Executive Insider

How to Embrace Good Bureaucracy to Solve Business Problems


“Bureaucracy” often brings to mind slow, redundant, and inefficient processes that ultimately lead to substandard results. And that’s often the case when structures and processes aren’t designed to empower teams to make decisions to speed up the pace of work and innovation. The unintentional, very familiar accumulation of red tape and decision trees can be thought of as “bad bureaucracy,” but what does “good bureaucracy” look like? EOS Worldwide’s CJ DuBe outlines five strategies for building good bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy has certainly gotten a bad rap due in no small part to the red tape, inflexibility, and self-serving nature that often comes with this organizational model. But a bureaucratic system doesn’t have to be bad.

Bad bureaucracy pits everyone against each other as employees work for themselves to climb the hierarchical ladder rather than work together to accomplish shared goals. Good bureaucracy, on the other hand, comes out of a transparent, open, and honest culture — where team members understand the mission, vision, and values of a business. They feel accountable for the work, can innovate to find solutions, and can take action to achieve business goals. They strive toward the same greater good while still advancing their own careers.

In other words, good bureaucracy keeps everyone moving in the same direction.

Building Good Bureaucracy in Businesses

The questions that follow, then, are: How do you go about building good bureaucracy? How do you implement a structure that enables employees to solve problems in innovative ways and work toward a shared vision?

Start with these strategies:

  1. Identify the responsibilities of all department seats.
    Teamwork is essential for any business. It can improve efficiency, encourage new ideas, and open the doors to more innovative solutions. But this level of cohesion isn’t always possible without set parameters around the responsibilities of each department.

    To clearly communicate responsibilities within your organization and help your teams work together, you must, first, fully understand each role and its function. Start by auditing your organization to understand what you already have and what you still need. List out all of your employees, then list out all of the operations that occur in your business. Match them to employees to see who’s doing what and where you might have holes. You can also create an organizational chart with this information to help you envision how each role is connected.

    Looking at the organization of your departments and the roles within them from a high level can help you identify what’s missing. Is any function not being fulfilled? Do you need to add new positions? Are any processes no longer necessary for the overall mission?

  2. Create a meeting cadence.
    Meetings can be indispensable strategic tools for a business. They keep everyone on the same page and moving in the right direction to achieve business goals — that is, of course, if they’re scheduled, organized, and managed properly. Establish a set, unwavering schedule of weekly, quarterly, and annual meetings. These should happen on the same day and time each week, quarter, or year, and each type should maintain a consistent agenda so everyone knows what to expect and can come prepared.

    The purpose of weekly meetings should be to address day-to-day issues and move things forward. Quarterly and annual meetings should also involve problem-solving but from a higher-level perspective. Quarterlies and annuals should be longer meetings: a full day for quarterlies and two full days for annuals. That might seem like a lot of time, but without dedicated time to focus on the bigger business picture, it’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day operations and forget the larger mission and vision.

  3. Learn to live your business in 90-day windows.
    Oftentimes, the most effective way to achieve long-term, sizeable goals is to break them down into more actionable steps. This allows you to more easily set milestones, measure progress, and maintain the necessary momentum for success. Look at what you hope to achieve this year. Then, choose three to seven priorities or projects for your teams to complete within the next 90 days to get you there. Rinse and repeat this process for each quarter, making sure to celebrate your wins and call out employee contributions.
  4. Establish key business metrics.
    It’s easy to get lost in all the quantifiable metrics that can indicate where the business is headed, but it’s more efficient to focus on several telling gauges of your trajectory. Every 13 weeks, establish key performance indicators to measure the progress of your 90-day initiatives.

    Focus on measures that provide a glimpse into customer acquisition, customer retention, and customer satisfaction. Set metrics around revenue, of course, but also profitability, business efficiency, financial resources, and service quality. Frame your selection on proactive versus reactive measurables to help you see what’s on track and what may soon go off the rails.

  5. Work up a two-page business plan.
    Most companies have business plans already, but they usually clock in at anywhere from 30 to 50 pages at a minimum — not something that will interest anyone beyond the founders. But a business plan is an important document for the trajectory of a business, and all employees could benefit from an abridged version.

    Gather your leadership team together and condense the plan to roughly two pages. Discuss the company’s short- and long-term vision as well as its core values, achievables, current issues, marketing strategy, and so on. This exercise doesn’t just make the information more digestible for everyone in the organization; it also helps build cohesion within a leadership team.

Getting bureaucracy right can be a challenge. There will always be people who resist the idea and focus only on the constraints of this organizational model. But if you focus on transparency, define each role’s responsibilities, and set specific metrics to track business progress, you’re moving everyone in the right — and the same — direction.

Written by CJ DuBe.

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CJ DuBe is the global community leader at EOS Worldwide. Driven by her passion to help entrepreneurs and their leadership teams, CJ has helped more than 100 companies clarify, simplify, and achieve their vision. CJ DuBe is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow her on LinkedIn.