Bureaucracy is the foundation of modern management systems

Dr. Yasho Verma   New Delhi     Last Updated: May 15, 2018  | 00:24 IST
Bureaucracy is the foundation of modern management systems

The other day, I started browsing through top global companies' vision statements on the internet, and this is what I stumbled upon-

Twitter: "To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers."

Tumblr: "To empower creators to make their best work and get it in front of the audience they deserve."

Facebook: "To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected."

Asana: "To help humanity thrive by enabling all teams to work together effortlessly."

Microsoft: "To enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential."

CISCO: "Shape the future of the Internet by creating unprecedented value and opportunity for our customers, employees, investors, and ecosystem partners."

I couldn't help but notice that most vision statement shared one, common mantra. All these organizations speak about empowerment, and acknowledge in their vision statement that it flows from within, but do they actually share power equally between all stakeholders?

Their vision statements and values mention some of these aspects, but they are not implemented to the optimum level.  Even today, corporates that are held in high regard want to have seamless structures, empowered employees and strong teams embedded in their management systems.

The challenge before all organizations, in every industry, and in every part of the globe is that in order to beat competition, they have to create a de-centralised culture within themselves to make innovation flourish and this calls for the creation of de-centralised structures, strategies and processes that deliver results.

They want to do it, and articulate this very well in their value statements but the vexing issue is that by design or default, top-down, modern-day management structure conspires to create and thrive on the conflict created among internal stakeholders, so that when matters come to a head, instead of sorting it amongst themselves, everything has to be reported to senior managers, who can then use this information to wield control over their subordinates.

I suspect there is a deliberate attempt to have conflicting Key Result Areas (KRS) that would keep teams divided, so that the management can then take advantage of the pyramidal structures they thus create.

In order words, asymmetrical distribution and subsequent use of information, keeps power concentrated in the hands of a few in most modern-day organizations. Since abject supervision is considered essential, it kills freedom, dissent, and creativity in its wake.

It's a mistaken Plutonian belief that wisdom lies with a few, and that in the end, these wise old men must make all decisions for the good or bad of the company. Such rigid, misguided norms create pyramidal structures that are counterproductive to the management's goal of making progress in a competitive market.

In such organizations, decision-making remains vested with a few, at the helm of the affairs, and all financial and administrative power rest with them. This often alienates and throttles information flow from bottom-up of the pyramid - mainly from the foot soldiers, who are in effect, the most credible bearers of information, as they are closest to the customers.

I feel that in modern-day hierarchies, bureaucracy is in-built and power trickles only from the top. Even resources get allocated centrally and employees are often treated as semi-programmable robots, with the result that the more ambitious among them start investing more energy into their next hike or promotions, instead of shouldering their primary responsibility of adding more value to their pre-defined roles.  

These days, I've noticed that although the management tries to spell out Job Descriptions (JD) with a lot of clarity, they still manage to create more barriers than built bridges between different functional teams.

In an organisational matrix - required to balance skill requirements with optimisation of human efforts - job specification is today deliberately creating ambiguities that hinder project completion or job completion as per customer specifications, or organization expectations.

Needless bureaucratic hassles are being purposefully created to satisfy the insecurities of a few at the top rung of the management, who think they know everything about everything, but are not so liberal with the information flow from their end. As information hoarders, they want to always remain in control, and yield no control to people smarter than themselves.

Such organisations run the danger of eventually falling by the wayside, disowned by their own employees, and are gradually compelled to phase out of the market. Think Enron. Think Satyam.

In today's competitive, multi-polar world, we need organisations that meet the expectations of both internal as well as the external customers. Those who don't shy away of dealing directly with their customers, understanding their needs and those who want to make customers the key stakeholders in their progress. Such organizations weigh every decision from the customer's perspective. They co-op their customers as their key decision-makers in order to win the race.

Only such an organisation is eventually able to cut the red tape that by design or default has become a part and parcel of our modern-day organizational structures.

(The author is is a management thinker & philosopher, a mentor and a strategy consultant, an academician and a veteran in consumer durables and retail. He was formerly associated with LG Electronics as its COO and Director. He is also a member on board of banks and few other business houses across various industry verticals and consults them on plans and policies. Dr. Verma is a PHD in organizational behaviour from IIT Kharagpur.)

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