Avoiding Bureaucracy

As management consultants, businesses ask us for programs and systems to improve performance. But what about practices that hurt a business? What habit patterns cause companies to hesitate, lose momentum or seize up and no longer perform at full throttle?

Top organizations are flexible and able to respond positively to the complexities of the day. But many practices cause “hardening of the attitudes”. Here are seven ways to turn your company into a bureaucracy, into a place where people say, “that’s not the way we do it around here”.

#1 Planning over Emotion

Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe in the power of planning. But the essence of a superior company is their spirit. Hustle, energy, emotion are what make a company great. Managers need to inject passion into their planning.

#2 Analysis over Action

Once again, I believe in collecting data to make informed decisions. My concern is when we create paralysis by analysis, when we hold up decisions to collect more and more data. The key to success is action orientation. A bias towards action means, “don’t just stand there, do something”.

#3 Calm over Crazy

Yes, it would be nice to have everything running smoothly. But developing new opportunities requires craziness. The prime organization has systems to maintain optimum performance, but forces itself outside its comfort zone to try new things. It encourages risk taking and possible failures. Managers need to be comfortable with and invite chaos.

#4 Rules over Trust

Quality, service, risk taking, action orientation — these are all a function of trusting the front line employee. The people that are the closest to the product or to the customer should be trusted to perform at their very best. A rule book can constrain action, deplete energy, squash initiative and dampen the spirit of the organization. Managers need to build an environment of high trust.

#5 Control over Autonomy

In a recent study of the Fortune 200, 12 companies far exceeded the other 188 in profitability. A common factor for the top 12 was that the division general manager had, on average, up to 10 times the spending authority of those in the other 188. Allow business units to run their own organizations, complete with profit and loss responsibility.

#6 Function over Projects

We have to get rid of functional borders or barriers. We have no time for turf wars; we have to get on the same side of the table and roll up our sleeves and work together.

To achieve teamwork and synergy, turn the company into a series of multi-disciplinary, action-oriented, specific task project teams. What people do back at their cubicles is just the minimum required. The work of the future is propelling the company toward constant improvement — this happens in project team meetings.

#7 Work over Play

Work should not be drudgery, a J-O-B job. Top companies have people engaged and turned-on by what they do. The manager’s job is to create excitement and make it fun.

Companies try to be “professionally” managed; not only clean and orderly, but detached and methodical. This make-no-waves style is dull and uninspiring.

Contrast that with “passionate” management–fast and responsive, intuitive, energetic, trusting, listening, empathizing, emotional, mistake-making and action-taking. Which would you rather work for?