The Busting Bureaucracy Hackathon

Phase 3: Ideas for Busting Bureaucracy (Part 1)

Value beats formality

By Erwin Pfuhler on June 8, 2022

Processes, procedures and comportments have to proof their value to the business.
Formality may have its benefits, but they have to be made explicit and the value has to be bullet proof. The costs of formality like decreased agility, flexibility, poor customer service, hidden costs etc have to be brought on the table.

First Steps 

Two points to start with are possible:
a) Each element of formality has to be evaluated. Where is the benefit? Does it lower costs, does it increase speed? Does it increase quality or any other metric and if yes to which degree?
b) Start from scratch. What is a minimum set of formality the enterprise needs at least.
Then we have to look at the alternatives any less rigid procedure or rule or process should be preferred. These alternatives can be variations of the existing formality, but with more flexibility and agility.

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hendrik-dejonckheere_1's picture

The main point of formality is "who has the discretion to take a decision in such a way that all the relevant issues and considerations are taken into account" Giving everyone access to information doesn’t mean that every body is capable to handle that information the right way. “Men should know his limitations”, most men do, so busting bureaucracy means providing a self-evaluation rationale to access whom else has to be taken into account to establish a sound decision.

The most important issue is the way people are willing to help each other in such a way their own progress isn’t hampered and the colleague can move forward. That means that personal favors must be replaced by a sense of added value for the common purpose. On the other hand people with scarce abilities have to be protected from over-asking. Such a behavior needs an open culture and that's more easily said than done. Bureaucracy is in a large part due to people in surge of protection against over-asking. Learning to work as a team must be an issue that takes a couple of hours to be discussed on a regular bases. The more people understand each others needs and those of the team, the easier it gets to let go of formality.

An example how technology can create transparency.
Each hour an employee or an executive spends in a meeting has a certain value (salary per year / working hours per year). This information could be retrieved and added across the participants of the meeting times the hours spent there. This would result in a simple number which has to be justified by the management.

Robert, thanks for your comment and your questions!
For me formality is part of the bureaucracy, but bureaucracy encompasses more.
Foremost formality are the processes, rules etc. in written. Then there are also the more implicit, below the surface rules and ways things get done. Bureaucracy is a form of authority with command and control structure and formality might be called its pavement.

Technology is ambivalent it could be used to unveil the myriads of possibilities to communicate, cooperate and innovate and on the other hand it could be used to strengthen bureaucracy, because surveillance of one's work is easier with IT then ever before.
Technology gives us the freedom to work when, where, what, how and with whom you want. This means leaders have to trust their teams that the work on the same vision, towards the same goals.

Function of technology: It provides us with information either from others humans by communication or by accessing technical sources like databases.
ad a) Thus we can get the information about costs and benefits of procedures, rules, processes. If it is not available we might assume it is zero (in case of benefits). If we do not have the information about costs we should think about the metrics we apply. This way we build up power against formality.
ad b) All we introduce could only have a limited lifetime until it has to be reevaluated. The faster the environment changes the more often this has to be done. This means also the more rules etc. we habe to get reevaluated the more burden of formality will be experienced, resulting in a decreasing set of rules etc. (if we assume that in the beginning we created to much rules). It is all about providing the flexibility for the system to find its natural equilibrium.

Again, technology is our major tool, but it is up to us how we use it. For me it has to provide the information which ist needed at the right place, right time in the adequate form.


Erwin Pfuhler

Edwin, I like your post. Two questions for you.

- Are you equating formality to bureaucracy?
- Assuming you are, how do you think that technology can be applied to facilitate the steps that you outline?


Robert Marshall

Liked by Erwin Pfuhler