Bureaucracy and Organizational Change

The very word bureaucracy conjures images of sloth, inefficiency and status quoist mindset. To associate bureaucracy with change would thus be looked as an oxymoron. However, it is the case that some large organizations that were otherwise bureaucratic in their organizational structures managed to bring about change in the way they worked.

The best known example of this is the exemplary leadership provided by Lee Iacocca in his time at Ford and Chrysler, the auto majors in the United States. For the current generation, Lee Iacocca might be relatively unknown. But, for those who remember his extraordinary contributions to these organizations are aware of the way in which he turned them around in the face of stiff opposition from the bureaucracy. The book, Iacocca (an autobiography written by him) is a must read for those who want to implement change in large organizations.

If we look at the cases of large organizations where change did not succeed, we need not look farther than the governmental bureaucracies in all countries (especially India) where change is the farthest thing in the minds of the bureaucrats.

To give an example of a private sector organization that could not drive through change because of bureaucracy, we find General Motors and HP among the leading contenders. In both cases, the entrenched mindset which resisted any kind of change stymied the efforts of the leadership as well as those who wanted to bring about reform in these organizations.

So, what is it that makes some organizations better able to reform their bureaucracies and others fail to do so? For starters, the organizational structure is the key to implementing change management and the way in which it is designed is often the differentiating factor between success and failure.

The arteries of the bureaucratic organizations tend to get clogged with time leading to institutional resistance to change; next, the way in which the business imperatives are defined is crucial to making the employees buy into the change initiative. For instance, if the employees feel that change is being driven because of the personalities of the leaders and not necessarily because of the need to make more profits or respond to competition better is a major put off when change initiatives are launched.

So, the bottom line is that the structure as well as the people making up of the parts of the organization needs to be changed first if lasting and permanent change is to be achieved in the organization. Finally, the way in which change is communicated internally to the employees makes a lot of difference in the way the change program is implemented and determines the success or otherwise of the initiative.

The top leadership must be honest and truthful in their communication to the employees as far as telling them about the business drivers for change. In most cases, top leadership talks about change as though it is their pet project driven solely by ego and personal interests. Only when employees believe that the change program is needed because of valid and relevant business factors can there be an acceptance and buy in of the initiative.


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Change Management