Organizations are interesting places.
What once began as a guy in his living room with an idea and a dream, can easily have grown into a gigantic, bloated, rule-laden and bureaucratic entity with complex org charts, handbooks, policies for every conceivable aspect of human behavior and lots and lots of vice-presidents. This journey may have taken several years or several decades. But look at most any successful business entity and you’ll probably see that inevitably, with growth, has come layers of complexity and the need to obtain 4 signatures on a purchase requisition form in order to get a box of envelopes delivered from the office supply company.
I recently read some interesting articles regarding bureaucracy that drew from the work of Max Weber, a German sociologist/economist who studied organizations at the turn of the 20th century. In his book “The Theory of Social and Economic Organization” he identified the characteristics of an ideal bureaucracy as being impersonal, efficient and rational. For further clarification he defined the key features of such an organization to include (1) the ‘authorities’ disseminating and reinforcing rules and codes of practice and (2) having all rules, decisions and actions recorded in writing. It was Weber’s work which popularized the term “bureaucracy” as he studied and defined the classic hierarchy with lines of authority which we have all come to know and love curse each time we stand in the line at our local DMV.
But in their time and place, bureaucracies have served us well. Right?
- Clear delineation of who is responsible for a given action/decision/expected outcome
- Readily accessible understanding of required levels of skill or competences for a position based upon the ‘spot’ in the org chart
- Defined levels of authority
Sadly, however, our organizations ran amok with the concept. Calling someone a Secretary didn’t sufficiently identify action, authority and level of skill did it? So we added Secretary II, Secretary III, Secretary IV and Senior Secretary. Your Executive VP has a corporate jet and revolving credit cards; your Assistant VP can’t sign a purchase order over $250 to cover lunch for her department.
And because of the complexity built up over time, when someone truly wants to get something done they have to find ways … also known as the “work around.”
- “Don’t apply with the HR Department, your resume will get lost in that ATS – take your resume to Joe and he’ll get it to the Hiring Manager.”
- “You’re starting to work from home but aren’t at a high enough level to have the company immediately add you to the corporate credit account to get your internet connection billed correctly? Run it through an expense report; those are paid within 48 hours.”
- “Sorry Mr. Big-Shot Customer, I’m just a Billing Rep II; you need to talk to a Billing Rep IV to get the charges reversed on that incorrect invoice.”
Layers and levels and rules and order. Put in place, once upon a time, to add efficicency and ensure only those with the proper amount of authority made things happen. And over time, common sense walked out the EXIT door.
At the end of the day, the Average Jane just wants to get stuff done with a minimal level of fuss. And so do I.
What about you?