The Crushing Weight of Bureaucracy

When I started my corporate career, I worked for a global company led by the hard-charging CEO, Percy Barnevik.

He believed in pushing decision-making to the lowest level. His corporate mantra was, “think global, act local.” He empowered his local managers to take charge and make things happen.

As a young general manager of a manufacturing business in that company, I was thankful to be working for a CEO who understood the power of delegating authority. I had the autonomy to run my business as I saw fit so long as I got results.

I was not burdened with extraneous paperwork or monthly reporting. Instead, Barnevik kept his headquarters small and focused his senior management team on ensuring local managers had everything they needed to succeed.

As a result, we were free to do what was needed locally to get the best results – and the results were outstanding. We moved fast and, every year, we grew sales and profits.

We also had a lot of fun doing it.

In many ways, I felt like I was running my own business – except I had a large corporation backing me up. It was the most fun I ever had working as a leader in a global company.

Unfortunately, good things never last.

Barnevik eventually retired, and his replacements believed that the company had too many maverick business leaders around the world.

They felt the company needed to have a more uniform approach, so they hired more and more people on staff to coordinate this standardization. Eventually, what was once a small team at headquarters focused on supporting local businesses, became an army of bureaucrats working to control every aspect of the company.

Over the years, the company eventually stripped most of the authority from local business managers. Instead, most decisions went through the bureaucrats.

As a result of the weight of this bureaucracy, decision-making slowed down, and our growth stalled as well.

Under the weight of bureaucracy, decision-making slows down, and growth stalls as well. Click To Tweet

Faceless bureaucrats without any responsibility for the financial performance of local businesses were now in charge. They had all the authority and no accountability. The company still held local managers responsible for the financial results, but they had little power to implement the ideas to make it happen.

What was once fun became a futile battle of rules and red tape.

Frustrated, I eventually moved to another global business only to discover that the situation was even worse. There, local managers had no authority.

Frustration and apathy sat like a dark cloud over employees. Most local managers had given up trying to make things better. The faceless bureaucrats were in charge, and local managers could do nothing to change the situation. Most managers felt like they were strapped into a car with no steering wheel – they had no control.

It was the most depressing place I had ever worked.

That experience caused me to leave corporate life to start my own business.

As an entrepreneur, I once again attained the right balance of authority and responsibility. I had complete control of my business, made quick decisions, and my sales multiplied.

I also learned to have fun again.

How does this relate to your leadership journey?

It should be a reminder of your role as a leader. It’s not your job to create a bureaucracy to control every aspect of your employees’ lives. Your job is to empower your people to take action to accomplish the goals of the company.

A leader's job is to empower people to take action to accomplish the goals of the company. Click To Tweet

People enjoy freedom, and they will thrive when not faced with the crushing weight of bureaucratic processes.

Our job as leaders is to communicate the goal, establish the ground rules, and ensure our people have everything they need to succeed.

When you remove the weight of bureaucracy, your team will move faster, resulting in quicker results.

When faced with the decision to add layers of red tape, ask yourself, what would Percy do?

In my bestselling leadership book, All in the Same Boat, I tell more stories of what it was like working for a leader like Percy Barnevik.

[Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash]

The Biggest Untapped Resource in Your Organization

What if I told you that you could find all the answers to the problems facing your business inside the four walls of your organization?

Business consultants know this – and it’s the first place they go to figure out how to advise their clients.

It’s also the first place I go to when I first take over a business.

Sadly, it’s the last place most bosses go.

Most managers fail to recognize that their greatest assets are the older, experienced employees in their organization.

These are the employees that have been in the trenches for decades. They have seen managers come and go, and they have observed what works and what doesn’t.

They have strong ideas and opinions about the business, but almost no one asks them for their thoughts.

In a world that celebrates youth, these employees often remain a silent, untapped resource.

When I come into a new business, these are the people I seek out. I ask them three specific questions.

  1. What’s working well here?
  2. What needs to be changed?
  3. If you were in my shoes, what would be the first thing you would do?

I have found that the answers to these questions usually center around two or three critical things that I need to address. Taking action on those few issues helps me build credibility with experienced employees. They see that I listened and took action on their concerns.

Sadly, too many managers think they already have all the answers, so they ignore the most experienced people on their teams. This mistake typically leads to bad decisions and frustrated employees.

Ignoring experienced employees typically leads to bad decisions and frustration. Click To Tweet

I prefer to seek out more seasoned employees for their wisdom and experience.

Mark Twain once said that “Good judgment is the result of experience.”

I would add that good judgment is also the result of listening to your most experienced people.

Good judgment is the result of listening to your most experienced people. Click To Tweet

I recently had Dr. Mike Simpson on the Deep Leadership podcast. At 48 years old, he was still running missions in Afghanistan with U.S. Special Forces. Most of his peers were in their twenties.

Older operators in the special forces are known as Grey Beards, and they looked up to for their wisdom and experience. Younger soldiers know that there is something special about the advice from a Grey Beard.

Bohdi Sanders reminds us that “Old warriors did not get old by accident; they got old by being wise, having the right knowledge, and being tough.”

The question to you is – who are the Grey Beards in your organization?

How can you tap into their wisdom and knowledge?

If you’re are interested in learning how I turned around a manufacturing plant by tapping into the experienced workforce, pick up a copy of my bestselling leadership book, All in the Same Boat: Lead Your Organization Like a Nuclear Submariner.

[Photo by Ahmad Ossayli on Unsplash]

A Sense of Belonging

Can you remember a time when you felt like you really belonged?

For me, it was the day I became a submariner.

During the pinning ceremony, the gold dolphin insignia was placed on my uniform signifying I was a qualified submarine officer. That insignia told the world I belonged to an exceptional group of people qualified in underwater warfare.

It was one of my proudest moments, and it’s an important identity I have kept my whole life.

So what about you? How do you feel when you really belong?

There something powerful about that feeling. It’s in our human nature to want to belong, to be part of a tribe. The problem is that this feeling is missing for so many people. Unfortunately, COVID has even made the situation worse. Young people, especially, are feeling increasingly disconnected.

It’s in our human nature to want to belong, to be part of a tribe. Click To Tweet

While we are connected more-and-more virtually, we are becoming disconnected both physically and emotionally.

Human connection was a primary topic in my conversation with Gabriel Klingman on my recent podcast episode. Gabriel was a manager at Starbucks for nearly a decade. One of the things he observed about young people is that they had a real “longing to belong.”

He also observed that, if you could create an environment where they felt like they were part of something special, it unleashed their potential as an employee. They became dedicated to what they did because there was a feeling of belonging.

He observed that belonging drove performance, especially with younger employees.

Creating a sense of belonging is an integral part of leadership. As you build your team, you need to consider if your employees feel like they belong to something special.

Have you created an environment where it’s special to be part of your tribe? Or is it just a job?

Work has the potential to be more than just a four-letter word. It can be where people can go, have friends, and strive together towards a common goal.

Work has the potential to be more than just a four-letter word. Click To Tweet

For some people, it might be the only place where they feel like they belong. They might have a troubled home life, but when they come to work, there’s stability. I know for me, my business feels more like a family than a company.

The question is, how can you create a culture of belonging within your team?

Creating a high-performance culture and a high-performing team requires a feeling of belonging and connection.

I challenge you today to think about how you can create a tribe with a true sense of belonging. It will help your employees reach their full potential and help you become a more effective leader.

Listen in to my whole discussion with Gabriel Klingman here.

I have the watch

 

P.S. I understand many who are reading this have bosses who don’t understand the value of people and relationships. For those of you with bosses like this, I am offering a new service. For just $10, I will anonymously mail a copy of my book, “I Have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following,” to your boss with a personal note. Click here and enter the discount code BOSS at checkout.