Rube Goldberg and Management

JANUARY 11, 2011

There is an old adage that reads, "Every organization is perfectly designed to get the results it gets." It's a cute and clever way of expressing a really important point. If you don't like the results you are getting you need to change the design. Most of the leaders and executives I work with get this intuitively but spend an inordinate amount of their time doing what I call "additive management".

Additive management is the process where we create increasingly complex layers of policy, bureaucracy, and process to attenuate or diminish the undesired outcomes from our previous policies and processes. This leads, over time, to a Rube Goldberg type of corporate complexity. Institutional knowledge becomes pre-eminent over capability and expertise. After all, the more complex the system, the more it rewards those who understand it best.

We have all seen this in action in our companies, or government, and even our culture. The new rules grow from the old rules more than they grow from the original purpose or mission. A common example is when changes are made to sales compensation plans to drive results around specific products or customer sets. This is complex to manage, hard to get right, and often produces unintended consequences.

You can fight back! It is possible to resist the natural inertia to simply layer more "rules" on the system. You have to get back to the beginning. Create intentional focus on ground up design decisions to produce the results you want.

You will find yourself with less to manage, less things that can fail, and improved results. Guaranteed!

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