The blessings of bureaucracy

Bureaucracy cover artLet me be clear right at the start of this entry – I work in a large bureaucracy and I’m not ashamed about it!

‘Bureaucracy’ is often used as a term of ridicule or contempt, and we frequently talk (self included) about the need to reduce the level of bureaucracy.

However, we rarely think about the benefits associated with it.  I was prompted to ponder on this angle by something that Jim Collins said:

“The purpose of bureaucracy is to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline.” 

If Collins’ assessment is correct – and  I think it probably is – then we need bureaucracy to protect us from incompetence and lack of discipline.  And for those of us working in bureaucracies, it may be that the nature of bureaucracy may have something to teach us, may instil a degree of discipline and awareness of competence gaps that we need to address.  Perhaps one of the key lessons for us is to feel the pain of apparently unnecessary paperwork and procedures, then to realise how prone we can be in applying the same approaches on our customers, patients, service users.

Seeing ourselves as others see us may be awkward and hard to take, but if we see it, maybe we can act on it.  After all, ignorance is not bliss; rather it is ‘incompetence and lack of discipline’.  Where have I heard that before?

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