The Rational Organization
It seems we are surrounded by rules. Rules at work, driving rules (a.k.a. laws), home owners’ association rules, professional association codes of conduct, just to name a few. When Max Weber introduced the concept of “Bureaucracy” it was originally considered to be a good thing. On the surface, it seemed to be obvious that a rational organization was better than an irrational or chaotic organization. To accomplish this goal of a rational organization we implemented policies, procedures, systems and many, many rules. And, each time someone made a mistake, instead of dealing with that individual we made more rules. The result, very slow organizations that don’t serve the customers well, are not very fun places to work and are lousy places to invest.
Rocks in Your Employees Backpacks
As the owners of a company that I used to work for put it, “each rule we add is like putting another rock in our employees’ backpacks which slows them down.” If we don’t guard against this, eventually the cumulative load will become so great the workforce can’t meet the customers’ service expectations and the competition will take our customers. What would your organization look like if you replaced many to most of the existing rules with simple, memorable core decision-making guidance/criteria? The design principle of “elegance” is the degree of system complexity vs. benefit. A well-designed system includes just enough structure and complexity as is necessary to meet the stakeholder’s needs and no more.
What if there were no rules?
What if we all operated from a core guidance system? One company that I used to work for did just that. They didn’t have rules. Instead, they had what some called a “prime directive” that guided all decision making: “Is it fair, honest, reasonable and make good business sense?” That’s it! No rule book that no one reads anyway. No lengthy code of conduct. They hired people they knew well and they taught and coached the use of the decision criteria. The result, an empowered and agile workforce focused on serving the ever-changing needs of the customers in an ever changing environment. Ultimately, steady growth.
Latham, J. R. (2013). How much does your organization weigh? INNOVATION, 32(2), 4. Note: Journal of Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA). | Download