Monday, February 10, 2014

Complexity is Killing us!

In most companies today, productivity levels at the employee-by-employee level are disappointing, despite
many of the technological advances made espousing to increase productivity.  Research finds that more people are feeling disengaged and disenfranchised at work than ever before, despite all of the leadership development initiatives, motivational attempts and reward systems created. The very complexity of our systems is killing our motivation, engagement and productivity

The issue, as described by Yves Morieux and his team, is that as companies identify new strategic initiatives and directions, they reorganize and restructure to accommodate these new directions. As much as this seems to make a logical and intuitive sense on the surface, Morieux has found that doing so simply adds a new layer of complexity over the top of existing complexity.  Every time we restructure and create new processes and systems, we serve to heighten the confusion and disillusionment of employees, leading to disengagement.

We have checkboxes, scorecards, productivity matrices... all of which are designed to supposedly make things clearer, to make it easier to understand 'what' to do and 'how' to do it.  However, we take people further from the 'why', making it impossible for them to operate outside of the structure we created. Unfortunately for the organization though,  Morieux has found that it is the cooperation between people, not their systems, that truly makes the difference. Adaptive resilience and intelligence are the key.  Whenever people cooperate they use fewer resources and they increase effectiveness. Our increased reliance on systems though, takes us further from this.

The true issue therefore is that in over-structuring our approaches, in creating systems and processes and checklists for everything, we prevent the very thing that truly would help make a difference.  People don't have the flexibility or option to cooperate.  Instead, the lack of cooperation built into our systems, requires individuals to contribute more, to work harder for no bigger gain, leading to increased stress and burnout and an overall lack of awareness of the impact of their efforts.  Which, of course, leads to that sense of disengagement.

Instead, Morieux suggests the introduction of Smart Simplicity, which starts by understanding what your colleagues actually do.

  • You must understand what their real work is, not their tasks but their purpose, in order to integrate your work with theirs more successfully.  
  • Managers should exist to assist with this integration, to help create cooperative pathways. 
  • The power to make concessions to one another, to heighten cooperation, must be pushed to the lowest levels.   
  • Feedback loops need to be created so that employees can 'see' the impact and consequences of their decisions and actions, helping them to make better and more effective choices in the future
  • You must reward those who cooperate
It appears that the key to increased employee's sense of engagement is to truly engage them and to push them to engage with others.  It occurs to me that although Morieux's suggestions are directed at the Corporate level, we also have the ability to heighten our sense of engagement in what we do each day...
  • Ask colleagues 'why' they need something from you.  Coming to understand their function and requirements not only helps you to serve them better (and perhaps more efficiently in future) but it also extends your understanding of the value you provide
  • Look for ways to streamline the integration between overlapping 'systems' to make it easier for you and your colleague to connect your needs in the future
  • Seek out feedback on how your action served the other party.  Determine what worked and what didn't in order to refine your future actions.  Look to do what works and not waste time doing those that don't, even if you thought otherwise.
  • Reward those around you for cooperating with you.  Ensure that you reward and thank those that engage in the behaviours that serve you if you want more of them in future.  In a world that fails to recognise the contributions of the 'individual', your recognition of theirs will go a long way to ensuring that you get the cooperation you need in future.
In reviewing the ideas and suggestions above, it occurs to me that this list of action steps might not just simply be a way to feel more engagement on the job, but in your life.  Despite all of the focus of people on fulfilling the needs of 'me' over the past years, it may just seem that Cooperation proves to be the best way to get more of what 'we' want after all.  

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