We all live and work in bureaucratic organizations. The differences between us is the dose. In today’s world, bureaucracy is often a symptom of dealing with complexity. We may not like to acknowledge this, or to call it like this, but that’s what it is.
Self-Induced-Complexity-Kingdom (SICK) is a state that does not correlate with size, but culture. Some of my relatively small clients (in comparison with the giants) suffer from SICK, or frankly, are sick. Other large client companies have managed to control the fast uncontrollable complexity by running the company on an operating system that obsessively avoids it.
Robert Conquest’s (1917- 2015) third Law of Politics says: ‘The simplest way to explain the behaviour of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies’.
And you could say that the simplest way to explain the behaviour of any bureaucratic company is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its competitors.
It always surprises me how easy it is to fall into the bureaucratic trap on behalf of growth, market complexity, or taking a company to a higher level of scale. Many of the people leading this in some organizations, people I know well, are smart and experienced people. If I were to say to them that we need to avoid that trap, I would insult half of them. They are, they may say, aware and have no desire to go down that route.
Everybody (OK, many people I know) likes the idea of remaining ‘small’, keeping the entrepreneurial spirit, running the company as a start-up, etc. But the same people are putting in more and more processes and systems to cope with their reality. Not all questions or challenges need a process and system, or indeed a structural answer. A great percentage of these need a behavioural answer. But once you start walking on the bureaucratic path with a new Review Committee, a new Innovation Board, and a new Approval Body, it is difficult to go back.
So maybe the conspiracy does not come from outside after all. Maybe it is inside. Maybe it is a hidden one (are they not all of them?)
By the way, the other two Laws of Politics are (1) Everyone is conservative about what he knows best, and (2) any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing. I am sure we can find organizational translations.