How Not to Engage Employees and Improve Performance: The Effects of Bureaucracy

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What We Learned About Bureaucracy from 7,000 HBR Readers

Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini/August 10, 2017

Very interesting piece from HBR on the often-deleterious and hidden effects of bureaucracy on organizations. While the study surveyed employees in private sector organizations, many of the findings are nonetheless instructive for leaders in the public, quasi-public and not-for-profit sectors.

What did the authors find?

Not only do managers and front-line staff have very different perceptions about many key workplace issues (an area that deserves further exploration itself), but bureaucracy steals time, undermines empowerment, frustrates innovation, and breeds inertia. Not surprisingly, bureaucracies breed politicking, rewarding canniness over competence, and incentivize pettiness and parochialism, such as the building of fiefdoms and hoarding of resources.

Not all large companies appear to suffer from excessive bureaucracy. “Companies like Nucor, Morning Star, Spotify, Haier, and others have demonstrated that it’s possible to run large, complex organizations with a minimum of bureaucracy, and that doing so yields substantial performance advantages.”