“If we sense that our structures are rigid, inflexible, or bureaucratic, we must bust them open – without destroying ourselves in the process.” – Ed Catmull
To be successful in today’s highly competitive marketplace, your business must be flexible, innovative and customer friendly. Businesses that are inflexible and difficult to do business with are destined to fail.
Quite a few years ago, I was called by a client and asked to take over an engineering project that they had awarded to one of our competitors. This competitor was not meeting the requirements of the contract and not delivering on schedule or on budget. Once I got involved with the project and did some investigating, I discovered the biggest reason for their failure was they were stuck using their rigid project execution processes that added cost and complexity without returning any value. This competitor was stuck in their rigid, inflexible and bureaucratic structure and could not find a way to break out of it even though they were self-destructing!
Legitimate systems and structures are put in place to drive consistency, repeatability, quality, efficiency and to control costs. However, if these same systems and structures begin slowing down your business, costing more money or negatively impacting quality because they are too rigid, they must be, as Catmull says, “bust open” and replaced with systems and structures that add value.
How do you know if your structures and systems are too rigid and you are mired in bureaucracy? Look for these 10 warning signs:
- You hear your staff saying things like; “We have to do it his way because we were told to” or “We have to do it his way because we have to follow the rules.”
- You have auditors enforcing outdated rules and policies that actually cost your business money rather than making you more efficient
- Your company has grown a lot recently but you have the same structures and systems
- Your company has downsized recently but you are using the same structures and systems
- Your market has changed significantly but your structures and systems are the same
- Your staff take forever to do something that used to be done much quicker
- Your costs per unit are escalating instead of decreasing
- Your customers are complaining about how inflexible you are
- Your customers are complaining about cost increases
- You lose customers because you are not compliant with the customer specifications
How do you avoid being too rigid and bureaucratic and how can you break out of this rut if you are already in it?
- Communicate your new company direction to your staff. Model these new behaviors in everything you do. Remember that a leader’s actions speak louder than words.
- If you hear an employee state; “We have to do it his way because we were told to” or “We have to do it his way because we have to follow the rules” you must step in immediately and correct the situation and reset their behaviors with your expectations.
- Build a culture of innovation within your established processes. Encourage staff use your structures and systems where it makes sense while suggesting better ways to do business when they don’t make sense. Be willing to review these suggestions and change the way you do business.
- At least once a year, run the “Kill a Stupid Rule” exercise and get rid of old systems and structures that are no longer relevant.
- Continuously improve. This is related to the first four points. Build a culture that relentlessly drives improvement at every level of the organization and across all activities.
Stamp out any signs of bureaucracy and rigidity. They are like a cancer that will slowly choke your organization to death. Start building a culture that encourages innovation and continuous improvement and watch your organization flourish!
What bureaucracy and rigidity are you going to target in your organization?
- For more on this topic refer to Five Simple Steps to Kill a Stupid Rule and Are Rules, Processes and Tools Killing Your Business
“The most important thing I learned from big companies is that creativity gets stifled when everyone’s got to follow the rules.” David Kelley
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