Much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to work

“Much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to work”. At first sight this quote from Peter Drucker is self-evident and I could let everyone meditate on it, certain that it generates a high level of consensus.

However, things are never as simple as they seem and it deserves a number of comments.

Complication, the bane of modern business

I keep saying that complication is the bane of business, whether you look at it from the point of view of pure performance or from the point of view of the employee experience, which in any case amounts to the same thing unless you live in a world of Care Bears.

Complication has always been a problem, but today more than ever and certainly less than tomorrow if we do nothing about it. Why is this so?

Because a little complication is inevitable and can be lived with. The problem arises when it accumulates. When you constantly add layers, procedures, coordination mechanisms without removing anything that existed before. By dint of this piling up, the problem arises unless we believe that it can sediment and create oil in a few million years.

Complication is not complexity

I am often told that we live in a complex world and that complication is therefore its inevitable consequence. This is a bias that needs to be addressed.

I explained some time ago that complexity was a product of nature and complication the result of human endeavour. One is inescapable and there is nothing we can do about it, we have to deal with it. The other is the wrong way to respond to it. Business has responded to complexity with complication, and that’s the problem.

As Hervé Sérieyx said : “A Boeing 747 is complicated, whereas a dish of spaghetti is complex“.

Management is not always responsible for the complication

Yes, management is responsible for a large part of the complication experienced by employees insofar as it often seeks to reassure itself by the illusion of a certain control. But control does not allow us to deal with complexity…we keep adding to it in the hope that one day it will work. We continue to live in the illusion of being able to make the Taylorian promise of infinite replication of perfection exist in a complex, dematerialised, knowledge-intensive world.

However, management is not responsible for everything. It is sometimes only the agent of higher authorities. I am not talking here about the management of the business (although there are real discrepancies – justified or not) between what the management deems necessary and what the field deems appropriate, but about the weight of regulatory constraints, for example.

If there isn’t a survey of business leaders’ concerns that doesn’t mention hyper-regulation as a major problem that must mean something.

Of course, regulations can be transposed in a more or less complicated way, but in the end, management will be responsible, willy-nilly, for a certain level of complication that is not of its making.

The complication: an easy scapegoat

However, if complication is a problem, it should not be used as an excuse for anything and everything. I hear more and more people say “it’s (too) complicated” to question things or even to justify in advance the fact that a job will be badly or not at all executed.

The necessary fight against complication should not therefore become a justification for rejecting any rule or framework. Quite the contrary. What makes it possible to simplify things, to increase autonomy instead of multiplying rules, is precisely to have a solid framework: “to have solid load-bearing walls to leave people free to do what they want in the house”.

The challenge for the business is to understand that not all walls are load-bearing and for employees to understand that some walls are load-bearing.

In the meantime, for those who are interested in this subject, I recommend, as always, reading “Six Simple Rules: How to Manage Complexity without Getting Complicatedmart Simplicity” by Yves Morieux.

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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