Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Bureaucracy is not a nice thing

As a former member in good standing of the Federal bureaucracy I've got some first hand experience to pass along, which I distill this way into two rules:
  1. Almost anyone can say "No" and at least slow, if not stop, initiative (See: ankle biters around decision makers)
  2. Almost no one can say "Yes" and make it stick (See: ankle biter effect from rule 1)
Ergo: the bureaucratic default position is a "NO", and only a determined effort can make it YES. (Observation: there are many more jobs for those that can say "no", holding the fort as it were, than there are for those who can say "yes", so the default position is naturally supported by self interest)

And so, as I was reading a biography of military intelligence chief Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, I came across a passage written by the biographer -- Richard Bassett -- which just jumped off the page:
"Only those who have worked in an established organization of any size can understand the myriad of bureaucratic techniques that can be deployed to delay the requests of hostile outsiders"
Offense or defense?
Well yes, Bassett has it nailed. But, is a hard shell bureaucracy offense or defense? Answer: Yes, and yes.

The case for defense:
  • Barbarians at the gate?
  • Need political leverage?
  • Don't trust people?
  • Want to slow down change?
  • Not sure of yourself?
  • Have faith in process and procedure?  Then, put in a bureaucracy.
The case for offense:
  • Need the leverage of scale?
  • A lot of remote workers not inculcated in your culture?
  • Compelled by regulatory compliance which can't be a game for cowboys?
  • Need plug-and-play personnel rotations in and out of many projects?
  • Want to take the emotion and bias out of decision making?
  • Need crises reaction capability in a split second?  Then, put in a bureaucracy
.But it's not nice, ever:
 ... Today, the term bureaucracy suggests a lack of initiative, excessive adherence to rules and routine, red tape, inefficiency, or, even more serious, an impersonal force ..... (The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition)

.... any administration in which action is impeded by unnecessary official procedures and red tape (Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition)

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