Thursday, January 04, 2007

What Do Bureaucrats Do?

Rob Carrigan, who's involved with newpapers and technology, believes bureaucrats are an enemy of "process change", as he says:
"The Bureaucrat - This character not only lives “by” the rules, but “for” the rules. “We must follow this rule no matter what,” according to this enemy of progress. In process change, many of the old rules should be reconsidered and some probably be thrown out the window. The bureaucrat, however, will fight tooth and nail to preserve the way things are because “it is the rule."

Bureaucrats occur at different levels in an organization. The "operatives", to use James Q. Wilson's term for them (the clerk at the DMV window), wrap themselves in the "rules" as protection against the demands of their customers. They don't have the authority to change the rules. To get them to change, you need to offer a process that is better in their eyes (hopefully in the eyes of their customers) and training that gives them confidence in the new rules and new process.

At the upper levels you find the bureaucrats who do have the power to change the rules. But to change you have to make a rational case for the superiority of the new process and overcome the natural conservatism of those who are comfortable with the current process and who, in many cases, have invested sweat and tears in developing and perfecting the current process. And you need to recognize that spin doctors in the past have pushed various organizational nostrums and improvements on the incumbent bureaucrats with benefits that have evaporated into thin air. Finally, and the straw breaker in my case, you need to recognize that process improvements that increase efficiency may and should cost jobs in the organization.

1 comment:

idyll said...

Yes, I have known a lot of rule-bound bureaucrats, but my personal philosophy has been to be what I call an 'intrapreneur'. A lot can be done within the 'belly of the beast'. Cheers from a fellow bureaucratic traveler. Glad you're out.