“Bureaucracy – any administration where action is impeded by unnecessary procedures”
– Collins Concise English Dictionary
In your own organisation, do you ever think “Why are we doing this?” or “Why aren’t things moving as planned or desired? Do you notice people becoming more difficult to deal with? Do you sense a rising level of frustration? Has your workplace lost its shine? Perhaps it’s becoming or already is bureaucratic.
Often unnoticed in an organisation’s growth is a tendency towards bureaucracy. It’s rarely intentional, yet very common.
Here are some other symptoms of bureaucracy:
o Ineffective meetings – too long, too frequent, too little value.
o Less direct and personal communication – too many emails or “memos”.
o Ever growing procedures and operations “manuals”
o Defensive, protective and internally competitive decisions and behaviour. Shows as fear-based thinking – “we better do this in case…” or “we better not do this in case…”
o Growing sense of mediocrity in human performance.
o Gradual loss of original purpose.
Bureaucracy is cancer of the organisation – unnecessary growth that becomes self-serving.
Because the bureaucracy grows within the culture of the organisation, it is seldom noticed by those within and rarely effectively dealt with by those within – after all, they are the unintentional cause!
Treating bureaucracy requires awareness, courage, determination and correct action with the full commitment of leadership.
Like most cancer treatment, the common approach is to cut burn and poison. The results too often are “It grew back again” or “We cured the bureaucracy but the organisation died”.
Bureaucracy is best prevented and treated by leaders ensuring the culture has these characteristics:
o All systems are simple, connected and serve the prime purpose of the organisation.
o A high level of functional direct personal interaction and communication throughout the organisation.
o Continuous though careful pruning of the unnecessary.
o Always challenging procedure with the “Why” question. If the answer is defensive, protective or fear-based – seek to prune it.
o Avoidance of complacency and blind acceptance of any routine. If anything requires “rationalisation” or “justification” it means something is already not working.
o Well managed yet adventurous risk taking for innovation, simplicity and above all, to best serve the prime purpose of the organisation.
o Allow appropriate time and training for new processes to be properly learned.
o Ensure crystal clear unambiguous communication of correct and useful processes.
o Continuous challenge of continuous growth – it’s not natural! More often it’s actually cancerous growth currently disguised as more profit, more opportunity, diversification etc.
o Stepping outside the organisation frequently to review it holistically.
Experience has shown that executive team meetings designed to eliminate the negative aspects of bureaucratic process are best facilitated by an independent external facilitator, capable of respectfully challenging the discussions.
Experience has also shown that most organisations have no processes designed to minimise bureaucracy, and in fact have processes that unintentionally create it.
Can you imagine the return on investment for designing and implementing a bureaucracy busting process?