Join Gary Hamel for an in-depth discussion in this video Build a posse, part of Gary Hamel on Busting Bureaucracy.
- You can't fight bureaucracy by yourself, you have to build a posse. Bureaucracy tends to be well defended by those who've done well by it. In essence, bureaucracy is a massive multi-player game, it's the field upon which millions of human beings have learned to compete for status and wealth, and as in all games, some skills are more germane than others. While expertise and great execution often count for much in bureaucracies, other skills can be even more valuable, like deflecting blame, defending turf, managing up, hoarding resources, trading favors, negotiating targets, and sometimes keeping your head down.
Not surprisingly, those who excel at the game of bureaucracy are often unenthusiastic about changing it. By way of analogy, imagine yourself standing on a basketball court in the long shadow of Lebron James, the NBA star who gets paid more than $20 million dollars per year to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers. "Mr. James", you say, "I know basketball has been very good to you, "but I think you should switch to volleyball." Anyone foolish enough to proffer that advice is likely to end up head down in the bleachers, and you're gonna face the same sort of challenge if your goal is to free your organization from bureaucracy.
If you're not the CEO or an EVP, it's easy to assume you're powerless to initiate deep change, and you are unless you enroll others. That means mobilizing those who are similarly frustrated by the extent to which bureaucracy, too many rules, too many sign offs, to many senseless staff degrees, too many meetings, too much centralization, too much politicking prevents your organization from being the best it can be. And the best way to build a posse is to get a conversation going, to create a lightning rod that attracts others who are eager to slough off all that unnecessary bureaucratic drag.
What does that mean practically? It means finding a physical or online venue and launching a conversation. What are the rules that prevent us from doing the right thing for customers? What are the policies that get in the way of our ability to innovate? Which of our management processes offer a very poor return on our time and effort? Where exactly does bureaucracy add unnecessary time and cost? And how are we treating employees here and there like children? Believe me, your peers are frustrated by the bureaucracy in your organization, but you need to aggregate and focus that frustration.
Another option, put up a survey where your colleagues can express their views about how bureaucracy is effecting their productivity and their happiness at work. You can borrow this survey or build on it as you like. The simple rule here, if you want to change something complicated and entrenched in your organization, go sideways before you go up. Don't whine to your boss, get a few people together and build your case. Most leaders find it easy to ignore an isolated grumbler, but it's a lot harder to ignore a small band of passionate souls who've thought hard about a problem and have some practical ideas on how to make things better.
Now, let's be clear, you're not launching a coup. The focus here is on the system, not on individuals, and know this, most CEOS are just as frustrated by bureaucracy as you are, but from their lofty perch it's often hard for them to know which policies are helpful and which are counterproductive. And like you, they are often blocked by all those around them who have a stake at perpetuating the status quo. Remember, just as moral indifference is catching, so too is moral curt.
Brave souls create a path for those who are similarly principled, but perhaps a bit less daring.
- Focus your frustration
- Enroll a posse of change agents
- Build an irresistible case for change
- Learn from organizations that have conquered bureaucracy
- "Hack" the management systems in your organization
With these insights any employee can become a bureaucracy buster.
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