Six Rules of Smart Simplicity

How to fix the mistakes that cooperatives and companies make

Too many rules and too many metrics stand in the way of getting things done in organizations, Yves Morieux says. (Photo By: Steven Johnson)
Too many rules and too many metrics stand in the way of getting things done in organizations, Yves Morieux says. (Photo By: Steven Johnson)

QUÉBEC CITY—In 1987, 61 percent of workers in the United States said they were happy with their jobs. Now that number, as reported in an annual Conference Board survey, has fallen to 48 percent.

If you want that trend to continue, keep doing what you’re doing, Yves Morieux tells business leaders. Complicate the workplace, introduce more metrics and scorecards, and add new rules and structures.

Or you could increase employee satisfaction and productivity by emphasizing cooperation and liberating people’s intelligence, he says.

“Cooperatives are very well placed to do this, especially when you think about proximity, democracy, solidarity, autonomy and cooperation,” Morieux said Oct. 12 at the International Summit of Cooperatives.

“We are talking about what I call ‘smart simplicity,’ ”he said. “Cooperation is an accelerator, a multiplier of intelligence.”

Morieux is an authority on what makes organizations tick—or, more frequently, fail to tick. He is senior partner and managing director at the Boston Consulting Group and directs its Institute for Organization.

Based on the group’s work with hundreds of companies around the globe, Morieux is convinced that many of them have done a pretty poor job of organizing, designing and managing work, leading to disengaged employees.

“All the issues we are facing today can be traced back to the productivity crisis,” he said. “You can call it populism, you can call it extremism, you can call it Brexit,” he said.

Yves Morieux discusses smart simplicity as Oskar Goitia of Spain looks on. (Photo By: Sommet International des Coopératives)

While cooperatives represent an alternative business model, they also stand to improve on two counts, he added. First, co-ops often come up short by confusing real cooperation at work with friendliness or office parties or awards.

“No, the more we like each other, the more we avoid the real cooperation. We avoid the tough tradeoffs,” Morieux said.

Additionally, “cooperatives lose their doctrine and they try to incorporate what they call the best practices from the traditional businesses— scorecards and KPIs [key performance indicators],” Morieux said. “Cooperation cannot be measured.”

What to do? Simplify. Let workers use their judgment and common sense. With colleague Peter Tollman, Morieux has developed six rules for “smart simplicity.”

Understand what your people do. Learn about the problems they deal with and how they solve them. “You may not like what your people do,” Morieux said, “but 100 percent of what they do is 100 percent aligned with the context you have created.”

Reinforce integrators. Identify the people and units—integrators— that bring others together. Remove managerial layers that do not add value through cooperation.

Increase the total quantity of power. You can create new roles and give people more power to make decisions without taking power away from others. Power is not a zero-sum game, he noted.

Increase reciprocity. Work is becoming more independent, so make sure people have a mutual interest in cooperation. As Morieux said, taking away extra TVs in a household means people will have to cooperate to decide what to watch.

Extend the shadow of the future. Make managers walk in the shoes they make for others, Moreiux said, so they are exposed to the problems their current behaviors create.

Reward those who cooperate. Increase the payoff for people who cooperate and reduce it for those who don’t.

Steven Johnson is a staff writer at NRECA.