How to Eliminate Bureaucracy in Organizations?

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How to Eliminate Bureaucracy in Organizations?
Genevieve Northup, Editor, Germany

Likened to a crippling illness, many authors argued that bureaucracy must be eliminated from organizations. For example, Gary Hamel stated that bureaucracy prevents forward thinking and innovation, suppresses creativity and motivation, and “is the enemy of resilience” (as cited in Denning, 2014).
Management students and practitioners associate bureaucracy with a vertical mechanistic organization where strategic planning is conducted by upper management (Kreitner, 2009, pp. 245, 252). In such an organization, the “span of control” is narrow with many layers of supervisors, lower-level managers and middle managers, each overseeing relatively few employees (Kreitner, 2009, p. 251).

To lessen bureaucracy, many organizations have REMOVED MANAGEMENT LAYERS hoping to encourage "employee empowerment" (Hamel as cited in Denning, 2014). However, these are just are superficial changes that have not actually decreased bureaucracy. Hamel argues that power still lies in the hands of the few so that employees are not actively involved in strategic planning and that hurdles still hamper the innovation process (as cited in Denning, 2014). Even after such reorganizations, bureaucracy remains.

According to Nayer and Hamel (as cited in Denning, 2014; Kreitner, 2009, p. 185 ), to really overcome bureaucracy in organizations, they must perform an audit of policies, structure and mission focusing on following things:
  1. INNOVATION PLATFORMS: Create platforms for innovative ideas to flourish,
  2. CUSTOMER EXPERIENCES: Focus on delivering unique experiences to customers, rather than increasing shareholder profits, (increased profits will occur organically from successful product differentiation),
  3. EMPLOYEE OWNERSHIP: Enable leadership by allowing for more employee autonomy.
⇒ Do you have any other ideas/experiences on how bureaucracy can be fought in business firms or non-profit organizations?
Denning, Steve. (2014, Nov 7). Why Bureaucracy must Die.
Kreitner, R. (2009). Management. (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin

Fighting Bureaucracy in NGOs
Jerry Mp, Entrepreneur, Uganda
It is true that bureaucracy hinders many innovative ideas. Many young people have innovative ideas, but end up not implementing them because of too much bureaucracy in so many NGOs. Our initiative is facing the same thing. We have about five concrete and innovative ideas ready for implementation but they're not supported at the end of the day — because of bureaucracy.
The OneYouth OneHeart initiative, which is our initiative, has innovative projects that many stakeholders love and are willing to support - of course after have pitched to them in September last year. Unfortunately till now we're still waiting. Local young people having no source of resources but with good innovative ideas end up with their ideas barred and remaining on the same level. And there's no change in their communities.

Tips to Eliminate Bureaucracy
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
I agree with Leo Babauta what needs to be achieved is to move bureaucratic organizations from a bureaucratic culture to an action-oriented and innovative culture. Here's his excellent list of ten steps to focus on action and to eliminate bureaucracy:
  1. KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO GET DONE. Often bureaucracy happens when people focus on processes and forget about what the end result should be. Where are you trying to go? Find the shortest route to get there, rather than making things complicated. Visualize your desired result, and keep the focus on that. More: Result Oriented Management.
  2. KNOW YOUR PRIORITIES. Keep in mind the most important work your company or organization does. It almost certainly isn’t paperwork or meetings (with a few exceptions, possibly). Of course, if you’re going to have a meeting with a potential client in order to sign him up, that’s probably a priority. But for many employees, the real work will be something else: writing code, writing articles, designing, making calls, crunching numbers, etc. Know the important work, and focus on that. More: Time Management.
  3. ELIMINATE PAPERWORK WHENEVER POSSIBLE. How many forms does your company have? Much of that uses the same information. Can a simple computer program or online form be used instead, so people don’t have to fill out paperwork but can just fill in an online form where the basic information is stored and re-used so it doesn’t have to be re-entered? Often using a computer program (online or off) will also automate things so paperwork isn’t needed. Or just eliminate the paperwork altogether if it’s possible — sometimes it’s just better to take action without having to fill in things. See also: HR Self-service Models.
  4. CUT OUT PROCESSES. Are there steps and approvals and work that people have to do that can be eliminated altogether? Keep an eye out for these processes and eliminate when possible. Every time someone is doing something routine, ask whether it’s really necessary, or if can be reduced or eliminated. Can several steps be cut out to make things quicker? Often the answer is a resounding “yes”. More: Business Process Reengineering.
  5. EMPOWER PEOPLE. Often a manager becomes a bottleneck, requiring his approval before anything can get done. Worse yet is when approval is needed several times along the way, meaning it has to be bounced back and forth a bunch of times. Better: give people clear instructions about how to handle things and when approval is authorized, and allow them to handle it. Monitor things closely at first to ensure that they know how to follow the instructions, then give them more room to work independently and just report to you every now and then. Make sure the instruction include the circumstances when they need to alert you to any major problems. More on Employee Empowerment.
  6. DON’T PUT OFF DECISIONS. Worse than a manager becoming a bottleneck is a bottleneck where decisions are delayed and things pile up. When a decision is required, try to make it quickly. Make sure you have all necessary info, know what criteria you’re using to make the decision, and then make the decision immediately. The longer you wait the worse the problems become. Indecision is the enemy of action. More: Paralysis by Analysis.
  7. HAVE THE INFORMATION YOU NEED READY. If you don’t have information, you can’t make decisions properly. This is often the reason people put off decisions, but they don’t always realize it. As a result, they sit on a decision for awhile. Instead, go and get the info you need so you can make the decision immediately. Better yet, have the information sent to you beforehand, so you have everything you need to make the decision when it’s time. Figure out what information is needed for your regular decisions and have it regularly on hand. See also: Business Intelligence.
  8. KEEP “ACTION” AT YOUR FOREFRONT. Put up a sign on your desk that says “Action”. Make this your mentality throughout the day. When you are putting something off, remind yourself to take action. When you have a bunch of steps you have to do, remind yourself that eliminating steps leads to taking action sooner. When you’re in a regularly scheduled meeting (like, every day), ask yourself if this is preventing action. Compare: Action-Centered Leadership.
  9. LOOK FOR ACTION-ORIENTED PEOPLE. When hiring or selecting a team, look for people who get things done. This can be seen in their track record. Give them a trial and see if they tend to focus on actions and decision, or processes and paperwork. Action-oriented people will get things done more effectively. Tool: MBTI.
  10. REWARD ACTION. Reward team members as well as yourself for action taken. Rewards could be as simple as praise or as big as a promotion or a bonus to the most action-oriented employees. These rewards tell your company or organization — or yourself — that action is a top priority. More: Incentives.
Source: Leo Babauta, 10 Steps to Take Action and Eliminate Bureaucracy, Zen

The Power of the Operations Manual to Fight Bureaucracy
Andrew Blaine, Business Consultant, South Africa
A living, current and relevant operations manual (Ops Man) does more than define a business, it also regulates how the business operates and determines the business ethos. Bureaucracy is the weapon used by management to protect and maintain the need for "empire building" (the accumulation of sycophantic support by management in an effort to create their own indispensability).
The Ops Man is an essential management tool which protects the business from the "Cholesterolic!" effect of bureaucracy? Cholesterolic = the accumulative effect of fat build up which restricts arterial blood flow and often leads to death (my own definition).

Fighting Bureaucracy in NGOs
Herman Heyman, Consultant, Belgium
We have avoided a lot of bureaucracy by

- Keeping our NGO as flat as is wise & feasible
- Implementing strategy maps all across the organism

* This leads to:
- High involvement & empowerment of the various organizational levels.
- An increased drive for improvement.
- A new drive for innovation.

* We have found that it requires:
- A constant feeding of the ideas in order to recalibrate the mindset on organic/organizational thinking.
- A different mindset where the timeframe for implementation is concerned - related to building a new mentality amongst the people involved.

Focus on Results to Avoid Bureaucracy
Javier Elenes, Business Consultant, Mexico
I recommend to focus the job descriptions on the contribution to expected results while listing all the activities to be performed by the job.
And focus systems on value generation (customer satisfaction and business profitability).
Clarify the expected results and ask key people to sign a commitment and contribution parchment, with 3 to 5 hows that contribute to the expected results.

How to Eliminate Bureaucracy
Otieno, Student (MBA), Kenya
The best way in my experience is to have all processes documented with levels of authority clearly defined. This allows staff to work with certainty and decisions are not delayed.

Let's Hear it for Bureaucracy!
Ray Chatwin, Lecturer, United Kingdom
Bureaucracy shouldn't be used as a mud-pie to throw at organisations which are what Handy called 'role cultures'. Few organisations are a 100% fit to this idealised form anyway and those that are can be very successful as Ritzer acknowledges in 'The MacDonaldisation of Society'. There are plenty of roles that don't require creativity and plenty of workers who don't want the company getting into their heads and owning their every thought, too!

Balance of Bureaucracy and Employee Ownership
Katie Pawley MBA, Consultant, United States
Hello, I have reviewed everyones' submissions and all viewpoints listed should be considered when deciding how to eliminate bureaucracy. The information Jaap cited from Leo Baubata is very helpful, and makes sense on many levels.
On the other hand, paper pushing and meetings are essential. But they should not overshadow key goals and objectives of the organization, including streamlining operations where possible, with the employees involvement.
There is a balance that is difficult to find for the win-win: employees and management both satisfied equally. When companies merge proprietary information, such as on health insurance, this creates bureaucracy that is deeply entrenched, despite employees' protests. The major shift required is delayed indefinitely and employees are pacified with promises that many times never materialize. Company culture develops, perhaps in response to, or to survive in, the bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is a challenge that is not easily solved, possibly due to size of the company, industry, regulations, and other variables.

Focus the Operations Manual to Fight Bureaucracy
Javier Elenes, Business Consultant, Mexico
@Andrew Blaine: To focus the Operations Manual to fight bureaucracy, it should be focused on expected results and how this will be measured (KPIs) versus the steps to be taken.

How to Eliminate Bureaucracy in Organizations
Ajay kapoor, CxO / Board, India
In order to eliminate bureaucracy, organisations should focus on processes & eliminate non-value added processes, empowerment, simplification of processes and relaxation of delegation of limits with sensible controls.
Also prepare leaders for quick decisison.

Experiences in Eliminating Bureaucracy in our Organization
V.SHRIDHAR, Business Consultant, India
Bureaucracy in my organization has come down to single digit. As far as my observations in steel factory of nearly 30 yrs are valid, I feel the reasons may be/are:
- We created an atmosphere for equal participation by empowering the junior officers, supervisors and workers in some of the decision-making.
- We approve the 'right' suggestions openly and recognize the individual openly.
- Brainstorming and discussions with employees must be open and participative.
- A managerial attitude of "I am right", "I know everything" should be discouraged.

Prime Objective of an Ops Manual
Andrew Blaine, Business Consultant, South Africa
@Javier Elenes: Hi Javier, at the risk of straying from the initial subject, I suggest that the prime objective of an Ops Man is to guide those who implement the content when addressing a challenge do so as the manual author desires, not as they think the author desires - it reduces latitude in response. In so doing, bureaucracy has to be limited to avoid Cholesterophilly: the love of clogging the business arterial system!

Countering Bureaucracy by Designing Procedures and an Empowerment Frame
jorge anibal hoyos hoyos, Manager, Colombia
There should be a cost-effective design of the procedures so that every component of the organization covers its own costs and acts in compliance with the policies, strategic plan and other directives that have been defined.
Empowerment is mandatory, but within a previously defined frame and criteria. In this way we can avoid departments to act against the overall strategy or to clash with each other.

Management Culture and Bureaucracy
RAJI GEORGE, Management Consultant, Sultanate of Oman
The level of bureaucracy depends on the level of democracy in the management culture and the level of the orientation (on-boarding) program for new recruits.
When an employee is recruited and inducted and his role and responsibilities are clearly defined, his authority and responsibility should not conflict. The sense of freedom for an employee determines how practical her/his decisions will be.
Employee participation solves the majority of bureaucratic approach in organizations.

Employee Participation on How to do it Not What Shall be Done (Manager Responsibility)
Javier Elenes, Business Consultant, Mexico
@RAJI GEORGE: Just an important practical note on employee participation:
To define WHAT shall be done is a responsibility of the management, for example you as manager can state: "Be a leader on… "
After that, yes it's smart to ask for the employee's participation on HOW to Do it.

In short, ask employee participation on HOW to do it; Not on WHAT has to be done .

How to do it Best?
Andrew Blaine, Business Consultant, South Africa
@Javier Elenes: Hi Javier, While I agree with your sentiments, I find it hard to accept the principle because, in every business there are set operating procedures. If these are constantly changed, the result will be disorder and a total loss in productivity. I do agree that, when initially forming the operating process, input from all levels is essential but I cannot accept it is necessary to hold a discussion each time a process is repeated? If one of the team members believes there is scope for improvement in a process, then let them approach the team leader with their suggestion, for the leaders consideration and, if accepted, a modification of standard procedures. Am I over-reacting to your comment?

How to do it Best
V.SHRIDHAR, Business Consultant, India
I agree with Javier Elenes, there should be standard procedure as operating procedures in a broad sense. It should cover a maximum number of situations that may occur in a business scenario. A slight modification here and there as per the issue can be done. This will save time in explaining the business procedures again and again.

Arrange and Welcome Dissenting Views
Emmanuel Mwirichia, Manager, Kenya
In a movie I watched recently (World War Z, starring Brad Pitt), the way that the zombies were initially stopped at the borders of Israel was by using a method from the Israelis evaluating EVERY idea however crazy it was: In the team with 10 people always 1 person had to research and argue against the group's idea. So when they heard a zombie plague was coming, they immediately prepared themselves even if the fact seemed so unlikely. In other words, it is about constantly evaluating a different approach.
For business, having someone constantly challenging the status quo is also important.
Automation also helps to cut out redundant and repetitive tasks and eventually identify redundant tasks but stay alert for exceptions.

Fight Bureaucracy by Using Cronyism
jorge anibal hoyos hoyos, Manager, Colombia
The cronyism (Editor: ~favoritism) could be a solution. First of all to disclose the reasons producing such difficulties so as to define a way to be followed. I think the people must be learned about the different activities at the various departments, so that they can substitute each other in case of vacations, illness, etc. or to pinch-hit in emergency cases. We can even reshuffle functions creating a sense of teamwork focusing the people to the value creation for customers as the bedrock of their own and the organization's success by helping each other to reach the targets.

Bureaucracy Bottleneck
Briolett, Manager, Canada
Most decisions in an organization are made by a few at the very top - either direct or indirect based on the organizations stated objectives, rules and behaviours. There is a link between what lower level managers and regular staff decide on and what the few at the top want. When there isn't a clear understanding of objectives, autonomy fails and the difficulty to move past bureaucracy rises - it becomes the excuse to stay where you are rather than move forward.
Another cog in the bureaucracy wheel is fear by the individuals involved. While systems play a big part in holding things up, it was individuals who created those systems. When others try to move beyond those old school (and not so old school) protocols they need to work around road blocks and sometimes walls created by the fears of others. Maybe the answer is to overcome our own fears and need for individual success and to think bigger, more inclusive.


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