Workflow and red tape – the outside bureaucracy

The meaning of red tape is;

Rigid or mechanical adherence to bureaucratic rules and regulations especially those involving unnecessary paperwork.

Workflow and bureaucracy pic 1Its origins come from the 17th century where legal and official documents first started being, and continue to be, bound by red tape. Many small business owners feel that government rules and regulations, especially those coming from Brussels, are strangling their efforts to improve workflow and productivity. I mean, what on earth is the idea behind a 48 hour working week? We are all supposed to work till we drop aren’t we? Entrepreneurs don’t stop working until their ideas are fully realised, so in some cases, they never stop working! Hang on a moment; is it fair to expect that from your workforce? Will your workflow improve if your employees are so knackered they cannot think straight?

So, maybe, just maybe, outside bureaucracy is not all to blame for drops in productivity and a stalled workflow. Is it really governments tying business up in red tape or do business owners themselves sometimes strangle their own workflow with unnecessary bureaucracy?

Workflow and internal bureaucracy

When a business first starts it is fired by the enthusiasm of its entrepreneur at the helm. The motivation is high, the risks are personal and systems are perhaps somewhat haphazard. There is no workflow issue until the business takes off. Then the boss has to learn to delegate and sometimes with that delegation comes an overzealous need to control. So, much as I am a fan of systems, sometimes those systems can end up running the company instead of the people managing the systems. You need to practise the art of KISS or this is where bureaucracy can rear its ugly head. External influences; taxation; health and safety and employment law all impose constraints but how you react to them also defines the level of bureaucracy. If you want your workflow to match your target productivity you need to work with these external influences. The problem can be when the entrepreneurial boss loses motivation under the sheer weight of paperwork!

Where does it say in some unwritten business rule book that an innovative boss has to do paperwork? Yes, they have to know that the paperwork is being completed, but much better to delegate this sideways to an efficient accountant/finance manager/administration officer. This frees them up to continue brainstorming new ideas and taking the company to the next level. However, what that does require is TRUST…

Trusting your workforce and not tying them up in red tape

On a national scale, many British business feels that impositions from Brussels and government imply a lack of trust in business owners. Laws are put in place because a small minority of cowboy businesses put profit above safety and worker wellbeing. Yes, it may feel insulting, but unless you have extreme clout, then you have to live with it. What you don’t do is then mirror that lack of trust internally. Delegation means trusting your employees to get on with the job. Yes, you need to track them, but if you constantly expect reports and don’t allow them any autonomy of decision making then your workflow will grind to a halt. An over-zealous manager can often be the spanner in the works; choking progress and demotivating their workforce.

Efficient workflow is about the flow

Bureaucracy comes in many shapes and sizes; from levels of signatory required to duplicates of reports and the incessant email memo trail. In this cyber age one would think most paperwork could be automated efficiently and workflow would improve. Instead, we email everyone about everything!Workflow and bureaucracy pic 2

I challenge you right now- go to your inbox and ask yourself- how much of that cyber mail is actually relevant? We have replaced old style legal red tape with a cluttered cloud full of cc and copies and interminable email conversations that take time and energy to sift through daily. My feeling is that a five-minute chat in the corridor would probably resolve the issue in half the time.

“Rigid or mechanical adherence….to rules” that is bureaucracy and it needs a large pair of scissors to cut through the red tape with which we bind ourselves. Over the next few posts I am going to look at how you might cut through those stifling systems that choke your workflow and compromise your productivity. This is not a “how to get organised” series. It is more of a strategic challenge to rethink your way of managing your business. Many of my speaking engagements are to organisations who feel their employees need motivation. When I talk to those employees I often find they feel trapped by the company systems; unable to truly shine because of paperwork, rules, traditions and “we’ve always done it this way”. Improve your workflow- take a blowtorch to bureaucracy!

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