California’s Silicon Valley is undergoing an interesting metamorphosis. This is not unexpected. Simply stated, as companies emerge, they go through their own growing pains. What starts out as a small fast-paced group of dedicated entrepreneurs eventually reaches a point when the organization must become more structured to survive. Enter the dreaded “B” word. Yes, bureaucracy. Actually, bureaucracy is not all bad. It does allow a company to move forward in a systematic way that protects the company’s interests. What casts the shadow of ill-will over bureaucracy is the way in which managers often abuse its basic tenants. Professional manager, educator, writer and public speaker, David Lindo provides eight measures. I’ve taken them and added my own comments.

Ask yourself where you come down on these basic bureaucracy do’s and don’ts. Your answer may be very enlightening to you.

Measure #1: Over-controlling the operation.

Managers find it difficult to give up control of how “things are supposed” to be. Rules are created designed to control processes. There is nothing wrong with control, the question for you is: Has your operation become so over-controlled that it is stifling creativity or productivity?

Measure #2: Keep your controls


Controls can be complex, and therefore confusing or self-contradictory. Or, or they can be simple and to the point. The phrase Catch-22 humorously describes the concept of controls gone haywire because of their complexity.

Measure #3: Encourage experimentation and risk-taking.

Advancement doesn’t come from maintaining the status quo. Going forward requires taking measured risks. Note the use of the word ‘measured.’ Risk taking can be reckless or it can be smart. Are you creating policies, procedures or practices that stifle smart risk taking?

Measure #4: Create procedures that support desired results.

Bureaucrats are often criticized for creating procedures that discourage results-based activities. Actually, just the opposite is true for real bureaucracy. That’s right. Good bureaucracy is designed to encourage results, misapplication of procedures by insecure managers is what should be criticized, not the process.

Measure #5: Limit policies to only those whose benefits clearly exceed its costs.

Policies can limit or they can encourage. Limiting policies incur expense and yield little return. Encouraging policies incur expense as well. However, their expense is offset by a return that far exceeds the cost. For example, a policy that establishes hiring standards can either limit a manager’s choice or protect the manager from a possible thief.

Measure #6: Resist over-staffing designed to serve in an oversight capacity.

Organizations do not require burdensome oversight to be effective. To the contrary. They need some oversight, this is obvious. Unfortunately, the temptation is to carry such oversight beyond what is really needed. Employees need the room if they are going to succeed or fail. Failure is not necessarily bad, rarely does individual failure result in the death of an organization. More often than not, it is an opportunity for learning.

Measure #7: Promote personal self-control as the organizational norm.

Self-control is not anti-bureaucratic. Rather, it is a characteristic of just the opposite since well-run bureaucracies have room for expressions self-reliance. Bureaucracies promote controls to serve the interest of the majority. Self-control respects the rights of others and promotes decision-making that serves their interests.

Measure #8: Insist on personal responsibility.

Bureaucracies are often blamed for the incompetence of others. How often have we heard, “Sorry, that is not my job.” Is the bureaucracy to blame, or is it a convenient excuse for failing to take responsibility?

Measure #9: Bureaucracy is not the end, it is the means to the end.

Again, it is easy for managers to get so caught up on the process they miss the end. A well defined bureaucracy helps the decision-maker towards accomplishing the end. When the tail (bureaucracy) begins wagging the dog (organizational end), you know something is wrong. Yet, this doesn’t mean that it is always the tail. Sometimes (perhaps more often than we care to admit) it is the administrator.

Measure #10: Bureaucracies when properly executed are giants capable of accomplishing great feats, when abused they can suffocate even the greatest idea.

I think we have all seen this at one time or another. Great ideas as well as great idea makers can be swallowed up in organizations because of “the rules.” Bureaucratic rules are primarily guidelines. We often miss this point, believing them to be cast in stone. In short, bureaucracies don’t kill, bureaucrats do! Is your bureaucracy promoting or abusing? Hopefully, these ten tips can help you tell the difference.