Busting Bureaucracyalternatives to bureaucracy


Alternatives to Bureaucracy

The mission-driven organization is a better organizing form

The bureaucratic organizing model is so pervasive that many executives are unable to even imagine that there are alternatives to bureaucracy, or any other way of organizing an enterprise. Many organizations have achieved success simply by changing one of the underlying principles. These have been amply documented by various people.

Some of the best performing companies have converted to a customer-focused mission, or flattened out to reduce hierarchy, or become sensitive to the human needs of their customers, or converted to multi-functional work teams, etc.

Start-up organizations could bypass the bureaucratic model from the beginning.

As this was being written, in the early 1990s, the Republics (once part of the Soviet Union), Cuba, the nations of eastern Europe, China, and currently (2004) Iraq, will all need their citizens to start enterprises from the ground up. These new enterprises will be faced with competing in an increasingly global economy dominated by huge, well-capitalized organizations.

The mission driven model is offered as a model that start-up organizations can use. In this model, the energy of the employees–focused by the mission, strategy, and vision of the organization, can make up for the start-up capital they may lack. I believe that the creative new organizations forming today have the opportunity to attract global capital as they take the concepts of product quality and customer satisfaction to new heights.

Existing bureaucratic organizations can use this model as of one of the alternatives to
bureaucracy that they might seek.

In many ways, it is more challenging to be part of an existing bureaucratic organization that seeks to transform itself into a global competitor than it is to start a new enterprise from scratch.

To achieve significant change requires a change in mission, at a minimum. It is traumatic for an established bureaucratic organization to change its mission. There is an immediate impact on the culture. Employees will be cynical, and people will be slow to adopt the desired change.

In the book "Busting Bureaucracy," we discuss the special challenges of transforming existing bureaucratic organizations. For all but a few existing organizations, the "mission-driven" model will be too extreme a change. Most existing organizations will likely settle for some part of this vision. For those few that have the capacity, the freedom and the leadership to strive to become "world class" organizations, I offer the mission-driven model as an ideal.

The Four Possibilities

The mission-driven organization will have a customer focused mission.

Mission-driven organizations, will choose a mission that is focused on the customer. The specific mission will depend on the nature of the products or services that the organization intends to provide to its customers.

Product-based organizations might define their mission in terms of customer satisfying, product quality.

For manufacturers, whose customer loyalty will be most deeply influenced by the customer’s perception of product quality, the mission of the organization might be to produce the highest possible product quality.

Service-based organizations will aim for extraordinary customer service.

For organizations like banks and insurance companies, whose customer satisfaction depends on the organization’s policies, practices and procedures—in combination with the human interactions of its people—the mission could be to deliver service that pleases, delights or dazzles customers.

Hybrid organizations will make it their mission to achieve customer dazzling service and satisfying product or service quality.

Hybrid organizations, whose customer’s loyalty depends not only on the quality of the product or service that they offer, but also the customer service, must choose a mission that combines quality and service—always with the focus on achieving customer satisfaction.

What’s the difference between an in-focused mission and a customer-focused mission?

Sometimes, executives from bureaucratic organizations "think" they already have customer-focused missions. They point to their mission statement, which says something like, "Customers come first with us," and they wave their internal campaign literature proclaiming, "We’re nothing without our customers," or "Quality is our future."

The difference between an in-focused mission and a customer-focused mission shows up best in the trenches. When you truly have a customer-focused mission, then virtually all employees will "strongly agree" with the statement, "The number one priority with both employees and management is satisfying the customer," (or product quality).

If you have an in-focused mission masquerading as a customer- focused mission, then employees will be ambivalent, or they will strongly agree with a statement like: "While we talk a lot about quality or customer satisfaction, the most important thing to management is profits," (or cost savings, or market share, or avoiding commission complaints).

The primary measures that define organizational success will be based on customer satisfaction, rather than in-focused measures like profit or funding.

Guidelines and other levels of
empowerment will largely replace rules.

In bureaucracies, people are empowered to make decisions based on their level within the organizational hierarchy. In mission-driven organizations, people are empowered to make decisions based on their experience, skill, training or capability, rather than their level. This means that an individual in an entry-level position can gradually become more and more empowered to make decisions without being forced to rise in organizational level. There are several levels of empowerment.

• No empowerment

• Pre-action empowerment

• Empowerment with guidelines

• Post-action empowerment

• Total empowerment

Business needs will be balanced
with human needs.

The mission-driven form actively encourages balancing business needs with the human needs of both customers and employees. This is in stark contrast with the bureaucratic form, which seeks to treat all customers the same, whatever their individual needs, and encourages employees to "leave their personal lives at the door."

Multi-functional teams will replace specialization by job function.

The mission-driven organization will seek to eliminate functional "walls" or "boundaries" that must be crossed to achieve the mission. The idea is to put every function that will be needed by a business unit on the same team. 

Hiring will be based on both human and business skills, and job security will be a function of mission achievement.

Note: all of the above concepts are expanded in great detail in the book: Busting Bureaucracy.

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