Management & Organization

Eliminate paralyzing rules (and get more done at the same time)

Do you, too, feel that you’re wasting a lot of time on work assignments that basically don’t help you solve your core assignment? That measuring, KPI’s, rules, procedures and structures don’t necessarily make you more productive and, perhaps, even make you less productive? Then you’re not the only one with this feeling. Research show that companies’ ability to be more productive are decreasing.

The difference between complex and complicated

Complexity is more stakeholders, more customers with more choices, more markets, more conflicting demands and faster change, while

Complicated is more procedures, layers, structures and scorecards

By complexity we mean that rules, measuring, clarity and responsibilities make things more complicated. We spend more time managing work than doing it. BCG’s study shows that leaders’ time is spent on writing reports (40 %) and attending meetings (30-60 %).And according to Yves Morieux, from Boston Consulting Group, the reason is increased complexity.

Previously, the solution to increased complexity in companies was to make jobs and solutions more complex. But this doesn’t work.


Cooperation instead of rules

Now, what’s the solution, you might be wondering, and Morieux’ answer is cooperation. “But we're already cooperating”, you might think. And yes, you already cooperate, but since you have to consider KPI’s that measure how efficient you are at fulfilling the very same KPI’s, you spend less time actually solving the company’s core task. Your productivity drops – and that's a problem.

So how do we run a company without setting goals, KPI’s and rules to keep people responsible?

According to Morieux, the answer is ‘cooperation’. The good old fashioned way. Without middlemen and controlling junctions. Cooperation where you are directly responsible for solving the problem and know what your decisions and actions mean to everybody else further down the company’s conveyer belt.

The solution is described in six simple rules:


Rule #1: Find out what your people are doing

Find out what really goes on in your company. Find out which context shapes behavior. And find out how your employees cooperate, find resources and solve problems – or don’t.

To do this you must understand goals, resources and limitations.

Example: A chain of hotels had problems with their earnings and dropping share prices, especially because of low occupancy and low turnover per room. They tried restructuring and redefining roles and customer satisfaction reviews, processes etc. But nothing worked.

The problem was a vicious cycle where rooms were prepared late or held back due to maintenance. This made the customers angry. The cleaning staff was rewarded for cleaning the rooms quickly so they didn’t report the maintenance problems. The receptionists had no other choice than to offer angry customers rebates or other rooms. Therefor they kept rooms in reserve.

The solution was to give the receptionists power over cleaning and maintenance so that they could cooperate on solving the customers’ problems without giving rooms away. It was also made mandatory that leaders had to work in more than one function in order to learn how the division functioned and cooperated.


Rule #2: Strengthen the integrators

Find out where and how cooperation takes place and who makes it happen. These people are the company's integrators. The people and units which bring people together and drive processes. Remove layers and rules and give the integrators power, authority and incitements to make the entire task succeed.

What is an integrator?

An integrator is not a coordinator. An efficient integrator is interested in getting others to cooperate and has the power to encourage them to do it.

How to identify an integrator:

  • They either love or hate their job. This means that they are where limitations and demands meet.
  • They are either loved or hated by others.
  • They are never met with indifference. Indifference is a sign that people lack the power to push forward.
  • They are at the center of conflicts and tension. Tension can in this sense be a good thing, because it’s a sign that people cooperate, which is hard.


Rule #3: More power to more people

Power is not a zero-sum game. By increasing the amount of power it's possible for the leader to act on more performance demands. This strengthens both strategy and leadership and at the same time helps the company react on the demand for complexity. To create power can be a small thing and it may not appear strategic, but it can be very significant for the company’s performance.

Power is the opportunity for one person to make a difference to the problems – or stakes – that are significant to others.

To have something at stake it has to be significant or make a difference. This can either be positive or negative, something that a person or a group wants to achieve or avoid.


Rule #4: Increase reciprocity

The most important lesson you can take away from this article is, perhaps, that cooperation is more important than anything else. But how do we make cooperation work? And why is it so important?

First of all, work becomes more mutually dependent. This means that we have to trust each other more and cooperate directly rather than trust dedicated interfaces, coordinated structures or procedures. These are things that make life more complicated, while reciprocity ensures that we have a common interest of cooperating. This makes people cooperate freely and thus makes life simpler for the organization.

The definition of reciprocity

Reciprocity is when people or units in an organization realize that they are mutually dependent on each other in order to reach their goal. To create reciprocity, it’s necessary to make people dependent on each other, for instance by taking away resources.


Rule #5: Prolong the shadow of the future

This rule is about us knowing what our actions are going to mean – in the future. It must be clear that if I do X it will mean Y.

Actions have consequences and to live with consequences strengthens achievement.


A car manufacturer has problems meeting a line of demands. When a competitor added a five year warranty it became even harder, since their cars were difficult to repair. In order to repair the car’s headlights, for instance, they had to remove the engine.

The problem wasn’t a lack of mutual direction but a lack of cooperation. The solution was simple. Demand that engineers cooperate and make sure that they consider expenses for repair. Specifically, the factory sent some of the engineers down to the service department where they have to repair the cars they'd designed.


Rule #6: Reward those who cooperate

People think cooperation is risky – make it more risky not to cooperate.

Blame and risk avoiding is located at the heart of any organizational culture. But smart organizations accept that problems occur for many different reasons, and the only way to solve them is to minimize the reward for those who don’t contribute to a solution. Performance evaluation and reward systems are central. But instead of punishing mistakes, use systems and evaluations to punish those who avoid helping or who avoid asking for help.


A railroad company had problems with punctuality because employees hid mistakes and operating problems. They introduced a rule that meant that if a unit reports a problem, it’s the units who avoid cooperating on solving the problem that are responsible for the delay. So, “If another unit is the reason why you are delayed, you are responsible.”


Watch this Ted video to get a quick look into Morieux’ work.


Rules, systems and control worked great in the 50’s because everything was more simple back then and change happened more slowly. Today, where everything is far more complex and where changes take place all the time, such measuring, systems and responsibility can actually turn out to be a disadvantage.