By Derek Irvine
Organizations are becoming flatter and more flexible, at least according to conventional wisdom.
But in a recent article in Harvard Business Review, Gary Hamel points to data that suggests exactly the opposite: bureaucracy is growing rather than shrinking. Much of that growth, he argues, comes as leaders attempt to address the complexity of the modern business environment.
As Gary notes in the article- reflective of the key theme from his WorkHuman 2016 keynote and a recent Q&A on the Globoforce blog (spanning Parts I, II, and III)- that chain of events is not inevitable. Instead, he argues for new ways of thinking that empowers human adaptability, creativity, and passion – rather than stifling them under levels upon levels of hierarchy.
What might that look like?
One option is to change the very mindset with which we approach the roles of managers. Historically, management has been guided by an implicit “effort bias” that equates time spent with work accomplished, according to this Huffington Post article. This mindset rewards employees who come in early and stay late, answer emails on weekends, and appear to be busy, regardless of the outcomes.
It’s easy to see how that type of mindset requires frequent oversight and control, contributing to much of felt need for bureaucracy that Gary identifies.
An alternative mindset is to approach work with a “effectiveness bias” – trusting individuals to deliver and holding them accountable for their contributions rather than time spent at a desk or tethered to a smartphone. Once expectations and effectiveness criteria are communicated, and processes for ongoing feedback are in place, minimal oversight is required.
Employees become self-managing, owning responsibility for delivering on their commitments. They are also free to adapt to changing circumstances, and creatively address both novelty and complexity. There is little need of extensive bureaucracy.
This notion of an “effectiveness bias” and empowered employees fully resonates with social recognition programs. Employees are viewed through the lens of their contributions to key values, overcoming challenges to get work done, and collaborative spirit to drive greater team outcomes.
Social recognition also has the added bonus of providing greater transparency within the organization, in terms of where expertise is developed and shared, as well as where the largest impact is being generated that helps to move the business forward. This transparency goes a long way in helping to manage complexity without adding more bureaucracy.
What could help remove some of the bureaucracy in your own company?