Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Bureaucracy's not the problem

I had a discussion with an associate, yesterday, in which I mentioned that I do not share her loathing or distaste for bureaucracy.
By the way, for the purposes of this discussion, I'll be working with the following specific definition of the term, as it applies to processes within ANY organization, not just the government:

"The administrative structure of a large or complex organization," specifically the processes that make up the structure of such organizations.
She believes, as I'm sure that so many do, that such complex processes are inherently problematic (and perhaps valueless) because they easily become unproductively cumbersome. In other words: "Bureaucracy bad."

In my opinion, what's commonly referred to as "bureaucracy" has unfairly gotten a bad rap in much the same way the word "semantics" has (and some of you know how I feel about that). There can certainly be bad processes, but that doesn't mean that processes are unnecessary... unless you believe in anarchy, which I do not.

Government and other organizational processes, much like a math formula, a cook-book recipe, or driving directions, are necessary guidelines that get us from a starting point to a desired goal. If you get the wrong answer, a bad souffle, or the wrong house, that's either due to poor a process or a poor application of the process.

If the process is sound (a big "if," I admit), then the problem is with the application of the process. In other words, the problem is the user.

In my social and professional experience, the best plans fail because the people who are supposed to carry them out are unwilling or unable to do their parts to achieve the desired results.

Whether it's planning the family reunion, a dining event, or report which requires input from multiple employees, it's usually the people, not the process, that fall short of the glory.

Too many times, at work, I've seen decent processes come and go, while the same employees stay and choose to ignore their obligations to the organization and the process.

I'm sorry, but 2+2=4. If you're getting another result, the problem isn't with math, it's with you (or your calculator).

I'd love to see people accept responsibility for this and hold themselves (and each other) accountable for the times when "you" fail "the system" (but not, of course, when "the system" fails "you").

What do you think?


chele said...

I hear what you're saying. I'm all for order and for employing sound processes. Hell, I'm part of the administrative structure.

My problem is with the folks whose only purpose is to come up with said processes. These folks are so intent on proving that they are necessary that they (sometimes) try to implement some old BS that is just a waste of time and energy.

If I can achieve the necessary result in three steps why should I insert the five extra steps? Because it's company policy? I'm not buying it. The policy is flawed and needs to be reviewed and then changed.

West said...

I hear you chele.

Having rules for the sake of having them is the definition of "unproductive."

One of my beefs is with folks who love to come up with and enforce rules, but who refuse to follow any rules, themselves.

Hypocrisy is near the very top of my list of pet peeves.

I've worked with a manager who, immediately and openly declares that she is not going to comply with whatever policies are handed down... as long as they don't come from *certain* folks, anyway.

I guess that's yet another peeve - people who speak their minds (often to the point of obnoxiousness) until or unless their bosses are around.

asdf said...

Didn't we learn anything from Star Wars?

Remnants of U said...

OMG, Chele hit the nail on the least from my perspective.

I am going through that to the nth degree at my job. They are implementing all these new procedures that add multiple steps to already long processes. And pitting departments against each other with these processes. It amazes me the things they have done in the past 2 years. I feel that a company that was around 100 years when I started 14 years ago, won't be around 86 more. OK I rambled, and I don't know that I answered the question, well yes all the changes were due to bureaucracy at my place of employment.