Corporate Eye

Bureaucracy Blasting

red tapeWhen I worked at a large company, I hated the bureaucracy. Despite the widely publicized “Work Out” program pioneered at GE, it is still a major corporate issue.

“… Bureaucracy is the Dracula of organizational design. No matter how much we fight it, Bureaucracy always comes back to haunt us. So we have to keep putting stakes through its heart.”  Jack Welsh, Former CEO GE

In the August 25, 2008 issue of BusinessWeek, the article “BREAKING OUT OF THE BOX”, readers “…ranked “Negotiating a Stultifying Bureaucracy” third among their most pressing workplace problems.”

One estimate on the German economy indicates that bureaucracy costs account for 4% of GDP or €81 billion. A portion of this is government regulations but internal corporate bureaucracy is likely the greater part.

How To Fight Bureaucracy

Here is my own story about how i dealt with bureaucracy —

I worked for a Fortune 50 company. When I was promoted into middle management, I was assigned to a group that handled Regulatory work. We had to deal with executives in our corporate headquarters. There were the typical meetings, phone calls, analysis, drafts and re-drafts.

One of the people I supported, Mac (he reported to me), became very proficient, knowledgeable and distinguished himself as source of excellent analysis. Mac and I had a good relationship. He knew he could pop into my office anytime he wanted to discuss work or to just talk.

Mac and I had been working with a Vice President, Alex, at corporate headquarters. We developed a good working relationship with Alex. There was good chemistry and we all seemed to work together. All of this was during the days of high bureaucracy and when management levels were saluted with military precision. There was a chain of command that had to be followed.

I vividly recall one day when Mac came into my office with a perplexed look on his face. He told me that he was concerned that Alex was calling him directly with requests for information rather than calling me first.

I asked Mac if Alex was satisfied with his analysis. He said yes. I asked Mike if he needed me to complete the detailed analyses he was conducting. Mike said no. I said, “Alex doesn’t need to get me involved, just let me know how things are going and let me know if I can help you.”

Politically this was a stupid move. I could have increased my political credentials with Alex, even though I wasn’t adding much value. I detested office politics and the corporate bureaucracy. There was no reason for me to waste time by dutifully following the chain of command.

I’ll never know for sure how this incident influenced my career, but I was promoted a year later.

Fortunately the corporate command and control systems have eased. However, corporate organizations are still political and there is still the temptation to improve your “credentials” by using command and control management to your advantage. But if you are to improve as a leader and let your people to show their stuff and grow, sometimes you just have to get out of the way.

Here are some additional resources —

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The highly successful GE Work-Out contributed to eliminating bureaucracy. GE offers limited services to other companies on this program. But do a search on “GE work-out” and you will find many related resources and consulting services.

Now you are armed to battle that bureaucracy vampire.

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Ed Konczal has an MBA from New York University's Stern School of Business (with distinction). He has spent the last 10 years as an executive consultant focusing on human resources, leadership, market research, and business planning. Ed has over 10 years of top-level experience from AT&T in the areas of new ventures and business planning. He is co-author of the book "Simple Stories for Leadership Insight," published by University Press of America.
 
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