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Ben Franklin's bifocals January 3, 2006

William's Theory of the Bureaucracy - Part 2

Any institution that has existed for 10 years or more has likely become a bureaucracy. This is true whether the institution is public or private, corporate, for-profit, nonprofit, charitable, benign or sinister. When the transition to bureaucracy takes place, it is almost always characterized by the loss of focus on the original purpose for which the organization was created. The surest sign of this transition is an attitude that emerges in the rank-and-file of the institution wherein the customer, constituent, client, patient, shareholder, founder, patron, student, applicant, passenger, citizen, congregant, or audience is viewed as a necessary annoyance.

Once bureaucracy status is obtained, the following recognizable characteristics emerge:

1. The organization becomes more concerned with its continuing survival than serving its supposed beneficiaries or fulfilling its original purpose.
2. The procedures, policies, rules, and practices of the organization can no longer be held comfortably in one hand.
3. An interpreter is required to understand what it is that the members of the organization are talking about.
4. The organization chart has dotted lines on it.
5. The assignment of parking spaces, office space, and office furniture become substantial issues.
6. The number of individuals who must initial any piece of paper before it is signed and mailed exceeds one.
7. The financial statements for the organization have more than three footnotes.
8. Attending the annual Christmas party becomes a chore.
9. The use of acronyms becomes widespread and prevalent.
10. Memos about the sanitary conditions in the break room begin to circulate.

A number of organizations have successfully obtained bureaucratic status in considerably less than a decade; others may require the full 10 years. The rate at which bureaucratic maturity is attained, and the degree of ossification, are to some extent dependent on management. The exceptional leader can delay the inevitable, while mediocre management may accelerate the process. Rest assured however, that just as human beings gradually lose their flexibility of body, so also do organizations. It is part of the management circle of life.

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