I hate bureaucracy.
And many other people do too.
It results in situations like the one I experienced today.
But where did it come from? And why do we just accept it?
The Rise of Scientific Management
During the industrial revolution, the world witnessed machines take the place of manual work. Where there once once a horse drawn cart, there was the steam train. Where there had been hand weaving, the spinning jenny took its place.
People began applying scientific process to improve almost any set of processes. And this permeated into the processes of organisations. Hierarchical and scientific management was born.
This type of management was often called Taylorism, named after one of the early writers on management, Fredrick Taylor. The basic principle was to run organisations like machines. Design them with structure , make the parts (i.e. people) work to their maximum, give them as little inputs as possible and replace parts when they get worn out.
This worked…. depending on who you ask.
Henry Ford adopted this technique. Every person on his assembly line had one job that would take between 30 and 60 seconds. They could be trained on the same day they were hired. And they were only tasked with doing that single job.
And Ford was lauded for their productivity. BUT… they also had a staff turnover rate of between 3 and 5. That meant that, effectively, the entire production plant was replaced every 2-4 months.
People saw that Taylorism worked to increase productivity. And so it spread like wildfire
Same tool, different challenges
The problem is that Taylorism works in a very specific setting. It requires a fairly routine set of tasks, with consistent inputs and outputs as well as an ability to replace the components when needed.
So this hierarchical approach might work for some things nowadays. Maybe some factories have high labour input. Accounting and law firms use a similar process with their interns.
But the reality is that even in places where this system currently applies, it is rapidly fading. Manufacturing jobs are falling away to machines, accounting and law are both becoming more automated, meaning that people themselves need to be more differentiated.
So basically, this method doesn’t work in any role that values creativity, individualism, self-motivation, autonomy, strategic thinking, critical analysis etc. The parts are no longer as interchangeable. You can’t be innovative on a production line when you only do one tiny task.
Yet, the same Taylorist approach to managing organisations is applied from top to bottom.
No room to move
(NB: this is a bit of a rant, so brace yourself)