Busting BureaucracyTo change bureaucratic management you'll need to change your culture


In order to change bureaucratic leadership and management, you’ll need to change your culture —

by changing some beliefs, taboos and
traditions that may be basic to your
culture currently

Here is a list of beliefs that must gradually change, to change your bureaucractic management.

It is bureaucratic to think that all functions of planning and control have to be done by management.

To be customer focused or achieve total quality, much of the planning, controlling, reacting, responding and flexing must be done by front-line people–by people who don’t manage others, but manage the achievement of quality, or who manage the satisfaction of customers.

It is bureaucratic to think that managers and managing are more important than the people who achieve the quality or satisfy individual customers. It is bureaucratic to think that the higher you are on the organization chart, the more important you are.

Those who strive to become customer focused or to achieve total quality soon discover that the truly "important" people are the ones who are part of achieving the total quality or who satisfy the customers. Regardless of what management wants, says or does, if the front-line people aren’t on the team, the mission doesn’t get achieved. Team members understand that it hurts teamwork to rank team members in terms of importance. Every job and every role is important. Eventually, relative status and importance becomes much less of an issue.

It seems to be a basic precept of bureaucracy that ambiguity is intolerable and must be resolved. Things must be black or white. There is no room for gray.

To achieve total quality or to consistently dazzle customers, your organization and your people must have some tolerance for ambiguity. You have to deal in the real world, facing real problems and real people. In the real world, there is a lot of gray. If you attempt to make things black or white, you miss too much. Rules can be unambiguous, while guidelines are ambiguous, e.g., "If the guidelines don’t work to achieve the mission, then forget the guidelines and do what it takes achieve the mission." That’s pretty gray.

The most widely held, and perhaps the most damaging, belief underlying bureaucracy is the belief that consistency, itself, has value.

Consistency is very important in piece parts that make up a product. And, in the absence of good reason for changing, consistency has value in relationships. But, consistency in choices or decisions can sometimes be a barrier to good quality, or to satisfying customers.

Objective observers will notice that much of the damage to quality or to customer satisfaction comes from the importance that bureaucracies attach to the idea of consistency, without regard for the outcomes produced by an excessive concern for consistency.

For those striving for quality or customer satisfaction, it is valuable to believe that consistency is nice and comfortable as long as it achieves the desired quality or results in satisfied customers. But, the moment that it gets in the way of quality or customer satisfaction, forget consistency and substitute flexibility.

A sister to the idea of consistency is the idea that equal treatment for everybody is fair for all. All you can say about equal treatment for all is that it will result in unequal satisfaction for all. Bureaucracies value the process of equal treatment, but ignore the outcome of unequal satisfaction.

If you strive for an objective outcome, like quality in your product, or customer satisfaction from your service, then examine the idea that equal treatment for all is good. I suggest to you that equal satisfaction for all customers is a better strategy than equal treatment for all customers.

How do you want to be measured–by the treatment you give or by the outcome you achieve? Customers are only interested in getting satisfied. If equal treatment doesn’t satisfy them, then they expect you to treat them unequally. If you are legally or morally wedded to the conclusion that unequal treatment is unjust, then pay attention to the idea of choices. Giving the customer lots of choices makes it possible to provide as many different treatments as customers tell you they need in order to be satisfied.

One example is the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles, the people who provide drivers’ licenses. Until recently, they treated everybody the same. To get a license, you went to the office and stood in line. They didn’t give appointments. By treating everybody the same, they made some people really dissatisfied.

Then, they began offering appointments. If time is important to the customer, the customer can call up for an appointment. If time isn’t that important, or you need something today, you can come anytime and wait in line. By offering a choice, they increased the number of citizens who are satisfied with their service.

Another false belief that is common in bureaucracies is the idea of the "slippery slope": "If I do it for one, I have to do it for everybody."

This is an argument that pops up almost automatically in bureaucratic thinking, and is another sister to the belief in consistency and equal treatment for all. This idea is so pervasive because there are some situations in which it is true. The error is in over-generalizing the idea and applying it where it is patently false and sometimes even foolish.

Organizations that value total quality or customer focus want their people to make decisions and choices based on the mission outcome and not on the process. So, the process becomes much more flexible, as long as it is aimed at achieving the desired outcome. If you have to wrap the product in green to satisfy this customer, you wrap it in green. If you have to deliver the paper to the third floor for this customer, you deliver it to the third floor. You trust that people are reasonable and understanding, and you realize that "flexing" the process to satisfy one customer doesn’t mean that you will have to make that same accommodation to all customers.

Because of the hierarchy and control from the top that characterize bureaucracies, choices are often thought to be confusing to customers and employees.

The reality is that choices are confusing to those making up the rules, and to keep their job simple, they tend to minimize the number of choices given to customers and employees. It might even be generalized to say, "The more bureaucratic the organization, the fewer choices offered to customers and employees."

It is bureaucratic to believe that "efficiency" is more important than achieving the mission.

It is bureaucratic to act as though the process is more important than outcomes.

It is bureaucratic to manage with a "problem-solving" approach.

It is de-bureaucratizing to empower teams of people to be responsible for dealing with barriers to achieving the mission.

When quality or customer satisfaction is everyone’s goal, then problems don’t have to be solved by managers alone. Empowered people, aspiring to continuous improvement, can be trained to not only solve the immediate problem, but also to find the root causes and fix them.

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