Magazine article Management Review

Eliminating Bureaucracy - Roots and All

Magazine article Management Review

Eliminating Bureaucracy - Roots and All

Article excerpt

Bureaucracy doesn't have to be rooted in the landscape of the business. Removing it from the roots allows an organization to flourish.

The CEO is holding a confidential meeting with his senior vice presidents about reorganizing the business. The team is nearing agreement on what they think is the best approach.

Interestingly, their approach will not affect any of the team members personally. No one at the senior level will lose a significant piece of his or her fiefdom, other than the head of manufacturing, who is nearing retirement and is quite willing to turn the responsibility for logistics over to the senior vice president of administration.

The biggest losers will be the plant vice presidents, who were not included in the meeting and who will see their purchasing directors transferred to headquarters under a newly created vice president of purchasing. The other big loser is the sales department, which will have its training function transferred to the human resources department.

The senior staff believes that these changes will bring about improved lines of communication and economies of scale.

This scene is all too typical of the top-down approach to reorganization, an approach that is totally removed from the needs of the customers and that ignores the people at the bottom of the organization who must try to meet those customer needs on a daily basis.

All too often, people in positions of power become afraid of losing their status if the organization is designed from the groundfloor-up and the outside-in. Because reorganization touches the raw nerve of power and status, it frequently becomes a political issue, an issue of competing interests, and winners and losers.

What is needed is a change process that circumvents organizational politics by bringing objective information from the bottom directly to the CEO or business unit head, by-passing any self-serving or out-of-touch management levels that may lie in-between. This requires a strong leader who wants to reorganize the business around the needs of the customer and the employees at the bottom of the organization - and in the process eliminate bureaucracy by the roots.

The following steps, which detail the process of root-pulling, can be applicable to an entire company, division or other organizational unit.

Step 1: Appoint an independent project leader. The project leader must be trusted by the organizational head and viewed by the other executives as impartial, nonpolitical and not seeking a higher position. Sometimes the best candidates are line executives nearing retirement age, those in training and development functions, or those who have experience in quality or reengineering.

An alternative is to hire an outside organizational effectiveness/development consultant who should have expertise in applying the behavioral sciences to corporations and in guiding business through major change efforts.

Watch out for the many self-serving consultants who offer simplistic superficial and even harmful approaches. Want a total quality culture? A consultant an be found who will put all employees through a canned, four-day training program, teaching them how to measure anything that moves or breathes. Want improved productivity.? A consultant can be found to suggest that a new incentive pay plan or some other silver bullet is the answer.

A strong, independent project leader - either from outside the company or within - is needed to help the CEO walk the political minefield without harming the organization.

Inevitably, a root-removal project will be threatening to any dose-minded executive who has never before received unfiltered feedback from internal and external customers on the performance of his or her department.

Step 2: Develop broad-based support. The CEO must get as much support as possible from the senior staff and must communicate the objectives and timetable of the root-removal project to the entire organization. …

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