Join Gary Hamel for an in-depth discussion in this video Get angry, part of Gary Hamel on Busting Bureaucracy.
- Okay, you're thinking, I get it, bureaucracy has to die. But what am I gonna do? Well start by getting angry. Not just mildly frustrated, but genuinely indignant. I was talking recently to a hospital base physician and she told me about her employer's policy governing the purchase of printers. The rules stipulated that there could be no more than one printer for every eight employees in each clinic. Anyone wanting an exception had to appeal to a printer committee.
And no, I'm not making this up. Not surprisingly, the supplicants, like my doctor friend, soon realized that the hassle of preparing and defending a requisition far exceeded the hoped for productivity benefits of having a printer near at hand. So I asked the doc, what did you do about this? She shrugged, said, "Nothing." And that's the problem. When stymied by bureaucracy we don't protest, we acquiesce, and I get that. Tackling something as ubiquitous and as ingrained as bureaucracy can seem hopeless, but deeply embedded social systems can be changed.
Think about it. Most of us are citizens, not subjects, our leaders are elected, not crowned. We view slavery as abhorrent, rather than divinely ordained. And despite centuries of institutionalized misogyny we are committed to gender equality. Aristocracy, slavery, patriarchy. There was a time when all these things seemed inevitable and immutable. So what it is that eroded the foundations of these long-standing social realities? Put simply, moral courage.
As Thomas Paine put it in Common Sense, a tract that was pivotal to the American and French Revolutions, "A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong "gives it a superficial appearance of being right." So the first battle to be won here is against indifference. Let's go back to that engagement data. How can you be indifferent to the fact that only a third of American employees are fully engaged in their work? Imagine if you will a car so poorly designed that 2/3 of the fuel pumped into the gas tank ran out onto the ground.
Outside of the U.S. the waste is even greater. Globally 87% of employees are less than fully engaged. That means the average organization wastes more human capacity than it uses. Now bureaucracy won't give way until more of us stand up and say, this is unacceptable. And a few notable CEOs have done just that. During his successful tenure as CEO of HCL Technologies, one of India's largest IT vendors, Vineet Nayar publicly dedicated himself to inverting the pyramid.
The first time I met Vineet he said this to me, "Gary, we need to destroy the concept of the CEO. "The notion of the captain of the ship is bankrupt. "We are trying to tell employees, you are more important "than your manager." Even if you're the CEO, especially if you're the CEO, saying something like that takes guts. Or take Zhang Ruimin, Haier's chairman, a company with more than 60,000 employees. Zhang has vowed to transform his company from a hierarchy to a platform.
Says Ruimin, quote, "We encourage employees "to become entrepreneurs "because people are not a means to an end, "but a end in themselves. "Our goal is to let everyone become their own CEO." To that end, Haier has divided itself into nearly 4,000 micro-enterprises run by small entrepreneurial teams. Within Haier there's only a single level of management between Zhang and frontline employees. There's a benchmark for your company.
You know, you don't often hear CEOs like Zhang quoting Immanual Kant and making the point that human beings are not mere instruments of production, but that's where you have to start if you wanna challenge management orthodoxy.
- 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.