Managing Bureaucratization

Controlling an organization is difficult. The larger the organization, the more complex is the process of control. We don’t think about it too much, but what we are trying to control are changes that naturally occur.

The drivers of changes are many and can be hidden in the layers of the organization. The internal drivers include missing expertise, emerging expertise, rule changes, quality of work life, staff shortages, new staff, staff exodus, self-management, miss-fitted management, process ambiguity, process choke points, and disjointed communications. The external drivers of change include increased customers, customer ambivalence, increased demands, divergent demands, product diversity, market diversity, diffused locations, miss-fitted services, laggard services, austere budget reviews, contextual dependencies, and mission shifts. How we react to change drivers affects the organizational health, innovative, and employees’ satisfaction with work conditions.

In large organizations, especially those without an organizational architect, we end up with many dispersed efforts at controlling change, and in some cases, an over control of changes that has negative consequences. The process is bureaucratization–codifying structure.

The challenge for current and future leaders is in how to manage bureaucratization while avoiding problems of operational friction, underutilized employees, and unnecessary costs.

When we respond to change factors, we want to optimize the operational and personnel development, including the awareness and discretion employees need to be performance leaders. If bureaucratization restricts employees’ information needs, it can, as Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard argues, inject “systemic organizational weaknesses by creating subtle sabotage through the resistance of employees that believe they are powerless in the bureaucracy that manages them.”

Do you recognize bureaucratization when it is happening?

How have you or could you managed bureaucratization better?

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