Wednesday, April 30, 2008

#391 Hooray for Bureaucracy

#392 Hooray for Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy is the secret weapon of the productive. Oh, yes, it can be misused. But it also can be a valuable weapon in the arsenal of getting stuff done.

Take Klopnick from the paving contractor. He's in charge of buying raw materials and getting it to the job site.

It's pretty cut and dried stuff. You buy tar or concrete or whatever, according to the job specs. Then you get it loaded on your truck and send it to where the work is being done. Sounds simple enough. But you don't know Amalgamated Builders, where Klopnick has worked for the last 30 or 35 years.

Used to be he'd read the specs, call the supplier and supervise the receiving. No more. Now, they have an order department, a receiving department and a distribution office. And Kloppy. as they call him, reports to the Supervisor of Orders, the Supervisor of Receiving and the Supervisor of Distribution, three guys who don't get along. Well, it's not that they don't get along. They don't even talk to each other.

The whole plant stops for lunch each morning at 11:45. The three supervisors all eat in the company cafeteria. Each always picks a table that's at the greatest possible distance from the other two. Bonus points if all three backs are facing each other -- so no one even has to look.

Kloppy never can get a straight answer about anything from any of the supervisors because there's always what the shrinks call a "sub text."

When Kloppy goes to the Supervisor of Receiving, for example, and asks a simple question like "can you get in 40 metric tons of 'crete into the house if it arrives after 3PM tomorrow?" The supervisor doesn't hear that question. What he hears is "I've been ordered by the Supervisor of Orders to buy 40 metric tons of concrete and he expects delivery at 3 tomorrow afternoon. How can we screw him up? Close early? Get short-handed? What?"

Klopnick knows this, so he doesn't bother with the Supervisor of Receiving. He gets the order from the Engineer in Charge, fills it, and has it delivered. The Supervisor of Orders gets post-facto notice. The Supervisor of Receiving gets a receiving bay full of trucks, but no notice, and the Supervisor of distribution has to go question the other two supervisors about where the stuff is supposed to be distributed. He has to do this through an emissary because, as you know, he doesn't talk with the other two guys.

Eventually, one by one, they'll sidle up to Kloppy's desk and ask how the stuff got bought, came in or went out. Kloppy will smile and say he's only a clerk, that they'd better ask the other two supervisors because all he does is follow orders. And, of course, this they won't do.

The head guy at Amalgamated knows this is going on. And he knows two things about it. Thing one: Kloppy won't live forever, so these guys have to have at least some knowledge of how this all works and thing two: the job will get done, despite the supervisors of ordering, receiving and distribution.

If Kloppy had to work through the bureaucracy, no job would get done.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©2008 WJR

1 comment:

wblf_listner said...

Oh, I wonder of which brueaucracy you speak. Not that it matters, I think most of us who have interfaced to a large organization have seen this. Lot's of 'run-around potential' in them.