Common-Sense Management: Something So Rare It's a Goddamn Super Power

Pim de Morree
Written by Pim de Morree September 05, 2020

Management isn't rocket science- despite what lots of consultants, academics and gurus want you to think. In fact, some very successful pioneers are focused on a most powerful, but often overlooked style of management: common-sense management.

1662 1140x0

Over 4 years of travels to >100 of the world's most progressive workplaces, we were most inspired by those based on little more than good common sense. Instead of speaking in vague terms or over-complicated theories, these pioneers thrive on simplicity.

Here are three great examples:

  • Buurtzorg's founder and CEO, Jos de Blok, fiercely opposes all kinds of management nonsense. He is known for saying things like: "I think strategy just gets in the way of us doing our job", and "For us, work is all about building relationships with clients, without all that strategic baloney around it". His organization (of 14,000 nurses and 0 managers) is built on simplicity and common sense. Notably, they outperform their peers.
  • At iconic Semco we learned of an elegant style of management based on common-sense ideas. For example, 'participative management' just means that if I've come across a problem, I’m invited to gather like-minded people and take charge of fixing it. This common-sense attitude is underlined with quotes like: "People are responsible adults at home. So why do we suddenly treat them as adolescents...when they reach the workplace?"
  • Spanish transformation company K2K believes change cannot be forced upon people. Instead, they invite employees to change by letting them vote. “Do you want to transform into a progressive workplace: Yes or No?” If less than 80% vote Yes, it's a no-go. If more than 80% are in favor of change, they proceed. This is not just beautifully simple, it’s also proven. K2K has supported ~50 companies through change.

Ironically, common sense is not all that common - especially in management. Let me list some simple yet elegant solutions adopted by various pioneers.

If growth sucks, don't grow

Most companies lose their edge when they grow. Then, futile attempts to exercise control, with paralyzing 'fixes', are added. For example: more meetings, more rules, more procedures, more reporting lines, and more KPIs. In short: as organizations grow, tradition suggests adding stifling bureaucracy.

This creates the exact opposite of what was intended. It  frustrates innovation, wastes time, kills motivation and slows organizations down. In short: growth in this case leads to damage.

Most companies lose their edge when they grow. Then, futile attempts to exercise control, with paralyzing 'fixes', are added.
Click to tweet

What common sense solutions are there for not falling into this trap?

  1. Stop growing
  2. Split before you become too big

An example of the first approach is the iconic team at Basecamp. They don't want to grow for growth's sake. They prefer to stay relatively small (56 people), keep their product line limited and enjoy healthy business and calm.

The second approach is also simple: split the company before it's too big. Over-simplistic as it sounds, this works wonders in many progressive organizations. They form into a 'network of teams' structure in which small teams run as separate businesses.

Take a look at Finext, Handelsbanken, and Buurtzorg, for instance. They thrive because every time a team becomes too big, they split it. This preserves the spirit of a small company within one that is large, adaptive and extremely successful.

If you want to be a leader, find some followers

In most companies, people are promoted in a top-down fashion. Higher-ups decide who gets to be leaders of teams. This doesn't make any sense. In fact, it leads to mass incompetency in business.

If you want to be a leader, you better find some followers.
Click to tweet

Just compare this to a personal situation to see the stupidity. Imagine you and your friends want to organize a ski-trip. Would it make sense to get an outsider to decide who should manage the group? Would it make sense to appoint a person from outside the group, who now has to delegate work, make all decisions, and set the targets?

Of course not. A revolution would be the least of your worries. To avoid this common - yet shortsighted - way of appointing leaders, let team members select their leaders. They are in the best position to decide who should lead them. It's what companies like Haufe Umantis, Happy, K2K and Haier have done for years, with great success.

Become a leader by motivating a group of followers, not by ass-kissing the boss.

Conflict of interest? Resolve it!

From the moment someone applies for a job, there can be a conflict of interest. Take the salary negotiation: the applicant wants the highest possible salary, while the company benefits from a lower one. A childish negotiation follows, to reach a consensus neither finds offensive.

Another potential conflict of interest is overtime. When overtime is paid (and rewarded), employees have an incentive to work as many hours as possible and thus lower their productivity. We see this in some manufacturing companies. A battle of individual and organizational interests ensues.

What can be done to avoid this? Commonsense pioneers say: "Make sure the individual and the company want the same." Align the goals of the individual and the organization.

For example, why not abolish overtime? Instead, reward successful outcomes, so that employees focus on success. For example, at Spanish Ner Group, employees have a financial stake in the outcome. 30% of profits are spread among all workers. So, for every €1 million in profits, the workers divide €300,000 among themselves. At Irizar profit-sharing meant many factory workers received an additional €25,000 (!) pay for many years.

The beauty of such practices lies in their simplicity. All of a sudden, the interests of both organizations and individuals are aligned.


If you want to be less busy, stop working so much

People love to say they are busy. But they dislike being busy. But they still rush from meeting to meeting, from deadline to deadline. There is little time for reflection or relaxation. This is not new, but it's getting worse.

Luckily, there is a bunch of companies who show there is a simple solution: stop working so much! At the Belgian Ministry of Social Security, everyone fills just 80% of the working hours with prescribed roles and tasks. Then 10% is reserved for unforeseen activities, plus 10% for innovation projects.

That's it.

If you want to be less busy, stop working so much
Click to tweet

Common sense and simplicity

Common sense doesn't live up to its name, especially in business. Or, as the Urban Dictionary puts it, it’s so rare it's a goddamn super power.

Let's make common sense more common. It will help businesses thrive and people flourish.

Any common sense management tips to add to this list? Drop them in the comments below.

Written by Pim de Morree
Pim de Morree
As co-founder of Corporate Rebels I focus on: researching, writing, speaking, and building our company.
Read more
May 11, 2023
Map of Meaning: Change The Meaning of Work Instead Of Organizational Structure
Pim de Morree Written by Pim de Morree
'Why am I here'? Ever wondered that, at work? How much you value the answer to that question, can be outlined with the map of meaning. Read…
Read more
Apr 12, 2023
Three New Management Books to Read in the Next Quarter
Joost Minnaar Written by Joost Minnaar
The first quarter of this year was certainly a feast for those who tend to devour management books, as a broad range of hotshot management…
Read more
Mar 11, 2023
When Traditional Management Creeps Back In: What is Happening at Zappos?
Joost Minnaar Written by Joost Minnaar
Last month, I wrote a short piece about how Southwest Airlines was failing its once world-famous status as a progressive firm.…
Read more
Feb 11, 2023
The Modern-day Relevancy Of Theory X and Theory Y
Joost Minnaar Written by Joost Minnaar
In this post, I would like to take the time to shed light on a golden oldie management concept: Theory X vs. Theory Y. Despite being…
Read more
Dec 17, 2022
Let’s Fire All The Micromanagers
Joost Minnaar Written by Joost Minnaar
Micromanagers are by far the least popular managers. Nobody wants to report to one. Nobody wants to be one. The funny thing about…
Read more
Dec 07, 2022
Change the Mindset of Employees with These Three Simple Steps
Joost Minnaar Written by Joost Minnaar
The leader of a large manufacturing company recently complained to me, "I want our people to change their mindset, but they do not change."…
Read more
Read all articles

Download: Free Guide

Unlock our in-depth guide on trends, tools, and best practices from over 150 pioneering organizations.

Subscribe below and receive it directly in your inbox.

    We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at any time.