Bureaucratic creep starts when a manager feels he has to exert control over how something gets done. Perhaps he’s been told to get it right “or it’s your job.” So he installs a new checkpoint to monitor a decision or set of decisions, or to monitor whether a given process is being done “correctly.”
Each time a decision hits a checkpoint, it’s reviewed. If it falls outside predetermined norms, it’s rejected. The bureaucracy is unthinking about the quality of the exception—or about the larger need for innovation. It only knows yes or no. It only knows how to exert control.
Over time, the new checkpoint becomes embedded in company policy. People are trained to adhere to it. As employees chafe under a system that demands decisions adhere to certain specifications, bureaucratic creep starts to drive the more talented, innovative people away. So the creative brain trust starts to erode. New employees are brought in who tend to be more mediocre. As the talent turns over, more mistakes occur.
Now the bureaucracy starts to flourish. It grows in order to exert control over increasing mediocrity and increasing numbers of errors. This further alienates the talented individuals. Before you know it, a culture of mediocrity has swept in. Like a virus, bureaucracy has fully taken over.
Smart managers are relentless in empowering people to figure out better ways to do things and make decisions on their own. They tolerate a level of chaos and uncertainty in order to preserve and encourage creative spark. Above all, they battle bureaucratic creep.
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