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Bureaucracy is a Performance Killer

Excessive bureaucracy is a symptom of ineffective leadership and a killer of a high performance team. As Jim Collins, author of Good to Great says, “The purpose of bureaucracy is to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline.”

In time, administrative bureaucracies expand to fill the void that ineffective leadership has created. Bureaucratic scope creep usually occurs when a product, service or delivery leader runs into performance, team or behavioral trouble. Rather than fix the problem when it is recognized and where it exists, ineffective leadership will abdicate its responsibility of fixing the problem. In an earnest attempt to manage the problem the leadership failed to effectively resolve, the administrative organizations respond with expanding reporting requirements, proliferating rules, policies and documentation requirements.

Administrative functions are highly necessary and can have a positive impact when they are held accountable to tightly defined missions in support of the primary business functions. They are not and should not be treated as second-class citizens but their functions and roles should always be to support the client facing or mission critical business leaders, not to compete with or attempt to control the primary business functions/leaders. Administrative functions can play an effective role in supporting a senior leader in solving a problem, but what often occurs is that the senior leader fails to deal with the problem in a timely manner or at all and entangles an administrative person or function in a no win situation. Many potential unintended consequences will follow and none of them have good outcomes!

When tempted to create a new policy rule, reporting or meeting requirement step back and ask yourself:

  • What is the real problem or issue we are dealing with?

  • Does someone have the authority and accountability to resolve this issue once and for all?

  • Is this an attempt to workaround some issue that we don’t want to deal with for personal, financial or political reasons?

  • Are we being open, honest and telling ourselves the whole truth about the problem?

Effective leadership drives the business through good strategy, hiring and empowering great talent to do what they need to do while minimizing time and energy wasted on bureaucratic distractions. Every organization has unique issues but the bias should always be to solve problems where they exist and not to create bureaucratic workarounds that complicate the real issues and diminish accountability, innovation, excellence, and ultimately performance.

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