Strict work structures may go if millennials get their way but others argue for corporate bureaucracy
Article was written by Joanna Mathers – NZHERALD weekend edition 2 JULY, 2017
Clock watching was the straw that broke the camel’s back. When Anthony Baxter’s boss gave him a ticking off for taking a 55-minute lunch break, he knew his days of working within an old school bureaucracy were numbered.
“My direct manager timed my lunches, it drove me nuts. I was performing well in my role and it was completely demotivating. Micromanaging and this sort bureaucracy actually pushed me into starting my own business,” says the managing director of Auckland-based digital marketing company Firefly.
Strict bureaucratic structures, with their attendant (often) arbitrary rules and regulations, may be a thing of the past if millennials get their way. Baxter typifies the attitudes of many millennials, questioning traditional power orthodoxies, they aren’t afraid to challenge perceived wisdom and do things differently. When setting up Firefly, Baxter was determined not to fall into the old traps of red tape and strict hierarchy.
“I really believe in working collaboratively,” he explains. The team at Firefly meet regularly to discuss any issues faced by the company and no decisions are made without everyone’s input. They talk about challenges and opportunities together, and the staff set their own performance targets.
Baxter believes people work more effectively when they feel they are on an even footing.
“Rather than being a boss I try to be a good leader,” he says. “It’s a very different role and leads to very different workplace conversations.”
Allan Pettersen, of human resources company Positive People, says that when it works well, bureaucracy can be a positive organisational structure. “Bureaucracy allows for an organisation to be well organized, with a strict command and control structure that ensures a disciplined approach to all tasks undertaken,” he says. “Roles are well defined, tasks are specified and detailed, and expectations are clear. Bureaucracy generally allows for things to run smoothly in a formal way, and is most common in large organisations.” But he says that when utilised poorly, it can be problematic. He says problems arise when what is seen to be corporate sophistication is actually old-fashioned bureaucracy. “This is particularly dangerous for growing organisations that may have become a little rough around the edges and are then seduced by the apparent orderly gloss of processes, systems, and policies,” he says. He believes the danger lies in losing sight of the fact that outcomes are really what actually matters. “Everything else is simply a means to an end. Sinking into a bureaucratic quagmire can mean being bogged down in the irrelevant. “
Baxters clock-watching manager is a case in point here. But organisations do need some form of structure to function efficiently. Pettersen says this is about striking the right balance.
“All organisations need some form of structure and hierachy, some solid administration and management. Finding the right balance that allows for these, but also has a focus on determined outcomes, is essential.”
Baxter says that striking this balance can be somewhat fiddly.
“There’s a fine line between being someone in charge of an organisation and working for the best result for everyone there, and being an old-fashioned type of “boss”, he says. “I see the best form of manager as someone who can lead and enable.” This sort of leadership style may work when things are going well, but there can be issues when staff are underperforming or behaving problematically. Baxter says that having strong company ethos that everyone buys into can help mitigate any issues.
“We have a set of core values that we make clear at any job interview.” These values are important when making hiring decisions and can be used effectively if there are employment issues. “It’s a lot easier to ask someone ‘hey, do you think this behavior aligns without values’ than disciplining them for what they are doing. We have regular get-togethers with each of our staff and if there’s an issue we can bring it up in this forum and appeal to our underlying values.”
Pettersen says the 21st century has seen orgnisation structures within the employment environment morph into collaborative approach promoted by the likes of Baxter.
“There is definitely a more collaborative approach within organisations these days where people’s opinions are sought and values.” But Pettersen says this needs to be termpered by common sense. “This collobrative approach can sometimes become a hidnereance as it becomes the norm in decision-making and then one is faced with extensive and sometime useless consultation on matters that, in reality, require a quick decision from an informed perso”. Again, the key here is to strike the right balance between effective ffunctioningand flexibility.
“Business structures are changing as they work towards functioning effectively by finding a happy compromise that has just enough structure and discipline combined with enough flexibility to allow creativity and flair to prosper.”