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Does This Bureaucracy Make Me Look Fat?

Cog_gear I can't do it without authorization.

I'm sorry.  We have to wait for approval.

You'll need five signatures to get that moving forward.

My boss won't let me.

AAARRRG.  It's called a DECISION!

How do you sacrifice a virgin?

Trouble getting things moving in your organization?  The Wall Street Journal published an interesting article by Julian Birkinshaw and Suzanne Heywood yesterday correlating size with accomplishment (or lack thereof).

We've all understood intuitively for years that with organizational size comes greater complexity.  (DUH!)  The value of this article is how the authors break this down even further by explaining the different types of complexity within an organization:

  • Dysfunctional - as the name implies, this is the "bad" complexity that adds no value and just makes you work harder for nothing. According to the authors, this kind of complexity is built in over years. My own take is that we tend to generalize all complexity as being dysfunctional and label it with the blanket of bureaucracy. But... not necessarily so...
  • Designed - this is planned complexity created on purpose, similar to what Dell did when they created mass-customization. The authors go on to say that some designed complexity can actually lessen dysfunctionality. I personally used this philosophy when designing project change control procedures in a highly dysfunctional big box employer in town. While it added complexity, the added hoops reduced dysfunctionality.
  • Inherent - this is just the complexity that's left when you strip away dysfunctional and designed complexity... simply put, how hard is it to naturally do the job? The authors used flight controllers as an example. I'd add into that any job that is highly specialized... programmers, accountants, Olympian figure skaters.
  • Imposed - complexity which is outside the control of the company is the last category. I've mentioned before working on government regulatory projects such as HIPAA before. It's highly complex and was imposed by the outside. As a blogger, I sometimes find Typepad itself possesses some very annoying complexity. And don't even get me started about Technorati... have quit using it altogether.

The bottom line again circles back to systems thinking, folks.  Identify the inputs causing the complexity, and it becomes pretty easy to categorize whether it's a value-added complexity or just bureaucratic fodder.

When you find yourself faced with a complex process or job, ask yourself the following:

  1. What's causing the complexity?
  2. What factors do I control in the complexity?
  3. How much can I experiment with this job/process to make it less complex?
  4. How far can I push the envelope before anybody notices?
  5. Would anybody (including me) go to jail or get fired by simplifying the complexity?
  6. When did this complexity come into play? (a tell-tale sign of dysfunctional complexity)

Ultimately, it all comes down to the authors' recommendations to either reduce, channel, or accept the complexity in your system.

Why is this important?  Well, rather than just labeling something as too complex (thereby dismissing your own accountability for fixing it), this article (and this mindset) allows you to dissect the problem a little more succinctly.

And in the end, isn't that the most important aspect of accomplishment?

Blind, Deaf, and Dome

Large_dome I'm not a sports buff.  There, I've said it.  I can appreciate and coexist with sports.  I understand the basics of most sports (except curling; I still see no point in that as an Olympic sport).  I can root for teams, and I do have favorites.

So it was a bit of a surprise when I noticed a piece in this morning's Wall Street Journal asking if it was time the NFL banned domes.  The authors' claim is that indoor teams develop a dominatingly fast and precise offense because of their "weatherless" environment.  First of all, I think the authors of the piece should be sent to a statistics class (the most basic one, please).  All of their data is based on either current year selected teams or prior year outliers.  Even they acknowledge in the article that the Rams and the Lions (both indoor teams) combined have a 1-11 record this year.  They mentioned the 1999 Rams, writing up Kurt Warner's spectacular run as a quarterback to his INDOOR experience at arena football.  Maybe they were too busy writing sports briefs to actually catch a game, but the reason Kurt Warner was good was because of the fast pace of arena football.  It could have been played at Lambeau Field in January, and it still would have been fast paced.

I'm surprised they didn't recommend banning all outdoor fields south of the Mason-Dixon line while they were at it.  After all, if a team can't play in the blinding snow and/or driving rain, what's the point?  Personally, I've always assumed the opposite premise was intuitively true, since those who play outdoors in northern climates would naturally be tougher and better able to adapt to any environment.

So why am I going on a tirade about football venues?  Well, we do the same thing in business, don't we?  Very few companies get to choose their business environment.  Every system, every organization operates in an environment.  It's a key component of systems thinking.  Right now, the general economic environment stinks, but nobody chose this environment (except for the greedy brokers of Wall Street, the shoddy mortgage underwriting policies of the past 15 years, the fine upstanding credible staff at Moody's, and an accountant named O'Leary whose cow knocked over a lantern and started the whole mess).

The trick in systems thinking is to figure out how to modify your system to make the best of your business environment.  So our customer base is drying up.  Do we make less?  Modify our pricing structure?  Purchase a new company?  Undermine a competitor?  Find new products and/or new customers?  The bottom line is still the bottom line, regardless of the environment in which it operates.  Sometimes you can get lucky and modify the environment.  Other times you have to tough it out.  Like the Patriots, whose last 10 seasons (2009 included) are 106-44 or the love-em-or-hate-em Packers who have a respectable 84-60 from 2000 to 2008 (adjusting for any flaws in my math if I miscalculated the totals in my brain).

What about you?  What's in your environment that you want to blame for your business results?  How can you adjust your inputs or transformation processes to adapt in order to get the outputs and feedback loops you desire?

But what do I know?  I'm not a sports buff.

Where the Filed Things Are

Filed_things Some day, I'm going to write a book.

Some day, I'll run a marathon.

Some day, I'll clean that closet.

Some day, I'm going to take that vacation I've always wanted.

Accomplishments come in all shapes and sizes.  The only accomplishment that doesn't fit is the one that never gets accomplished.  We make excuses.  We procrastinate.  We "re-prioritize."  We daydream.  But we don't DO.

But that's not always a bad thing.  Accomplishments take time.  I ran across a long-term goals page I had written out about 15 years ago.  Included in my long term goals were:

  • Become a college instructor
  • Write a book
  • Become an independent consultant
  • Speak to audiences nationwide

Only one of those goals started and was realized almost immediately (college instructor).  The other three have only come to real fruition in the last four or five years.

Sometimes, we have to tell our dreams "not yet."  The real trick is to keep track of them during that waiting period.  Famed choreographer, dancer, and author Twyla Tharp suggests keeping a box to file away everything contributing to the creation of your accomplishments.  In her words, "Before you can think outside the box, you have to have a box."  She shared how she built her box for the stage performance of Movin' Out, which she collaborated with Billy Joel.

I keep track of my planned accomplishments on paper and electronically.  I'll jot down a line which would make a great sentence or paragraph in another book and store it in an electronic file.  I'll track people's names who'd make great character names.  I keep ideas for that restaurant I may want to open some day.  There's a completed children's book sitting on my laptop.  There are bins and boxes of wild things everywhere which feed my imagination and my accomplishments.

In the quest to Carpe Factum, remember it's OK to store your planned accomplishments away for a while.  Just remember where you put them, and don't forget to pull them out and dust them off every once in a while... just to keep the dream alive... and the wild rumpus going.

So.... what are your "filed things" and where are you keeping them?

Dwarfing Leadership

Dopey_grumpy Once upon a time, Dopey and Grumpy were promoted to managers.  Dopey was in over his head, and Grumpy yelled at everyone.  And nobody lived happily ever after.  The end.

Not much of a plot, eh?

How about if we make it more interesting... say... we genetically fuse Dopey and Grumpy.  That's what the folks at University of California Berkeley have done in their recently released study.  They've discovered that bosses who perceive themselves as inadequate or incompetent are far more likely to bully (and even sabotage) their subordinates.

Kind of explains the Bush-Cheney administration, doesn't it?  (Yeah, yeah, I know... one of the ironies of being a Republican who can view things objectively.)

According to the study, over a third of American workers have been bullied.  I've seen some of the ugliest bullies on the planet in my career, and my work with Office-Politics.com exposes me to worse ones than my imagination could conjure up.

So what do we do about all of this?  Do we suck up to our bosses to make them feel better about themselves?  Well, there is something to helping another individual maintain a modicum of self-esteem.  But what if the boss is just your basic WUHOT?  You can try to help him or her look good... to a point.  You can watch the floundering and even try to expedite the inevitable, but that only makes people miserable in the interim.  You definitely should document every exchange you have with this boss.

Have you ever had an incompetent boss?  What did you do to manage upward?

I Know What I Want For My Birthday

Gift-main_Full Yeah, yeah, my birthday was yesterday.  But now it's time for the gifts... not mine, yours.

I have a whole lot of stuff to give away.  And my readers are my favorite targets for gift giving.  So here's the scoop:  comment on this post with your most significant accomplishment (personal or professional).  Each comment will be an entry for a drawing for some great stuff:

  • Signed copy of Steve Farber's latest book, Greater Than Yourself
  • Copies of the Marc Hershon and Jonathan Littman book, I Hate People
  • Trifecta of Accomplishment:  One copy of all three of my books (that's right, including my new one)
  • Lots of other goodies to be announced throughout the month

The drawing will be on Halloween at noon (CDT)

So tell me... what are your big accomplishments (either already accomplished or planned on the horizon)?  Share with me, and I'll share with you!

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