HR Group, founded in Edmonton Alberta in 1993, is a partnership of highly experienced management consultants who specialize in organizational effectiveness and human resource management, and promote participative, lean, and cost-effective management practices. All partners are Certified Human Resource Practitioners with extensive senior level experience in both the private and public sectors.

How To Avoid Bureaucracy

Reprinted from “Productive Workplaces” (Spring, 1999), the HR Group newsletter.

Bureaucracy is defined by Webster’s as, “a system of administration marked by officialism, red tape and proliferation.” Many organizations, both public and private, suffer from one degree of bureaucracy or another. Bureaucracy, however, is too slow, too unresponsive and too incapable of change to survive in this world of rapid ongoing change. Bureaucracy, most importantly, also stands firmly in the way of employee responsibility and accountability at all levels. No organization, therefore, can operate productively with any great degree of bureaucracy.

In the course of assisting our clients with various degrees of Reengineering and Restructuring, we realized that there was a need for simple and practical day-to-day tools to assist both managers and staff to avoid creating any unnecessary bureaucracy. The theoretical knowledge and models and all of the various “flavors of the month” were not practical enough tools to be used on a daily basis at all levels.

In response to this need, we developed a practical checklist that is based not on any particular theoretical model or “flavor of the month”, but on many of the underlying core principles of what helps to create a productive workplace. Such principles as:

  • Delegating responsibility to the level at which the work is done.
  • Employee participation, ownership and accountability at all levels.
  • Minimum hierarchical levels.
  • Serving the customer, both internal and external.
  • Aligning work to organizational goals.
  • Sharing organizational information and providing feedback.

The checklists pose a set of questions that can be asked of each specific organizational task and responsibility that an employee has or more generally asked on a continuing basis.

Manager’s/Supervisor’s Checklist

  • Can this task/responsibility be delegated? If so, why don’t I?
  • Why should I resolve this problem if it involves the responsibilities of others?
  • Why do I have to approve/sign for this? Why not those responsible for the actual work?
  • What useful purpose does this serve? Dose it serve customer needs or improve productivity? If not, then why do it?
  • What training and resources would assist staff to be more productive and provide better service?
  • Why don’t I provide this information to all staff?
  • Am I providing constant and constructive feedback to all staff?
  • Am I following through and holding staff accountable?
  • Am I providing the regular opportunity through meetings for all staff to provide suggestions, identify and resolve issues and exchange information?
  • Do I encourage staff to make their own decisions about how they do their work?

Employee’s Checklist

  • What useful purpose does this task serve?
    • does it serve our customer’s needs?
    • is it required by law?
    • who uses the output? For what useful purpose?
    • does it further our organizational mission and goals?
    • does it serve our customer needs?
  • If there is no useful purpose, why are we doing it?
  • What would happen if we did not do it?
  • Can we do it more simply, cheaper, faster, better?
  • Why can’t we make this decision ourselves? If we can, why don’t we?
  • Why can’t we approve this or sign for this ourselves? If we can, why don’t we?
  • Why can’t we solve this problem ourselves? If we can, why don’t we?
  • If we’re held accountable, why aren’t we given the responsibility?
  • What training do we need to provide better service and be more productive?
  • What resources do we need that would improve service/productivity?

These checklists alone, of course, will not prevent or eradicate bureaucracy. There must be an overall commitment to an organizational culture that supports the basic principles of employee participation, responsibility and accountability at all levels. These checklists are purely a constant reminder for staff at all levels; avoiding bureaucracy and adhering to the core principles of productive management is a continuing exercise and not a one shot deal.

Create your own checklists and use them to control bureaucracy, create a more productive workplace and, by no means least, to ENJOY WORK MORE!