization of organization and the struggle to make sense of it, businesses are facing a simplification issue.

To watch

Yves Morieux speeches at TED and his interview by the Harvard Business Review. With a quote that should be displayed in any office ;

” When managers don’t add value they substract value. When managers substract value, businesses must substract managers”.


  • jonhusband

    Really good. Thanks for surfacing this, Bertrand. It will be useful to me tomorrow.