Simply Effective

Ashkenas_300dpi-99x150With efficiency and productivity at work currently being more important than ever before, most managers feel that they are working harder yet achieving less. Ron Ashkenas has identified four major causes of complexity in an organisation: structural fragmentation (constant changes within the organisational structure), product proliferation (the extension of product lines and services), the evolution of processes, and management behaviour.

Throughout the whole book, Ashkenas illustrates these causes of complexity with the aid of an interesting case study of the company Con-Agra Foods, where, upon his arrival from PepsiCo, the new CEO Gary Rodkin discovered an organisation complicated by rapid growth. In addition to changing the organisational structure, Rodkin decided to rationalise the number of brands, which totalled over one hundred at that time. Ashkenas claims that few companies realise the extent to which an ever-growing number of stock keeping units (SKUs) leads to increased organisational complexity as well as increased costs. Hermann Miller, manufacturer of office chairs, does realise this, however, and he is currently working on reducing the number of possible configurations of a chair from a whopping 140 million to less than 200,000.

The greatest revelation in this book is the chapter on how management behaviour can lead to increased complexity. With the aid of two fictitious, but recognisable, managers, Ashkenas describes the axis of extreme management styles: from a focus on individual performance and results (financial or otherwise) to a focus on a strategic approach and teamwork. His advice is to not impose your own, personal strength too much but rather to use the axis of extreme styles to try and find the right balance.

This book clearly explains the steps a manager can take in order to simplify both his work and the company as a whole, and hence to achieve the required results.

‘Simply Effective. How to Cut Through Complexity in Your Organization and Get Things Done’ (2009), by Ron Ashkenas. Published by Harvard Business Press, 214 pages, € 27,95

Rating: ****