Managing Bureaucratization

by David Paschane

Managing BureaucratizationControlling an organization is difficult. The larger the organization, the more complex is the process of control. We don’t think about it too much, but what we are trying to control are changes that naturally occur.

The drivers of changes are many and can be hidden in the layers of the organization. The internal drivers include missing expertise, emerging expertise, rule changes, quality of work life, staff shortages, new staff, staff exodus, self-management, miss-fitted management, process ambiguity, process choke points, and disjointed communications. The external drivers of change include increased customers, customer ambivalence, increased demands, divergent demands, product diversity, market diversity, diffused locations, miss-fitted services, laggard services, austere budget reviews, contextual dependencies, and mission shifts. How we react to change drivers affects the organizational health, innovative, and employees’ satisfaction with work conditions.

In large organizations, especially those without an organizational architect, we end up with many dispersed efforts at controlling change, and in some cases, an over control of changes that has negative consequences. The process is bureaucratization–codifying structure.

The challenge for current and future leaders is in how to manage bureaucratization while avoiding problems of operational friction, underutilized employees, and unnecessary costs.

When we respond to change factors, we want to optimize the operational and personnel development, including the awareness and discretion employees need to be performance leaders. If bureaucratization restricts employees’ information needs, it can, as Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard argues, inject “systemic organizational weaknesses by creating subtle sabotage through the resistance of employees that believe they are powerless in the bureaucracy that manages them.”

Do you recognize bureaucratization when it is happening?

How have you or could you managed bureaucratization better?

image credit: wikipedia.org

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Managing BureaucratizationDavid Paschane, Ph.D.  is an Organizational Architect from the Washington D.C area. He is an Associate Research Professor at UMBC; a Founder and Volunteer at Military Alumni Transition Career Headquarters (MATCH) and the Director of Strategic Initiatives at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

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  1. We have done quite a bit of research across large Govt organisations via the collection of narrative and the two most compelling messages that continuously emerge are 1) The most senior people have been too “busy and important” for too long to get out and get themselves personally developed in new and contemporary ways of thinking and doing. 2) The middle layer of the sector have had mandated personal development plans so they have had no choice – they have had to go out and and learn.

    The upshot of this is we have a growing number middle level people who are a lot more savvy than those they report to and they are frustrated because they are being told – that’s not the way we do things around here! These people then move on in frustration so those most likely to be promoted into the senior vacancies are those most compliant with the bureaucratic structures and methods in place. The end result of this is our big bureaucratic organisations (read Govt Depts) are becoming less agile and more brittle when confronted with the rapidly accelerating change around them.

  2. Thank you for the comment. I would love to learn more about your research and look at how we may collaborate. Please encourage all your government colleagues to complete the 2012 Government Bureaucracy Survey so we can get better data on how it effects workers. See the survey at: https://www.research.net/s/QLTJF2F

  3. In my experiences driving business transformation, I encourage teams to “wade into the pool of [process] complexity slowly.” Just as you may go into the ocean slowly, feet first, then up to you ankles, then up to your knees, at some point you stop because you are in deep enough. Likewise, do the same with process / control such that you get the benefits of the process but don’t get in over your head.

    It’s a lot easier to add a little more process than to remove a bunch of unneeded process.

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