Risk & Compliance

The New Complex

Increasingly, consultants are preaching the doctrine of simplicity.
Janet KersnarMarch 3, 2008

There once was a chief executive who was furious at how complex his company had grown. To prove his point, he often waved in the air a routine document that needed as many as 25 signatures. It wasn’t the heavy bureaucratic burden that peeved him. Rather, he was annoyed that, by the time the document finally landed on his desk, there wasn’t any room left for his signature.

This anecdote drew hearty guffaws — and some sheepish grins — at a recent reception for executives in London hosted by Ron Ashkenas, a managing partner at US-based consultancy Robert H Schaffer & Associates, one of many consultants who now preach the religion of simplicity. As Ashkenas noted in a recent Harvard Business Review article, “circumstances have conspired to add layer upon layer of complexity to how businesses are structured and managed.” He was in town to promote his latest work on “simplicity-minded management” and provide advice for companies that have grown unwieldy, ungovernable and, potentially, unprofitable.

The pitch is somewhat ironic, given that pursuing simplicity often involves dismantling some of the complex organisational structures consultants themselves helped to set up, such as the popular matrix-management model. According to research from Krauthammer, a coaching and training consultancy, 85% of companies in Europe are organised around a matrix model, giving employees multiple responsibilities and reporting lines, which can lead to leaderless paralysis.

Thankfully, there’s no shortage of help. Krauthammer, for its part, offers a five-day course to help managers hone their matrix-management skills. Perhaps one of their recommendations will be to redraw the corporate structure into something simpler.

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