SOURCE: The Boston Consulting Group

The Boston Consulting Group

April 30, 2014 09:00 ET

To Make Companies More Competitive, Managers Must Focus on Empowering Their Key Workers -- the Ones Who Stir the Strongest Feelings: Both Negative and Positive

'Integrators' -- Workers Who Are Sometimes Resented and Sometimes Loved -- Drive Others to Cooperate and Solve Problems, Say the Authors of Six Simple Rules, a New Book From The Boston Consulting Group

BOSTON, MA--(Marketwired - Apr 30, 2014) - Managers who want to make their organizations more agile, competitive, and responsive need to identify and empower the key players who get others to cooperate and solve problems: the "integrators."

Integrators are the people who promote autonomy and real cooperation -- qualities that are essential if companies are to develop the flexibility and responsiveness they need to stay competitive in an increasingly complex marketplace, according to Six Simple Rules: How to Manage Complexity Without Getting Complicated, a new book by Yves Morieux and Peter Tollman, senior partners at The Boston Consulting Group (BCG). It was published this month by the Harvard Business Review Press.

Organizations are swamped with coordinators, cross-functional committees, interface groups, and overlays. These roles are exactly the opposite of the role the integrators play, and they are often ineffective and invariably contribute to organization complicatedness.

Integrators are sometimes resented and sometimes loved -- but people are never indifferent to them, the authors say. You might recognize them as the hotel receptionists who balance the demands of angry customers with the constraints of indifferent staff, or anyone else at the center of tension caused by opposing interests. But their unique position between restraints and requirements and their power to "force the issue" impels others to cooperate. This is productive, despite the fact that it sometimes breeds resentment internally.

"Integrators generate strong feelings because they make cooperation happen -- and cooperation is hard," Morieux said. "Cooperation requires many different people and units to work together to produce a single specific result. To do that, they need to put their individual interests aside."

"By contrast, it's easy to simply collaborate with others and coordinate projects; those things are more about process and create much less value, if any at all, than real cooperation," Morieux said. "Cooperation is different; it's about a specific result. People need to come together, understand each other's needs, and produce a piece of work that's more than the sum of its parts. When you try to accomplish that, tensions can rise."

People who evoke strong feelings are frequently the glue that holds cooperation efforts together. "Tension and sometimes anger are signs that real cooperation is happening," Tollman said. "There can also be strong positive feelings or strong negative feelings. One thing you will never find is indifference. When people are indifferent about their colleagues, that's a sign that the colleagues are having no real impact on the work."

Cooperation is important, Morieux and Tollman said, because when workers can cooperate -- and when they have the autonomy to act on their own to solve problems -- they are able to identify and solve problems quickly and efficiently, making companies more competitive and responsive.

Morieux and Tollman cited the example of a cellular-phone-network company in which engineering groups were at loggerheads: one group repeatedly finished its part of a project ahead of the other groups, so the others had to revise their work to match what the fast-working engineers had already done. Recognizing that the fast-working engineers were at the center of the whole project -- they had the potential to be the integrators -- management empowered them by making them responsible not just for their own work but also for the on-time delivery of the final product. The integrators had to understand what other engineers were up against -- and the others were able to match their timing to the integrators. The project smoothed out, and delivery time improved.

Managers should make sure that integrators have the authority and support they need in order to drive cooperation. "When you identify integrators, you must then give them the power, incentives, and authority to succeed," Morieux said.

Identifying and reinforcing integrators is one of the book's "six simple rules." In the book, Morieux and Tollman argue that managers need to abandon many accepted management tools and other abstract management approaches and instead embrace "smart simplicity" -- a set of principles designed to make people more autonomous, cooperative, and able to solve problems -- so that organizations become more competitive.

Smart simplicity starts with the reality of how people behave. "The basic approach of smart simplicity comes down to this: find out what your people are really doing in the organization. Remember that whatever they are doing is rational -- for example, trying to protect their jobs or avoid punishment -- then give them rational reasons for doing what you need," Tollman said.

"Cooperation does not happen because management has named a 'Cooperation Czar,'" Morieux said. "It happens because you have created conditions that allow people to do the hard work of cooperating -- and you reward them for it. Identifying the integrators -- and giving them the tools they need -- is a major part of creating those conditions and setting up your organization for success," he added.

For more information, or to schedule an interview with Yves Morieux or Peter Tollman, contact Frank Lentini, Sommerfield Communications, at +1 (212) 255-8386 or Lentini@sommerfield.com.

About the Authors

Yves Morieux is a senior partner and managing director in the Washington 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 the firm's Boston office. He leads BCG's People & Organization practice in North America.

About The Boston Consulting Group

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.

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