What I Learnt From ‘Six Simple Rules’

Six Simple rules is a book by Yves Morieux & Peter Tollman, focused on how business complexity can be managed in a more simplistic way. It’s based on their experiences with a variety of organisations.

This really resonated with me, as I reflected on how we have already set things up at SEEK to avoid being overly complex. They’ve also provided some good tips on how to look differently at organisational problems / challenges.

An overarching theme of the book that I really liked, was that in today’s complicated business environment, you need to setup organisational structures based on cooperation. This is no less true with SEEK. When I think of the product delivery function here, the critical element to being successful is that our teams cooperate to deliver value for our customers. This is true when you think about the experience (needing to think beyond the part you specifically own) and also how you prioritise work and get value delivered. There is no structure in a product organisation the size of SEEK’s that will avoid the need for cooperation and we shouldn’t want it.

Collaboration across different teams at SEEK

Our customers see us as one company & go through one experience — they don’t care if there are 5 teams involved. It’s our job to ensure they can’t tell there are multiple teams delivering their ‘one’ experience.

I like to think that we don’t really ‘own’ our parts of the experience — more that we are custodians of it. Here’s a quote from the book that really summed this up nicely —

No matter how you arrange the boxes on an org chart, there will always be performance requirements that fall between them requiring cooperation

The rules covered in the book are based on the premise that the key to managing complexity is the combination of autonomy and cooperation. Individual autonomy harnesses people’s flexibility and agility; meanwhile cooperation brings alignment so everyone’s efforts are multiplied in the most effective way for the group.

Some of the scientific factors contributing to the theory of the book that I liked:

  • Human behavior is strategic — there are always ‘good’ reasons for how people behave and you just have to understand them. Key to this, is that people start with good intentions.
  • Formal rules and procedures don’t have an effect on people’s behavior — it’s the ways people use them and the behavior it drives.

The ‘rules’ themselves are:

  1. Understand what your people do — what people actually do and why they do it, remembering people always start with good intent.

The key here is to understand the problems that your people are trying to solve day to day & what’s in it for them or at stake for them personally. This will help you better understand their actions & why challenges might be occurring. You often know what people are meant to do and why, but if you ask the right questions you can see the constraints and opportunities they are operating under.

Find out how your organisation’s elements shape your people’s goals, resources and constraints & this will help inform more simplistic organizational changes that you can make.

2. Reinforce Integrators —Integrators are directly involved in cooperation, where the action takes place.

It’s good to explore where tension may be occurring between groups — in some cases the tension maybe conflict that’s blocking useful cooperation. In other cases the tension may be totally fine — it’s a sign they are cooperating.

A good tip in the book on integrators — Try and help managers to be integrators by not having too many managers. Also limit specific rules on how they should do things so that they can use their own judgement and decision making. At SEEK, one of our attributes we measure performance on is judgment and decision making; we like to provide every SEEKer with the opportunity to exhibit this in their daily work.

When it comes to assessing the need for managerial roles, really think about the unique value they offer and what would happen if the role didn’t exist. This is a good way to avoid too many unnecessary layers.

Another good tip — when working through what teams do, ask them to describe what others would be doing if they were successfully cooperating. Be clear on the vision for cooperation and what it would look like.

3. Increase the total quality of power

Power is the possibility for one person to make a difference on issues — or stakes — that matter to someone else.

Ideally what you want to do, is increase the total quantity of power in your business. Power given to some people should not come by taking power from others. Ensure that managers have enough power to affect change on matters that concern their people. If these managers can’t impact change for their people, you are not really setting them up for success, as their people will question their position.

4. Increase reciprocity

While there should be role clarity, there should be a level of ambiguity between roles.

A good tip from the book — Resist the urge to clarify roles, decision rights and processes. Try to keep some overlap between roles so that people need to cooperate.

5. Extend the shadow of the future

This rule focuses on trying to have a shorter feedback loop to encourage cooperation and achievement. This is where the power of regular check-ins and milestones really helps to ensure that your people keep on track.

This is where you need your people to be responsible for the impacts of what they build / create. I’ve seen this work well, in product delivery teams where you have people take ongoing ownership of an area. Therefore, they are motivated to build things of quality, given they will be maintaining it.

Regular check-ins keep everyone on track

6. Reward those who cooperate

Ensure that cooperation & also how people cooperate, is in your performance reviews. People should be held accountable, especially when they aren’t helping others who need their help.

In summary of the rules themselves, I found rules 1, 2 & 4 most interesting & applicable to our business context.

I really like this concept of focusing on autonomy and cooperation to simplify how things get done in your organisation. Before adding layers, focus on how you can better set up the people you have. Then ensure they have the right power and ability to use their judgement. Focus on the unique value that leaders can provide & what would happen if they weren’t there, to ensure you are not adding people / roles that you may not need.