Inside BCG's Smart Simplicity Approach

Boston Consulting Group
Boston Consulting GroupSocial Media Marketing Specialist at Boston Consulting Group

Today’s leaders are poorly served by conventional management theories and practices. Instead of helping executives manage the growing complexity of business, the supposed solutions only seem to make things worse. A new book from BCG outlines a better approach to managing complexity. The approach is called smart simplicity, and it hinges on six simple rules.

introducing six simple rules of
smart simplicity®
highlights from a new book by
the boston consulting group
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3 4
5 6
Challenge conventional wisdom and apply six simple rules.
How do companies
create value and
achieve competitive advantage
in an age of
increasing complexity?
Complexity can be a good thing…
•	 It affects everyone—so if you can master it, you win.
•	 The winners will be the companies that can
	 transform complexity into competitive advantage.
But it’s never good to be complicated…
•	 Rules, procedures, and structures get in the way
	 of performance and make organizations worse,
	 not better.
•	 Organizations get rigid… and can’t respond, especially 			
	 when it comes to making judgments about conflicting 			
	requirements.
•	 People work harder on activities that add less and 				
	 less value… and make less of a difference.
Organizations take one of two approaches—or sometimes both.
And they’re both wrong.
The hard approach: structures, processes, systems, and financial incentives
•	 This approach assumes that systems are predictable and people are the weak
	 link in the chain of reliability. Systems are designed to control people.
The soft approach: team building, people initiatives, off-site retreats, focus on
leadership style, and emotional incentives
•	 This approach assumes that performance depends on interpersonal relationships 		
	 and psychology rules. Therefore, if you appeal to people’s psychological needs,
	 you can control them.
Both of these approaches seek to achieve control. In so doing, they make
organizations complicated—slower, more bureaucratic, bogged down in process,
and, more important, unable to manage the complexity of the environments in
which they operate.
What’s needed is:
•	 Less-direct control based on the hard and soft approaches
•	 Fewer systems
•	 More flexibility
•	 More autonomy
Such an organization is nimble—and better able to respond to complexity because it
better leverages people’s judgment and energy. It achieves Smart Simplicity®.
Rule One:
Understand What Your People Do
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Find Out
What’s Really Happening
in Your Organization
Know the contexts that shape behaviors—what’s
really happening in your organization. Learn how
your people cooperate, find resources, and solve
problems—or fail to do so.
Key questions to ask your people in order to
understand their contexts:
•	 What are the most interesting and frustrating aspects
	 of your job. Why?
•	 What are the key problems you have to deal with?
•	 How do you solve them?
•	How do you know if your solutions work?
•	 Who do you have to interact with to do your job?
Keep in mind:
Behaviors are rational solutions in a particular context
•	 People always have reasons for the things they do
•	 Every behavior is a solution to a problem
Rule Two:
Reinforce Integrators
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5 6
Look for Cooperation.
Hint: You’ll Find It Where
People Are Resented
This is part of knowing the context: Find out how
cooperation happens—and who makes it happen.
Identify the “integrators”—the people and units
who bring others together and drive processes.
Eliminate layers and rules­and give the integrators
the power, authority, and incentives to make
the entire task succeed.
Integrators aren’t coordinators
•	 An effective integrator has both an interest in making others 		
	 cooperate and the power to impel them to do so.
How to identify integrators
•	 They love or hate their job. This means they are at a nexus where 		
	 constraints and requirements meet.
•	 They are loved or hated by others. This shows they have their 		
	 hands on the levers of cooperation and are using this power to 		
	 their own advantage.
•	 They are never met with indifference. Indifference is a sign that 		
	 people have no power to ”force the issue” and impel cooperation.
•	 They are at the center of tension. Tension in this case can be a 		
	 good thing. It might mean that people are doing the hard work of 		
	 cooperating. A lack of tension might mean that people are
	 avoiding cooperation.
Turn managers into integrators
•	 Remove managerial positions if they don’t influence people
	 to cooperate.
•	 Minimize rules. Too many rules keep managers from exercising 		
	judgment.
•	 Rely on judgment over metrics. Cooperation cannot be measured 		
	 directly—it’s impossible to say who contributes what. Turn 		
	 managers into integrators by relying on their judgment instead of 		
	 pseudo-precise metrics.
Rule Three:
Increase the Total Quantity of Power
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3 4
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More Power to More People!
Power isn’t a zero-sum game. Increasing the total
quantity of power available in the organization allows
managers to think about and act on more performance
requirements. This supports strategy and leadership…
and helps organizations respond to the demands of
complexity. Creating power can be a small matter—
like giving store managers control over staffing—and it
doesn’t necessarily look “strategic.” But it can have
a real impact on performance.
Three myths about power
•	 Power is an attribute of position. No. Reporting lines are just
	 formal conventions without any automatic effect.
•	 Authority is equivalent to power. Wrong. Authority provides the 		
	 legitimacy to exercise power, not power itself.
•	 Power is an attribute of individuals and their leadership style. 		
	 Again, not true. Personal attributes and style may be ways to 		
	 exercise power but they don’t determine whether an individual has 	
	 power in the first place.
Why you must create new power centers
•	 Power determines the capacity to impel cooperation—and that’s 		
	 essential for addressing business complexity.
•	Therefore power in the organization needs to be more than a
	 zero-sum game. If someone always loses power as others gain it, 		
	 then, there will always be someone without the power to impel 		
	cooperation.
•	 New power helps the organization. You can channel the
	 intelligence of more people against more fronts. The organization 		
	 becomes more flexible, adaptive, and effective.
When to add power
•	 Think about increasing the total quantity of power whenever 		
	 you consider changing your organization’s structure, processes 		
	 and systems. See if creating new power bases could satisfy more 		
	 requirements in dealing with complexity.
Rule Four:
Increase Reciprocity
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3 4
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Make Cooperation Happen
Work is becoming more interdependent. That means
that people need to rely more on each other—and
cooperate directly instead of relying on dedicated
interfaces, coordination structures, or procedures.
Those things make life complicated—while “reciprocity,”
which ensures that people have a mutual interest in
cooperation (and that their success depends on each
other), makes people cooperate more autonomously
and, therefore, makes organizational life simpler.
How to create reciprocity
•	 Eliminate internal monopolies. They kill cooperation because they 		
	 don’t need to take into account the needs and constraints of others.
•	 Remove resources. If you take away the extra TVs in a household, 		
	 people will have to cooperate to decide what to watch on the one 		
	 remaining TV.
•	 Create “multiplexity”: Networks of interaction. Put people in
	 situations (such as communities of practice) where they have to 		
	 address mutual performance requirements.
Misconceptions about roles and objectives
•	 The more clarity, the better. No. A certain degree of fuzziness can 		
	 be a good thing.
	 A relay race team works best when some objectives are defined (the 	
	 first runner needs to get out of the blocks quickly) but others are left up 	
	 to the runners (where exactly on the course to pass the baton to your 	
	teammate).
•	 Cooperation dilutes personal responsibility. Or, “if everybody is
	 responsible then nobody is responsible.” But interdependency makes
	 it impossible to parse the amount of each person’s responsibility.
	 Two relay racers are jointly responsible in the short distance where
	 the handoff takes place. If the baton drops, both are at fault.
•	 Interdependency destroys accountability. “How can I be responsible
for results that depend on the performance of others?” It’s wrong to
think we can be accountable for our work only if we are the sole
authority over it and control all the resources.
	 Each runner is responsible for the performance of the entire team.
Rule Five:
Extend the Shadow of the Future
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3 4
5 6
Actions Have Consequences—
and Living the Consequences
Boosts Performance
Increase the importance to people of what happens
tomorrow as a consequence of what they do today.
By making simple changes, you can manage
complex requirements while making the organization
less complicated.
How to extend the shadow of the future:
•	 Tighten the feedback loop so people feel consequences more 		
	 frequently. Have your people interact more frequently with others 		
	 whose work is affected by their actions.
•	 Bring the end point forward. Make sure people’s involvement in 		
	 the work continues to the end point of the activity—the point at 		
	 which the consequences of their actions show up in collective 		
	results.
•	 Tie futures together so that success requires contributing to the 		
	 success of others.
•	 Make people walk in the shoes they make for others, so they are 		
	 exposed to the problems their current behaviors could create.
Rule Six:
Reward Those Who Cooperate
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People Think Cooperation Is Risky—
Make It Riskier Not to Cooperate
Blame and risk aversion are at the heart of
organizational culture. But smart organizations accept
that problems happen for many reasons, and the only
way to solve them is to reduce the payoff for those who
don’t contribute to a solution. Performance evaluation
and reward systems are the key—but instead of using
them to punish failure, use them instead to punish
failure to help, or to ask for help.
How to reward cooperation
•	 Don’t punish or blame people for results—but do encourage 		
	 in-depth knowledge of how results were obtained, and who
	 helped out.
•	 Use managers and feedback loops to capture how each individual 		
	 contributes to the effectiveness of others. This makes it more 		
	 difficult to pass the buck.
•	 Ask the right questions. Traditional evaluations make people 		
	 defensive: “Why aren’t you hitting your targets?” To get their 		
	 people off the defensive, instead ask: “What do people say when 		
	 they complain about you?” “What personal risk are you taking in all 		
	 this?” “How can I help you get the cooperation you need?” Questions 		
	 like these get people focused on cooperation—and encourage 		
	 them to cooperate by reassuring them that they have your 			
	support.
•	 Avoid the influence of vested interests. Set goals for the best
	 group result, not just the best outcome for your function.
•	 Refuse escalation. When decisions get pushed to a higher level,
	 it can mean that peer groups aren’t cooperating. By refusing to 		
	 arbitrate, a manager can promote real cooperation—even if that 		
	 involves hard work and conflict.
It’s About Performance:
Why You Should Adopt the
Six Simple Rulesce
The primary goal of the simple rules is to create more value
by better managing business complexity. This involves
abandoning the hard and soft approaches. In so doing you also
remove complicatedness and its costs. Simplification is not a
goal in itself, but a valuable by-product of the simple rules.
The simple rules are battle-proven ways to leverage state-of-
the-art thinking and practices from the social sciences to break
the vicious cycle of complicatedness, help companies grow,
create enduring value, and achieve competitive advantage.
Making the Six Simple Rules Work
in Your Organization
The Six Simple Rules are designed to be practical and fast to implement.
These pointers will help you put them to work in your organization…
Use pain points to discover where cooperation is needed:
•	 “Our on-time performance is too low.”
•	 “Our occupancy rate is below target.”
•	 “Our time to market is too long.”
•	 “Our products aren’t innovative enough.”
Ask your people what they’d do differently if they were cooperating:
•	 Make sure they talk in specifics: it’s not about “trust” or “responsiveness”; 		
	 it’s about having maintenance tell us when the train will be late.
Have them define the difference that cooperation would make
Find out what’s getting in the way of cooperation:
•	 How do some behaviors lead to other behaviors?
•	 Learn what goals, resources, and constraints make people do what
	 they’re doing now—instead of cooperating. Too many resources?
	 Power that lets them avoid cooperation? Or not enough power to take
	 the risk of cooperating?
About the authors
Yves Morieux is a senior partner and managing director in the Washington DC
office of The Boston Consulting Group. He is a BCG Fellow and director of the
BCG Institute for Organization.
Peter Tollman is a senior partner and managing director in BCG’s Boston office.
He leads BCG’s People & Organization practice in North America.
To learn more
For additional insights and materials, please visit https://www.bcgperspectives.com/
sixsimplerules. Yves and Peter are available to talk with the press and organizations.
To join the conversation on Six Simple Rules, please use the Twitter hashtag #6simplerules.
Six Simple Rules is published by Harvard Business Review Press and is available everywhere.
Contact:
Frank Lentini
Sommerfield Communications
(212) 255-8386
lentini@sommerfield.com
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is a global management consulting firm and the world’s leading
advisor on business strategy. We partner with clients from the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors
in all regions to identify their highest-value opportunities, address their most critical challenges, and
transform their enterprises. Our customized approach combines deep insight into the dynamics of
companies and markets with close collaboration at all levels of the client organization. This ensures that
our clients achieve sustainable competitive advantage, build more capable organizations, and secure
lasting results. Founded in 1963, BCG is a private company with 81 offices in 45 countries.
For more information, please visit bcg.com.
© The Boston Consulting Group, Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

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Inside BCG's Smart Simplicity Approach

  • 1. introducing six simple rules of smart simplicity® highlights from a new book by the boston consulting group 1 2 3 4 5 6 Challenge conventional wisdom and apply six simple rules.
  • 2. How do companies create value and achieve competitive advantage in an age of increasing complexity?
  • 3. Complexity can be a good thing… • It affects everyone—so if you can master it, you win. • The winners will be the companies that can transform complexity into competitive advantage. But it’s never good to be complicated… • Rules, procedures, and structures get in the way of performance and make organizations worse, not better. • Organizations get rigid… and can’t respond, especially when it comes to making judgments about conflicting requirements. • People work harder on activities that add less and less value… and make less of a difference.
  • 4. Organizations take one of two approaches—or sometimes both. And they’re both wrong. The hard approach: structures, processes, systems, and financial incentives • This approach assumes that systems are predictable and people are the weak link in the chain of reliability. Systems are designed to control people. The soft approach: team building, people initiatives, off-site retreats, focus on leadership style, and emotional incentives • This approach assumes that performance depends on interpersonal relationships and psychology rules. Therefore, if you appeal to people’s psychological needs, you can control them. Both of these approaches seek to achieve control. In so doing, they make organizations complicated—slower, more bureaucratic, bogged down in process, and, more important, unable to manage the complexity of the environments in which they operate. What’s needed is: • Less-direct control based on the hard and soft approaches • Fewer systems • More flexibility • More autonomy Such an organization is nimble—and better able to respond to complexity because it better leverages people’s judgment and energy. It achieves Smart Simplicity®.
  • 5. Rule One: Understand What Your People Do 1 2 3 4 5 6
  • 6. Find Out What’s Really Happening in Your Organization Know the contexts that shape behaviors—what’s really happening in your organization. Learn how your people cooperate, find resources, and solve problems—or fail to do so.
  • 7. Key questions to ask your people in order to understand their contexts: • What are the most interesting and frustrating aspects of your job. Why? • What are the key problems you have to deal with? • How do you solve them? • How do you know if your solutions work? • Who do you have to interact with to do your job? Keep in mind: Behaviors are rational solutions in a particular context • People always have reasons for the things they do • Every behavior is a solution to a problem
  • 9. Look for Cooperation. Hint: You’ll Find It Where People Are Resented This is part of knowing the context: Find out how cooperation happens—and who makes it happen. Identify the “integrators”—the people and units who bring others together and drive processes. Eliminate layers and rules­and give the integrators the power, authority, and incentives to make the entire task succeed.
  • 10. Integrators aren’t coordinators • An effective integrator has both an interest in making others cooperate and the power to impel them to do so. How to identify integrators • They love or hate their job. This means they are at a nexus where constraints and requirements meet. • They are loved or hated by others. This shows they have their hands on the levers of cooperation and are using this power to their own advantage. • They are never met with indifference. Indifference is a sign that people have no power to ”force the issue” and impel cooperation. • They are at the center of tension. Tension in this case can be a good thing. It might mean that people are doing the hard work of cooperating. A lack of tension might mean that people are avoiding cooperation. Turn managers into integrators • Remove managerial positions if they don’t influence people to cooperate. • Minimize rules. Too many rules keep managers from exercising judgment. • Rely on judgment over metrics. Cooperation cannot be measured directly—it’s impossible to say who contributes what. Turn managers into integrators by relying on their judgment instead of pseudo-precise metrics.
  • 11. Rule Three: Increase the Total Quantity of Power 1 2 3 4 5 6
  • 12. More Power to More People! Power isn’t a zero-sum game. Increasing the total quantity of power available in the organization allows managers to think about and act on more performance requirements. This supports strategy and leadership… and helps organizations respond to the demands of complexity. Creating power can be a small matter— like giving store managers control over staffing—and it doesn’t necessarily look “strategic.” But it can have a real impact on performance.
  • 13. Three myths about power • Power is an attribute of position. No. Reporting lines are just formal conventions without any automatic effect. • Authority is equivalent to power. Wrong. Authority provides the legitimacy to exercise power, not power itself. • Power is an attribute of individuals and their leadership style. Again, not true. Personal attributes and style may be ways to exercise power but they don’t determine whether an individual has power in the first place. Why you must create new power centers • Power determines the capacity to impel cooperation—and that’s essential for addressing business complexity. • Therefore power in the organization needs to be more than a zero-sum game. If someone always loses power as others gain it, then, there will always be someone without the power to impel cooperation. • New power helps the organization. You can channel the intelligence of more people against more fronts. The organization becomes more flexible, adaptive, and effective. When to add power • Think about increasing the total quantity of power whenever you consider changing your organization’s structure, processes and systems. See if creating new power bases could satisfy more requirements in dealing with complexity.
  • 15. Make Cooperation Happen Work is becoming more interdependent. That means that people need to rely more on each other—and cooperate directly instead of relying on dedicated interfaces, coordination structures, or procedures. Those things make life complicated—while “reciprocity,” which ensures that people have a mutual interest in cooperation (and that their success depends on each other), makes people cooperate more autonomously and, therefore, makes organizational life simpler.
  • 16. How to create reciprocity • Eliminate internal monopolies. They kill cooperation because they don’t need to take into account the needs and constraints of others. • Remove resources. If you take away the extra TVs in a household, people will have to cooperate to decide what to watch on the one remaining TV. • Create “multiplexity”: Networks of interaction. Put people in situations (such as communities of practice) where they have to address mutual performance requirements. Misconceptions about roles and objectives • The more clarity, the better. No. A certain degree of fuzziness can be a good thing. A relay race team works best when some objectives are defined (the first runner needs to get out of the blocks quickly) but others are left up to the runners (where exactly on the course to pass the baton to your teammate). • Cooperation dilutes personal responsibility. Or, “if everybody is responsible then nobody is responsible.” But interdependency makes it impossible to parse the amount of each person’s responsibility. Two relay racers are jointly responsible in the short distance where the handoff takes place. If the baton drops, both are at fault. • Interdependency destroys accountability. “How can I be responsible for results that depend on the performance of others?” It’s wrong to think we can be accountable for our work only if we are the sole authority over it and control all the resources. Each runner is responsible for the performance of the entire team.
  • 17. Rule Five: Extend the Shadow of the Future 1 2 3 4 5 6
  • 18. Actions Have Consequences— and Living the Consequences Boosts Performance Increase the importance to people of what happens tomorrow as a consequence of what they do today. By making simple changes, you can manage complex requirements while making the organization less complicated.
  • 19. How to extend the shadow of the future: • Tighten the feedback loop so people feel consequences more frequently. Have your people interact more frequently with others whose work is affected by their actions. • Bring the end point forward. Make sure people’s involvement in the work continues to the end point of the activity—the point at which the consequences of their actions show up in collective results. • Tie futures together so that success requires contributing to the success of others. • Make people walk in the shoes they make for others, so they are exposed to the problems their current behaviors could create.
  • 20. Rule Six: Reward Those Who Cooperate 1 2 3 4 5 6
  • 21. People Think Cooperation Is Risky— Make It Riskier Not to Cooperate Blame and risk aversion are at the heart of organizational culture. But smart organizations accept that problems happen for many reasons, and the only way to solve them is to reduce the payoff for those who don’t contribute to a solution. Performance evaluation and reward systems are the key—but instead of using them to punish failure, use them instead to punish failure to help, or to ask for help.
  • 22. How to reward cooperation • Don’t punish or blame people for results—but do encourage in-depth knowledge of how results were obtained, and who helped out. • Use managers and feedback loops to capture how each individual contributes to the effectiveness of others. This makes it more difficult to pass the buck. • Ask the right questions. Traditional evaluations make people defensive: “Why aren’t you hitting your targets?” To get their people off the defensive, instead ask: “What do people say when they complain about you?” “What personal risk are you taking in all this?” “How can I help you get the cooperation you need?” Questions like these get people focused on cooperation—and encourage them to cooperate by reassuring them that they have your support. • Avoid the influence of vested interests. Set goals for the best group result, not just the best outcome for your function. • Refuse escalation. When decisions get pushed to a higher level, it can mean that peer groups aren’t cooperating. By refusing to arbitrate, a manager can promote real cooperation—even if that involves hard work and conflict.
  • 23. It’s About Performance: Why You Should Adopt the Six Simple Rulesce The primary goal of the simple rules is to create more value by better managing business complexity. This involves abandoning the hard and soft approaches. In so doing you also remove complicatedness and its costs. Simplification is not a goal in itself, but a valuable by-product of the simple rules. The simple rules are battle-proven ways to leverage state-of- the-art thinking and practices from the social sciences to break the vicious cycle of complicatedness, help companies grow, create enduring value, and achieve competitive advantage.
  • 24. Making the Six Simple Rules Work in Your Organization The Six Simple Rules are designed to be practical and fast to implement. These pointers will help you put them to work in your organization… Use pain points to discover where cooperation is needed: • “Our on-time performance is too low.” • “Our occupancy rate is below target.” • “Our time to market is too long.” • “Our products aren’t innovative enough.” Ask your people what they’d do differently if they were cooperating: • Make sure they talk in specifics: it’s not about “trust” or “responsiveness”; it’s about having maintenance tell us when the train will be late. Have them define the difference that cooperation would make Find out what’s getting in the way of cooperation: • How do some behaviors lead to other behaviors? • Learn what goals, resources, and constraints make people do what they’re doing now—instead of cooperating. Too many resources? Power that lets them avoid cooperation? Or not enough power to take the risk of cooperating?
  • 25. About the authors Yves Morieux is a senior partner and managing director in the Washington DC office of The Boston Consulting Group. He is a BCG Fellow and director of the BCG Institute for Organization. Peter Tollman is a senior partner and managing director in BCG’s Boston office. He leads BCG’s People & Organization practice in North America. To learn more For additional insights and materials, please visit https://www.bcgperspectives.com/ sixsimplerules. Yves and Peter are available to talk with the press and organizations. To join the conversation on Six Simple Rules, please use the Twitter hashtag #6simplerules. Six Simple Rules is published by Harvard Business Review Press and is available everywhere. Contact: Frank Lentini Sommerfield Communications (212) 255-8386 lentini@sommerfield.com The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is a global management consulting firm and the world’s leading advisor on business strategy. We partner with clients from the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors in all regions to identify their highest-value opportunities, address their most critical challenges, and transform their enterprises. Our customized approach combines deep insight into the dynamics of companies and markets with close collaboration at all levels of the client organization. This ensures that our clients achieve sustainable competitive advantage, build more capable organizations, and secure lasting results. Founded in 1963, BCG is a private company with 81 offices in 45 countries. For more information, please visit bcg.com. © The Boston Consulting Group, Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.