How to survive complexity

How can business cut a swathe through the ever more tangled thicket besetting strategy, operations and decision-making? In association with consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers, MT gathered some of the UK's best-known corporate leaders and management advisers for a stimulating round-table discussion.

matthew Gwyther, MT Welcome, everyone, and thank you very much for coming. The idea is that over lunch we are going to discuss the issue of managing complexity in business. Mike Gibson from Pricewaterhouse-Coopers will kick off, as his organisation has done plenty of thinking on the subject and observed many of its clients tackling it.

Mike Gibson, PwC The source of our interest in complexity is simple: large numbers of our major clients are talking about how it increasingly affects their businesses. Essentially, what a lot of companies have started to say is: 'We know the world of business is complex, but a lot of the complexity we have is self-imposed. We have created things, we have inherited things, we have acquired things, and when we look at them they are far more complicated than they should be. The impact on cost and speed is clear.'

Complexity can manifest itself in four ways. Firstly, in legal structures, where complex structures put a huge burden on the organisation. Secondly, in the alignment of accountability to the business model. Often the model is not fully clear on who is in charge, who is accountable for what when it comes to execution. Thirdly, in complex decision-making. One typical large company with whom we work says: 'The only way we make decisions around here is if everybody gets involved.' This means decisions have disproportionate amounts of time attached to them, and, even then, this does not guarantee support.

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