BCG – How Complicated Is Your Company?


Around the world, economic growth is slowing down. In developed and emerging economies alike, growth rates have declined considerably from their peaks, and there is little evidence that they will rise substantially any time soon. Anemic expansion of labor productivity is largely to blame. As Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman wrote in The Age of Diminished Expectations, “Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything. A country’s ability to improve its standard of living over time depends almost entirely on its ability to raise its output per worker.”

True, many factors can affect the rise and fall of labor productivity in the short term, including political instability, changing regulations, business cycles, technology investment, and the difficulty of improving the service sector’s productivity. But we believe that the underlying cause of the recent slowdown has been the ongoing, long-term rise of complicatedness, a phenomenon we first measured in one of our previous publications on Smart Simplicity, “Smart Rules: Six Ways to Get People to Solve Problems Without You.”1 We define complicatedness as the increase in organizational structures, processes, procedures, decision rights, metrics, scorecards, and committees that companies impose to manage the escalating complexity of their external business environment.

We recently surveyed executives and employees at more than 1,000 companies about their perceptions of the nature and degree of complicatedness at their organizations. The results highlight the strong connection between complicatedness and performance and indicate where companies should concentrate their efforts to simplify.

By Reinhard Messenböck , Yves Morieux , Jaap Backx , and Donat Wunderlich