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Red tape kills great ideas

Dear Dave: I am a manager in Rochester. At my former company, we were able to make decisions and consider ideas rather quickly. Where I work now, there are an incredible amount of layers you must go through to get things done. The people who have been here for a while tell me that’s the way it is and they have quit trying to fight it — they have also quit trying to submit creative ideas, period. What can I do, because I have creative ideas? — T

Dear T: Yup! You are talking about excessive "red tape" (levels of excessive rules, procedures, and approvals) that would gag a maggot (sorry for that graphic reference).

As companies grow, they form departments and sub departments and so on, leading to not only red tape, but also to the inability to share information and knowledge with one another. You then have closed pockets of knowledge and a vast amount of redundancy, but worse, you have bureaucratic levels where the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing.

Before I get hate mail from folks who work in various levels of bureaucracy, let me say that red tape grew out of well-intentioned regulatory designs with the purpose of making sure things were done correctly and in a quality manner. Unfortunately, the rules locomotive was unstoppable and simplicity gave way to masters of foot dragging.

Idea crushers

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From an "intrapreneurial" (entrepreneurism inside the company) perspective, it is easy to see how people get tired of fighting bureaucracy and finally just keep good ideas to themselves, because they cannot stomach the torture of expending vast amounts of time and energy to get things done.

A friend of mine is a manager at a local organization — I promised him I would not divulge his name, for fear of retribution — and he told me that whenever he tries to nurture something through the system, all of a sudden he is slapped with red tape coming out of nowhere and from people he never knew existed. He ended that statement with a big, "Geesh!"

Cutting red tape

Unfortunately, in your case, the spirit has left many at your company and, arguably, they just got tired of beating themselves up. The lesson for us to learn is finding a way to have a balance of governance and expressways to action.

But, maybe the problem is not coping with the regulation you must deal with. Maybe the challenge for you is to put on your selling shoes and relentlessly sell the benefits of simplicity and a clear method of making decisions and blossoming ideas without going through 13 layers of hell. There must be some people in power at your organization that also want to stop the madness.

From a systemic perspective, the issue is not working with a flawed system, it is changing it. Possibly, you could ask for or initiate reviews of your current stock of regulations leading to a reduction of administrative burdens and simplification of administrative procedures.

You are a ‘fresh set of eyes’ for your organization and often that is needed, because people get trapped into paradigms of "Well, that’s the way we have always done things." Use your observations as a catalyst for idea and proposal process redesign and not just for becoming more frustrated.

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