Unnecessary Bureaucracy

| August 17, 2012

Many of the recent high-profile instances of organizational failures – such as the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion, Penn State Sandusky scandal and the Barclays Bank Libor manipulation – have resulted in independent investigations.  The point of these investigations is to identify what went wrong in order to prevent similar failures in the future.  Often these investigations result in reports with recommendations for management system changes.

Recently, one commentator characterized one of these reports as follows:

These recommendations are simply the imposition of unnecessary bureaucracy on the hapless many in the organization because of the misconduct of a very few.  In the end, the changes recommended will not work anyway.  What this failure shows is a lack of leadership that management systems can’t solve.

Implicit in this comment are the following assumptions –

  • Management systems are simply bureaucratic burdens that get in the way of doing “real work.”
  • Management systems don’t work; what is important is leadership.

I disagree. 

Taking each of these assumptions in turn –

Are management systems simply unnecessary impositions of bureaucracy?

They can be – if they are poorly thought out and implemented.

They don’t have to be.

If a management system is only “unnecessary bureaucracy,” it is not the management system that is to blame.  It is individuals who established the processes, decided on the internal controls and drafted the written procedures.

Why does this happen?

There are many reasons. 

One reason is that procedures are established to “treat symptoms” not to address the actual underlying causes.  An example is writing a work rule requiring that employees wear respirators rather than fixing the piece of equipment that leaks.

Another reason is that the individuals tasked with developing the management system processes do not have the resources or authority to address the issues that need to be addressed.  An example is when an individual is asked to develop and implement a preventive maintenance program for a critical piece of equipment but has neither the tools needed to do the necessary maintenance nor the authority to take the equipment out of service to do the work safely.

A third reason is that the individuals asked to develop the procedures may have neither the time nor the competence needed to develop management system controls. 

Analyzing work processes takes time and teamwork.  Writing procedures takes skill and expertise.  Implementing internal controls takes collaboration and persistence. 

In order to get the job done, individuals often fall back on using templates and examples from other organizations that may not really be appropriate to their organization or the situation at hand (e.g. including protection of polar bears and seals in an emergency response plan for an operation in the Gulf of Mexico). 

Their intentions are right, but their execution is flawed.

Is leadership, not management systems, what is important?

Actually,  BOTH leadership AND management are important.

Or as Peter Drucker put it –

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.

Leadership is all about effectiveness – doing those things that will achieve the desired results.

Management is all about efficiency – designing and implementing procedures to achieve the desired results using the most efficient processes.

Or as Peter Drucker put it –

Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right thing.

Leadership focuses on what you do; management focuses on how you do it.

This is why management system standards, such as OHSAS 18001, have requirements for both leadership and management. 

Organizations must identify the objectives needed to achieve their policy commitments, evaluate the risks associated with achieving those objectives and establish plans to accomplish their objectives.  In other words, identify those things that will achieve the desired results.

Organizations must also establish systematic processes to accomplish their policy commitments and achieve their objectives.  In other words, design and implement processes to achieve the desired results.

Neither leadership nor management is uniquely important.  Both are.

© ENLAR Compliance Services, Inc. (2012)

Category: OHSMS Documentation, OHSMS Implementation

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