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How to Tame the Beast of Bureaucracy?


Bureaucracies help to manage large complex organizations and to reduce organizational risk, but they are a pet peeve of mine on a personal level. Effectiveness and efficiency should be at the heart of the supply chain management professional. An overly bureaucratic organization unnecessarily hinders productivity and creativity. There are often ways to reduce red tape without sacrificing the benefits. Many topics in this blog can be used to improve efficiency, but the suggestions below are specifically focused on addressing bureaucracy.


Be a Facilitator Not a Gatekeeper


In a bureaucratic culture, professionals and managers act as gatekeepers. The gatekeeper makes sure work is up to a certain standard. What often happens is that there is a lot of communication back and forth between internal and external parties, and up and down organizational hierarchies. Each of these points is another potential for delay and miscommunication. One tip to reduce the number of back-and-forths is to have live face-to-face or phone conversations to hash out differences versus passing off documentation.


By shifting focus from gatekeeping to informing and facilitating, each bureaucratic checkpoint can be passed with less friction. This requires a culture that focuses on service rather than control and power.


Go the Extra Mile


I have often experienced holdups due to a recipient not understanding a demand or not having the capability/knowledge to complete a requested task. At other times, the requester does not understand the practical hurdles of a request. When people see themselves as problem solvers rather than functional experts, they help eliminate unnecessary frustrations within the bureaucracy.


This attitude will also help reduce function silos. Bureaucracies can grow when departments are trying to establish their territory by creating rigid/complex policies in an effort to make their work more legitimate.


Honest Risk Assessment


Bureaucracies also tend to grow after negative incidences. Organizations are inclined to address negative events with additional processes to prevent and deal with them. While this is a necessary thing to do, efforts to prevent something must be practical and not wasteful. The goal should not be to eliminate all risk (this is impossible and unrealistic), but to manage it. Read my posts on resilient supply chains and 4 Ways to Deal with Risk where I touch on assessing and managing risks.


Trust Your Coworkers


Trust speeds things up. Checking and verifying things are necessary but bureaucracies often do the same verifications multiple times by multiple parties. Revision requests are sometimes subjective or insignificant to the intended goal of the business. It is important to know who has the right expertise to check and make sure that party ensures accuracy. Individuals have to understand that a decision or task that makes sense at an individual or departmental level might not make sense from an organizational level. Trusting the right people to do the right things (even if you don’t agree) will go a long way to streamline processes. Understanding processes beyond one's role will help you avoid errors, and unnecessary or low-value-to-effort work.



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