Busting BureaucracyBureaucracy: how to eliminate or banish it


Bureaucracy: How to Eliminate or
Banish it

What follows is written for readers who are part of a mature bureaucratic organization that wants to eliminate or banish bureaucracy. This chapter aims to introduce the process and give you an overview so you can see past the detailed steps and understand the overall concept.

Each organization is different. Each must find its own way through the process. Each will have a different goal. Each will have a different sense of commitment. Each will have a different culture. Each will have different barriers and different advantages.

After observing hundreds of organizations attempting to transform themselves in one way or another, I offer the following observations that are gained from the hard won experience of those organizations.

• Be aware that your goal has to be more than just to de-bureaucratize. Your goal is to replace bureaucracy with a more desirable state. So, the change process will be to move "toward" something better, rather than to "get rid of" the existing state. You de-bureaucratize as a by-product of achieving "quality" or "extraordinary service" or some other customer-focused goal.

• You fool yourself if you think you can reduce bureaucracy by substituting one in-focused set of goals for another in-focused set of goals. In other words, you don’t de-bureaucratize by mounting a campaign for better profits, or lower costs, or higher dividends. These are examples of the kinds of goals that led your organization to becoming bureaucratic in the first place.

• Senior management commitment is the key determinant of success. If you have it, and can maintain it for long enough, your change effort can succeed. If you only have a little commitment, or if you lose the commitment you have, you’ll be likely to quickly revert back to the present state.

• If your senior management team is clear in its understanding of what is required, and it has a strong commitment, it can choose an ambitious goal and achieve it. If senior management is unclear about what is required, or if each of the senior managers has a different view of how ambitious the change should be, then it is best to choose a more modest goal.

• Middle managers, because of their existing goals and measures, are the biggest barrier to achieving success. To succeed, middle managers must play important roles in the change process, and new customer-focused goals and performance management measures must be substituted for the existing in-focused set.

• Achieving the desired goal state will take longer than senior management expects. Achieving the goal state is a process–not a project. It doesn’t have an end, and it will never be finished.

• A "shadow" organization is a "must" if you hope to achieve even modest long-term change. The "shadow" organization is an informal organization, superimposed upon the existing organization, consisting of teams with names like steering committee, task force, action teams, etc. The shadow organization will spearhead the change effort and will be made up of the people who will facilitate and manage the change.

Without a shadow organization, the bureaucracy in the existing organization will, in spite of good intentions, unwittingly sabotage and ultimately destroy the change effort. And, it may take years to discover that the change effort has failed.

• The most critical period is the middle phase, when you are partway through the change. You have part of the organization living in the "old world" and part of it living in the "new world." If you don’t understand that the feeling of "one foot in each world" is normal, you may give up your gains and snap back into bureaucracy.

• You are likely starting from a position where you are "top-heavy" and "bottom-lean." If it’s not too late, resist the temptation to "downsize" and instead redeploy your redundant middle managers. Redeploy them to the shadow organization, or to the field organization where they can help solve the leanness problem and fill in for managers who need to be retrained in their new roles.

• Keeping the redundant managers will be more expensive than replacing them with new lower-level employees. On the other hand, you’ll gain by keeping the managers’ experience and by building a more loyal team. Be clear, however, that managers who are unwilling or unable to work effectively at a level closer to the customer will not be allowed to impede the change effort.

Overview of the process of how to

The following is designed as a digest. It is not important that you understand each point, but it may be valuable for you to have a sense of the overall process. (See the book "Busting Bureaucracy" for the details.)

Get professional help, but do the work yourselves.

The most successful organizations are those who used outsiders to guide them at the beginning, but kept control of the change process and developed their own internal people as consultants and trainers and scorekeepers.

Choose continuous improvement as a strategy.

Continuous improvement transfers the responsibility for customer satisfaction to the people nearest the customer. Continuous improvement requires a shadow organization, teams of front-line people trained as problem solvers, and customer feedback to drive change. Using continuous improvement, rather than traditional managerial problem solving, multiplies the amount of change, enrolls and motivates front-line people, and by its nature, serves to de-bureaucratize the organization.

Make an assessment of your present situation.

Make an initial assessment of your existing state. Add up your advantages and take note of the barriers. Assess your present customer satisfaction. Assess your employee attitudes. Assess the current amount of bureaucracy and its negative by-products. Assess your readiness for change, and assess the amount and quality of senior management commitment.

Choose the optimal "goal state."

Based on your assessment and senior management commitment, choose a modest, moderate, or ambitious goal state. What would you like the organization to become in the future? How will it look to customers? How will it be to work there? How will it compare to other organizations of your type?

Set up a "shadow organization" to manage the change.

Based on your goal state and your assessment, set up the optimal "shadow organization." You will seek the right mix of steering committees, task forces and action teams to achieve your goal. Your choice of goal state will determine whether the shadow organization is permanent or temporary, and whether it is staffed with people who work on teams part time or full time. Your goal state will determine whether the teams are aligned with the existing functional organization, or purposely cross functional.

Begin collecting customer feedback to drive the change.

Begin the process of collecting continuous streams of feedback from customers that will drive the change effort. Collect feedback relating to the "moments of truth" that most greatly impact the customer’s relationship with your organization. Collect "qualitive" feedback, with small sample sizes. Action teams, working to improve quality or service, will use the feedback to drive the changes they make as they continuously improve service, quality, or both. The customer feedback will also be used as a baseline of current customer satisfaction. The baseline will be useful to monitor changes as customer satisfaction is improved.

Train your front-line people to work in teams and to implement continuous improvement.

Train them to solve problems using the most powerful problem- solving strategies available. Train them to prioritize the process to be improved, or the moment of truth to be managed, based on its impact on your relationship with your customers. Empower the teams to continuously improve your quality, service, or both.

Do what it takes to gain the support of your entire management team.

Teach your managers the principles of bureaucracy–what fosters it, and what they can do to minimize it. Teach them how to manage using continuous improvement, rather than traditional management problem solving. Teach them how to operate on and with shadow organization teams, such as task forces, steering committees and action teams. Teach them how to manage in an empowered environment.

Do what it takes to gain the support of your
non-management people.

Convince your non-management people that this isn’t just another "program." Help them understand the process, their role in it, and what is in it for them. Ask for their feedback, use their feedback and keep your people well-informed.

Manage the change in the culture that will result from the change effort.

Understand the changes in beliefs that will mark the transition from a bureaucratic organizing form to a mission-driven form. Communicate those belief changes to all employees so they can support the new culture instead of fighting it.

How you will know you are there.

You’ll know that you’ve achieved your goal by the feedback you get from your customers and from your employees. You’ll know that you’ve achieved your goal by what your people are doing, and how different it is from what they are doing currently. You’ll know by your position in your industry or marketplace. You’ll know by the pride and satisfaction you and your fellow employees have in your organization.

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