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I like bureaucracy

von Ines Kistenbrügger

directive I like bureaucracy. I really do. There is no hidden but in this sentence, I think bureaucracy is a modern world necessity. And it helps a company perform and stay on track.

Some might claim that bureaucracy is killing innovation and is the general root cause for the unnecessary overhead cost that is driving companies into bankruptcy. And there is no doubt about it: bureaucracy does not add value. Not the kind of value that you can or even should itemize on the Balance Sheet. Or present to your boss in order to boost your year end bonus. However, bureaucracy gives you the luxury of documentation. It creates a guideline to follow and it can serve as a basis for routinely reoccurring task. That is efficiency. A documented learning progress.

How come that bureaucracy has this bad reputation? Why are people scared to exploit the benefits of a well structured job? What drives a bureaucratic environment to be so horrible to work in?

Well, let me tell you the story of my colleague who was trying to move one desk closer to his boss (Yes, I know, he is weird, but that is not the topic of this story). In an unregulated environment he would have unplugged his computer and carried it to the next desk and plugged in. Work effort maybe five minutes if he moved really slowly. However in a bureaucratic environment moves need to documented. Every desk position has a number to which an employee is assigned. So that the mail would be delivered to the right desk. So maybe, we will add another 5 minutes to the task of carrying the computer from one desk to the other and reenter the location into the computer system. Overall time requirement for a move: 10 minutes.

However, the sad part of the story starts here. People use bureaucracy to create policies and procedures that would ensure their power and position. My dear colleague whose only goal was to share a cubicle with his boss, must not move the computer by himself and of course he nor his boss are in the position to request a desk change. The department is called Land - I have no idea who chose that term, realistically named it should have been Office or Building. Well, but the naming convention is not topic here either. Maybe they just like to have a well-sounding name. Maybe I should start calling the department Moon or Mars, because it seems that is where the people are from.

And of course real misused bureaucracy is supposed to make life difficult. First you have to define requests and requirements in complex terms and invent some restrictive policies. A desk move like I described above is therefore a convenience move and shall be forbidden. Then you have to make approval requirements as ridiculous as possible. Ask for management approval. But not at a convenient boss-level. Or even a bossboss approval. Make it really hard. Require them to ask the bossbossbossboss. It is important to confront top management with real important questions like where the employees should sit. Top management might not know the name of each employee, but most definitely he knows where the person should sit and work. Thanks to Mars.

paper, bureaucracy Well, back to my colleague. He will not move. He simply refuses to play that game and stays where he is. But he is down to earth, he knows his importance level. No waves necessary to make him feel more important or empowered. Or argued differently. He is new to the business world. Eventually he will be transformed and be one of those conquerors of bureaucracy. And fight for something that is really worth it like getting one of those rare window desks.

The conclusion is simple: Yes, bureaucracy has a bad reputation. And it is definitely not easy to get people to change their perception. But trust me on this: it is not bureaucracy that is hindering people to work efficiently. That is simply not true. It is stupidity or power hunger of people that have nothing else to say.

For me this means, I will end this article with a quote my supervisor uses daily: Nothing is easy, Ines.
I would have never guessed.

2008-01-01 Ines Kistenbrügger, Wirtschaftswetter
Text: ©Ines Kistenbrügger
Illustration: ©Angelika Petrich-Hornetz
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