Bureaucratic rules hold back productivity

The UK’s Institute of Management’s magazine, The Professional Manager, ran an interesting article by Simon Caulking in the April/May 2012 issue called ‘Rules create bureaucratic limescale’. Caulking quoted Peter Drucker as once saying: ‘So much of management consists of making it hard for people to work’.

I couldn’t agree more. In Chapter 11 of Management Theory and Practice, I explain the five keys that each need to be present in order to achieve high productivity. The fourth key, ‘Chance To’, deals with precisely this: silly rules and cumbersome procedures that prevent people from doing the best job they are able to do.

Drucker’s answer is a periodic ‘spring clean’: a zero-based assessment of everything we and our work teams do. Why do we do this? What (if any) value does it add? What would happen if we didn’t do it?

Rules are meant to be followed unthinkingly, no questions asked, and too many rules in too many organisations are unnecessary and annoying and hold back productivity. They should go. Systems, on the other hand, provided we have a continuous improvement culture in the work team, are there to be improved. So we can keep them, provided we keep tweaking them.

So the rule is: Have as few rules as possible and keep your procedures simple and open to improvement.

Questions for discussion

When was the last time you examined the rules your work team follows to see whether they’re necessary? Do you know which ones most frustrate and annoy your team members?

What about the procedures and systems of work your team members follow? How could they be tweaked so people can do the job more quickly, more cheaply or more easily? How could they be adjusted to get an even better or more reliable result?