A few decades ago, the CEO of a corporation was faced with a dilemma. The revenue growth was slowing from the fast pace of previous years, and the competition was intense.
Customer complaints about the quality of service were on the rise. He had also noticed that it was difficult to get things done in a timely manner inside the company. So, per the advice of some close associates, he hired an external consulting firm to assess the situation. The external firm immediately went to work. They studied the situation in detail and reported the findings.
The report started with a punch line, “There is massive confusion amongst employees between things that need to happen vs. things that do not need to happen.”
After many pages of information in the middle, the report concluded, “The company’s operations have become very bureaucratic. This is not sustainable in the current market environment. The company needs immediate attention and a major overhaul.”
Alarmed, the CEO immediately launched a company-wide campaign. It was named “Bust the Bureaucracy.” He wanted “All Hands” to join forces in cleaning up the non-productive processes, methods and systems. “Scrutinize everything, don’t assume anything” was the directive.
To accomplish this massive task, a corporate level “Bust the Bureaucracy” task force was formed. This task force defined the overall structure for the campaign, top level champions, process and sub-processes team leaders and the team members. Suggestion boxes and “town meetings” were introduced for common, working level employees to have their say.
Now, some employees were intrigued that some of the higher ups (very high up) whose departments had a lot of bureaucracy had become the champions for this new task force. It looked as if the masters who had created bureaucracy had now become the champions of busting it.
But for those who had been around for a while, and understood the games that are played in such type of organizations, knew that “The Masters” had no choice but to become “The Champions.” That was the only way for them to control the work and pace of the various teams and also manage what was going to be reported to the CEO.
Before I get back to the CEO, let us also visit one of the sub-campaigns that started as a result of this program. Based on the employee feedback, the Champions had identified, “Are we having too many meetings?” as one of the ingredients to Bust the massive Bureaucracy.
So the General Manager of the division in the North specially called for some additional consultants that he knew in the South to address the “Meetings” issue.
Immediately upon arrival, the husband/wife consultant tag team began their work. They set up three meetings with each employee; the first one for introductions, the second one for details, and the third one for conclusions. On top of that they also set up group meetings to tap the combined power of the masses. Employees noticed that in each of those meetings, the husband asked questions and the wife made notes.
Finally arrived the day of reckoning. The CEO had decided to travel to every shore and touch every division to listen first hand to his “Champions” revelations; followed by the famous last words, “What are we going to do about it?”
The celebration, in other words “to ease the pain” session, was set up one Thursday in an external lodge with a nice dinner, to be followed by the General Manager’s presentation (or confessions, as some employees humorously called it).
There is an old saying, “After feast comes the reckoning,” and it was no different that night. The General Manager got up and “honestly/candidly” shared the task force findings.
To sum it up:
1. The division had lost focus on what the real customer wanted.
2. There were too many processes and systems that were set up with good intention of servicing internal needs, but instead they were hampering employees from doing their jobs. (Example: Changes required up to 69 approvals)
3. The people were very busy and stressed with numerous activities, but the output could not be linked to any bottom-line business indicators.
Some employees, while listening to the speech, even wondered why the GM was not taking protection under the Fifth Amendment. Of course, the candid GM also presented “Get Well Plan” and organization to address it.
Sequel to the Story: the following Monday, employees were summoned to mandatory “All Hands Meeting.” They were shocked to see CEO again, so soon, at their site.
The CEO started “I will be very brief. I would like to introduce …, who will be your new GM (#2) for the Get Well Plan…We wish well to GM # 1, who has brought us to this stage, for his services. He has decided to leave to pursue other interests.”
At the conclusion of “Bust the Bureaucracy” campaign, Mr. CEO replaced the managers of some other divisions as well. He had revealed in private to some people that he had taken care of the real sources of Bureaucracy. He felt that he had entrusted those fellows to run their business efficiently in first place, empowered them with all resources and compensated them very well. What had happened in the company should not have, if those people had not taken their eye off the ball from basics of running a business. He believed that they had violated his and the stockholders trust.