One of the many great things about working in a innovative, high-growth company is the lack of bureaucracy.
I’m not talking about the paperwork and paper pushing kind. I’m talking about what Gary Hamel rightly defines as:
“Strategy gets set at the top. Power trickles down. Big leaders appoint little leaders. Individuals compete for promotion. Compensation correlates with rank. Tasks are assigned. Managers assess performance. Rules tightly circumscribe discretion.
Bureaucracy “constitutes the operating system for virtually every large-scale organisation on the planet. It is the unchallenged tenets of bureaucracy that disable our organisations.”
It frankly doesn’t exist. That doesn’t mean we don’t have processes and some of the checks and balances a good company should have. What it does mean is that deep in the culture is the capacity for making, creating and doing.
Its a deeper cultural and attitudinal bent that enables a company like Xero, Vend or Simple compete successfully with large incumbents. It is nearly impossible to replicate and highly perishable. I’ve seen it ferment in large organisations only to be quashed by incoming leaders, not by direct mandate but through subtle cultural cues.
The cultural contrasts between a company where bureaucracy is minimal and one where it is maximised are clear if you have every lived and worked in both. Little things stand out. The first values individualism and the quality of work. The second values conformity and standardisation of work. The first values ideas and impact. The second values marginal and non disruptive improvement.
Companies that are creating immense value and game-changing new platforms are those who have effectively sidelined bureaucracy in favour of a new way of working.
So, how will you smash bureaucracy in 2015 and turn it to a competitive advantage?
- Why Bureaucracy Must Die – Forbes
- Bureaucracy Must Die – Gary Hamel, HBR
- The Core Incompetencies of the Corporation – Gary Hamel, HBR
- The Drucker Forum Reading List – HBR
One of the downsides of working in tech isn’t just that you are surrounded by seriously distracted people, but you become one over time. Nearly every tech company I’ve worked in bears one common management practice that needs to change – the constant presence of managers distracted by devices during crucial conversations.
I’ve struggled with the notion of banning laptops from meetings. They are such a powerful tool when used well – but they rarely are. The glow of the screen has roughly the distraction power of a tub of ice cream, or, as Clay Shirky says more ominously – second-hand smoke.
I’m now convinced that any meeting can improve if computers and any other digital distraction is removed. Print the agenda before going in. Produce minutes in the 10 minutes following – bash them out. And if time doesn’t allow, allow the first five minutes of any meeting for prep, and the last ten for reviewing the minutes. Meetings with Bezos start with everyone reading the papers for the meeting ahead.
Statistically you will do better. Take the impact of banning laptops from the classroom.
We found that participants who multitasked on a laptop during a lecture scored lower on a test compared to those who did not multitask, and participants who were in direct view of a multitasking peer scored lower on a test compared to those who were not. The results demonstrate that multitasking on a laptop poses a significant distraction to both users and fellow students and can be detrimental to comprehension of lecture content.
Focus on the conversation not only increases, but how we are interacting. The presence of devices not only dulls our ability to process and contributing to the conversation – but also our ability to determine how we should best react to the conversation.
Improving the quality of decision making doesn’t require we completely banish the computer – but rather we put it to good use when and were we need it, and then recognise the conversation can’t happen with its glow present. Or at best, the quality of the conversation wont be what we want. Clay points to a brilliant analogy:
Jonathan Haidt’s metaphor of the elephant and the rider is useful here. In Haidt’s telling, the mind is like an elephant (the emotions) with a rider (the intellect) on top. The rider can see and plan ahead, but the elephant is far more powerful. Sometimes the rider and the elephant work together (the ideal in classroom settings), but if they conflict, the elephant usually wins.
So, which conversation are you going to focus on in 2015 – the one in front of you but not present, or the one in front of you and present.