One part that I always enjoy, though sometimes I find it frustrating, is the time when we hike Capitol Hill to visit with our Senators and Representative. It can be a great opportunity to share concern for issues and thanks for supporting credit unions. The meeting this year caused me to think a bit. But the thinking did not occur as we spoke to our legislators; it came in the traditional debrief afterwards.
A traditional debrief is held at a Washington DC establishment called Clyde’s, over Yuengling and oysters. One of my fellow “hikers” commented on the meeting we had with one of our senators. We had expressed concern over recent data breaches and instead of the senator giving a clear path of action, he tended to outline several roadblocks that had to be overcome in order to get anything done.
A comment was made on how high up in the Senate this gentleman was, and yet he acted like he could not do anything more. This is an example of bureaucracy winning over accomplishment.
My mind drifted back to one community bank I worked for had a phrase of “serving our community” in what we would call a mission statement today. When I first started, I thought it was neat that a bank had the focus on making their community grow and prosper. It is something that as credit unions we all see the betterment of the lives of those in our membership area.
The misconception I faced was based upon the word “community”. Most of us think of egalitarian and noble ideas of improving the lives of all around us. I soon learned their version of community was much different than yours or mine.
After I was there for a month, I discovered the main manual that was used by retail folks was horribly weak. New employees often fended for themselves and were thrown to the wolves when it came to some tasks to serve the customers. This took unnecessary time for file management tasks that should easily be handled by a knowledge employee within a few minutes. Yet those in the know did not want to teach those who did not know as they felt it lowered their importance to the organization.
I had a friend who found himself in a similar situation. He saw the inefficiencies and took time to create a new help manual that could be used for front line account staff. The manual covered most of the challenges front line staff would come across with screen shots and detailed instructions on how to better serve the customer. This work would save so much time and needless hassle. So, he presented his work at the next staff meeting, fully expecting to be hailed a hero for his initiative.
But the opposite happened! The CEO rejected the manual, even though it would help both the bank and the customers. He wanted to form a committee to review the work and make necessary additions or deletions as they saw fit. Consequently, nothing came of my friends work except for a few pirated copies used extensively by smart front-line staff.
Another case where bureaucracy wins! The community that was improved was the little turf of some working inside the bank itself. Those in the know continued to be important and others were left on the outside. Several years later when my friend left the bank, his manual had still not made it past the committee. It would forever be a casualty to their bureaucratic kingdom.
Bureaucracies can flourish anywhere. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church where once an idea came forth, a committee was typically formed. And there were committees to nominate those to be on other committees. Often, this created a lot of activity, but not much accomplishment. Real ministry came when individuals or groups just went and did. We would often joke that we were thankful that God so loved the world that He sent His Son, and not formed a committee!
Now this is not to say that there is no place for governance and order in your company. But committees, departments, and divisions may often lose track of the overall goal of the organization and begin to act in ways that just advances their own small piece of the group. At this point the bureaucracy thrives and the overall mission is lost.
The bank I was at should have asked if each of these departments were set up to serve the community. In areas where they did not, a decision needs to be made between the bureaucracy and accomplishment of their stated mission. Bureaucracy and accomplishment are often polar opposites of each other.
What can be done to change your situation? First, observe. Observe your organization. Is your mission and vision in line with what you want to accomplish? If not change them! If so, are your various sections and divisions of your company contributing to the overall direction or are they each in their own bureaucratic kingdom?
Next change what you value. Place high emphasis on actions and attitudes that meet the mission of the organization. Value mission over meetings, accomplishment over activity, and breakthroughs over bureaucratic castles. Change departments if they do not support your overall mission and character.
Next, act. Empower your team to make as many decisions on the front line and to execute them. Educate your entire team so the attitudes you wish to see in them are evident. Reward actions that are in line with the mission.
Finally, guard. Guard your corporate culture. There is a tendency for every good idea of service to erode into an organization whose goal becomes the furtherance of the organization. That is a definition of bureaucracy and not accomplishment.