You, Yes You, Can Break Up a Bureaucracy!

Tired of dealing with bureaucracy? Feel like nothing is getting done because of all the red tape?

In his latest Pinkcast, Dan Pink notes that the longer we work within a bureaucracy, the more likely we are to absorb the wrong-headed values and practices.

However, there is a way to break through bureaucracy, and for help with that, Pink takes a look at the bestselling book Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside Them.  Authors Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini make a passionate, data-driven argument for excising bureaucracy and replacing it with something better.

Hamel and Zanini suggest that the best way to bust a bureaucracy is to start with yourself using the Bureaucracy Personal Inventory, the BPI.

At the end of every week test whether you’ve acted like a bureaucrat or a human being by asking yourself questions such as (with my answers in parentheses):

  • Did I hold onto power when I should have shared it? (I’ve never had power.)
  • Did I fail to challenge a counterproductive policy? (I’ve asked numerous times: “Are you sure you want to put me in charge of this?”)
  • Did I fake enthusiasm for one of my boss’s ideas? (I don’t know; I’ve gotten so good at fooling myself.)
  • Did I play it safe when I should have been bold? (Us accountants aren’t paid to be bold.)

Hamel and Zanini claim that bureaucracies will start to crumble when more of us just stop acting like bureaucrats.

Here is the video:

And here’s part of the review of Humanocracy from Amazon:

Humanocracy lays out a detailed blueprint for creating organizations that are as inspired and ingenious as the human beings inside them.

Critical building blocks include:

Motivation: Rallying colleagues to the challenge of busting bureaucracy
Models: Leveraging the experience of organizations that have profitably challenged the bureaucratic status quo
Mindsets: Escaping the industrial age thinking that frustrates progress
Mobilization: Activating a pro-change coalition to hack outmoded management systems and processes
Migration: Embedding the principles of humanocracy—ownership, markets, meritocracy, community, openness, experimentation, and paradox—in your organization’s DNA

Perhaps just like there was a need for trustbusters, it looks like there may be a need for bureaucracy busters.

I don’t think most people grow up wanting to be a bureaucrat…, or be part of a bureaucracy. So my guess is that once one person starts to bust a bureaucracy, he or she will quickly gain some followers…

*image from Gary Hamel

43 thoughts on “You, Yes You, Can Break Up a Bureaucracy!

  1. In some bureaucracies, if you follow Pink’s suggestions you’ll quickly find yourself working on a new resume. Bureaucracies don’t sound like much fun to work for, but maybe the paycheck can take the boredom out of it.

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  2. Some of these sound good in theory, but if you are a lowly worker at the bottom of the food chain, it’s hard to be too outspoken.

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  3. Some of the bureaucracy may be a result of size. I work for a company that employs over fifty thousand people. I am not sure any of us can fight the good fight and anticipate real change. Maybe a top down approach to change would work, but we are too large for a grass roots movement. Another great post, Jim!

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  4. For all their faults, bureaucracies are a way of structuring environments, both public and private sector. I’d never thought of you as an anarchist before…

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    1. yes, such structures do bring some order, and sometimes maddening red tape. And as for the anarchist, I’m just a simple blogger trying to find something to write about each day… 🙂

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      1. I worked in large organisations all my life, in both sectors. Bureaucracy could indeed be maddening, but without structure such organisations couldn’t function. I made the throwaway comment about anarchy because that is one of their aims – once they have banded together to form an organisation to achieve it, that is…

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  5. Good idea. In reality I think that most people will not follow the bureaucracy buster for fear of losing their jobs. It is also very likely that the buster will be bust and forgotten fairly quickly. This may need a more covert and slow approach, or come from the top.

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      1. You might go stir crazy so I’d be thinking of hobbies before retirement. For us, it will be simple. Hiking & birding until we get too old and have to sit on the porch in a rocking chair. I supposed I can put jigsaw puzzles together which I love to do. I got a while before I’m ready to do that, but to live off the grid and get away from all the crap…sounds divine!

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      2. I like the easy sounding part of retirement, but I don’t think living off the grid is for me. I think I’d prefer living downtown somewhere so that I could walk to everything…

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      3. That would work too, but not for us. We need to be out in nature. St. Petersburg has just revamped the whole pier area. I hope you get to find your spot near the beach close to those cute little shops and pubs! Maybe by the time you retire, covid will be gone and life can be normal again. 🙂

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  6. I worked for a bank and then later the Civil Service…I do agree that you have to have structure and that it also depends on which seat you occupy…Always outspoken and often described as a breath of fresh air but once I realised that I didn’t want to stay where I was or progress further either…early retirement seemed like the best option…one I haven’t regretted 🙂 x

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      1. I’ve been lucky given the nature of my job that I am pretty much left alone and have a good deal of freedom as to what I can do. I can’t imagine the alternative…


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