Sunday, February 18, 2007

Bureaucratic Control as an Obstacle to Reducing Process

I got the following comment to my previous post:

"There hasn't been a bureaucracy in history that has decreased the number of rules. Half of the bureaucracy derives its power from enforcing rules."

I expect this is true on both counts, but I'll put out the challenge anyway: Can anyone share a story where an organization made itself more successful by reducing its processes?

Power is a fascinating dynamic in organizations. I prefer to talk about it with the less ambiguous word "control." People have a desire to feel in control of their world. As leaders, it is critical that we understand this. With due respect to Maslow, if a person thinks their world is out of control, they will go to extraordinary lengths to put it back in control. Some people seek the power of hierarchy, others the comfort of a process, others laudably the strength of talent, and some rest in the iron-grip of bureaucracy.

You can't push down bureaucracy without filling the bureaucrat's need for control. Bureaucracy happens when people in low-control jobs feel that their world will spin out of control if they don't put process in place to stop it. If you remove the process without addressing their fear, they will quickly force it back in. As leaders, we need to build trust from our teams that we can keep the world in control without the need for controlling process. We can only do this when we exhibit the uncommon traits of listening to concerns, showing a clear vision of how we can be successful, and fixing problems quickly rather than hoping they will go away on their own.

Unfortunately, many of our leaders today are strong believers in bureaucratic control. They see it as an easy way manage their own world; certainly easier than keeping a keen eye out for problems and dealing with the conflict of fixing them. This is what puts us back in the circle of process driving down associate engagement. A big part of the cure is to build fundamental leadership skills in our teams so they can work effectively without bureaucratic control.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Federal Aviation Administration has gone to great lengths to reduce paper work and streamline processes in an effort to reduce the hang ups and congestion that is common in any bureacratic system. While it may not fit perfectly it is an example. While not necessarily reducing the number of rules they combined many of them and streamlined the process for conforming to them.