Society

Bureaucracy that kills dreams and creativity

bureaucracy

Navigating the storm of bureaucracy concept. FILE PHOTO | NMG

scottbellows

Summary

  • Restrictive bureaucracy weighs down and tramples efficiency, impact, and satisfaction of work.
  • Types of restrictive organisational bureaucracy include three main aspects: centralised decision making, lack of autonomy, and senseless hurdles that serve no functional purpose.
  • Fix such situations by developing charts of authority in spreadsheets that allow fiscal and administrative approvals to be cascaded further down the command chain.

Nyaboke worked diligently in her role as a software engineer at a Kisumu-based web developer. She enjoyed the creativity and freedom in the job and thrived in her position. During a recent industry conference in Diani, one of Kenya’s leading software firms based in Nairobi approached her and made her an unsolicited offer to join their firm. Flattered at the gesture, she accepted the new job.

Upon relocating to Nairobi, Nyaboke settled into her new position as software development supervisor. She had big hopes to come up with fascinating innovative solutions in financial technology and enterprise resource planning systems.

However, in less than two months on the job, the head of department called her into his office to complain about her performance. Perplexed, Nyaboke did not understand why she was getting reprimanded when her team had come up with new solutions and new programme codes for new products.

The HoD was angry that Nyaboke was filling in the weekly timesheets for her employees a few hours past the deadline. Bewildered, she inquired how the timesheets added to or supported departmental and firm objectives. Distraught, she emotionally disengaged and began planting the seeds to start her own small niche software start-up firm.

Organisational psychologists determine that bureaucracy can fall into two categories: enabling or coercive. Enabling bureaucracy empowers employees with clear codified parameters on shared decision making, autonomy, risk-taking, and listening all while building in flexibility for positive deviance that employees can take.

Conversely, restrictive bureaucracy weighs down and tramples efficiency, impact, and satisfaction of work. It breeds excuses rather than action. Often hailed in the name of internal controls, it is often rooted in laziness, fear, or control.

Types of restrictive organisational bureaucracy include three main aspects: centralised decision making, lack of autonomy, and senseless hurdles that serve no functional purpose.

First, centralised decision-making pulls power to the centre that disempowers supervisors, specialists, and managers. How many signatures or signoffs are needed before approving a Sh200,000 operating expense? How many people in the organisation have the authority to approve such an expense?

Organisations can use process mapping to take their policies into simple picture infographics that show who does what in each procedure. When you have a situation in a process map where multiple decision points keep going back to the same person over and over again for action, then your organisation could be overly centralised.

Second, another type of bureaucracy includes the lack of autonomy. In such situations, experts and managers are unable to make decisions for themselves and their departments without getting multiple additional approvals. Professionals need empowerment and authorisation.

Fix such situations by developing charts of authority in spreadsheets that allow fiscal and administrative approvals to be cascaded further down the command chain. Who can approve exceptions to rules? Who may sign-off on creativity?

Third, senseless hurdles within organisations can hit at all levels, including executive, supervisory, and junior staff. Does logic or empty paperwork prevail in your organisation? Frequently. The most vulnerable in an organisation without counter-power feels the brunt of bureaucracy: the job or consultancy seeker.

You do not have a certified copy of a minor training certificate? Eliminated. You did not provide a bank swift code for a non-swift money transfer? There is an excuse not to pay you. Why not ask for your blood type or shoe size to prove you are human? One ponders the limits of logic.

So, take the below-abbreviated bureaucracy test to ascertain whether your organisation suffers from over-paperwork burdens.

After each of the five statements, indicate whether which of the five options most applies. Assign the following point value to each frequency as follows: rarely (1), seldom (2), occasionally (3), often (4), and almost always (5).

Are committees constituted even on decisions an executive could normally make? Do you feel that seeking permission to be creative is so cumbersome that you just give up on innovation? Does your organisation require more than two signatures to make a needed purchase that was budgeted for? Do employees get confused on who to ask for what permission and how to obtain the permission? Are the procedures counterintuitive that harms productivity and impact?

If you scored more than 18 total on the above statements, then your organisation suffers from bureaucracy over-burden. Go through and process the map to uncover where the log jams exist. Make charts of authority to build flexibility. Get a team together to think through which procedures fail to meet the useful logic test.

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