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Making Invisible Bureaucracy Visible: The Preface

This month we decided to share the Preface from Mark Bodnarczuk’s new book, Making Invisible Bureaucracy Visible as the lead article. You can download a free copy of the entire e-book from the Update section below.

Most managers struggle against the flow of overly complex systems and are often frustrated by an invisible force that undermines their attempts to effect positive change. Their instincts tell them that the organization’s structures, systems, and culture are preventing them from getting the results they want, but “culture” has remained one of the least understood aspects of organizational life. This book describes how organizational culture often acts like an Invisible Bureaucracy™ that frustrates and undermines the performance of organizations and work-groups. Because over 85% of the root causes of organizational performance problems are in the structures, systems, and culture within which managers and staff members are embedded, putting good people in bad systems can decrease their level of performance and increase the level of destructive conflict in day-to-day operations. Therefore, focusing on improving the performance of an individual manager or work-group without understanding the context within which they are embedded almost guarantees that change will not be sustainable, because individual managers and staff members are only about 15% of the real problem.

But despite the fact that most individual managers and work-groups have little or no control over the larger organization within which they are embedded, they are still held accountable for their performance and delivering on commitments. The day-to-day reality of Invisible Bureaucracy manifests itself in a number of recurring and troubling questions:

  • Why is it so difficult for some organizations to make decisions, and why (once made) do so many decisions go unimplemented?
  • Why do most organizations have a gap between the formal rules for how things get done, and the informal rules for how things really get done?
  • Why does vital business information get filtered, altered, or stopped as it moves up and down through the organizational structure?
  • Why do projects that seem to have the full support of top managers and key personnel die a slow death and no one knows what happened to them?
  • Why are some organizations able to change in the face of forces and threats from the external environment while others seem to have “Blind Spots” about these issues and fall prey to them over and over again?
  • Why do the universal principles of organization development seem to work in some organizations, but not in others?
  • Why do change initiatives so often show failed or marginal results?
  • Why do so many people find their work to be a substantial part of life’s problems, rather than one of the solutions to life’s problems?

Interestingly, the process of culture formation has many things in common with the formation of personality. In terms of personality formation, by the time we’re old enough to know that we have a personality we’ve had no hand in fashioning it. In much the same way, an organization’s culture is like its personality and many managers wake up one day and find themselves with structures, systems, and a culture that they have not consciously chosen; in business relationships that may not be in their best interest; with assumptions about generating revenue and patterns of spending that they have not consciously chosen; with employees who are not matched to the organization’s human capital needs; pursuing objectives and goals that don’t produce the desired financial and non-financial results.

Ground-breaking studies like Jim Collins’ books, Built to Last and Good to Great, and John Kotter’s book, Corporate Culture and Performance have shown that while an organization’s culture powerfully molds its operating style and can positively (or negatively) affect its performance, “culture” has remained an overly-complex and somewhat mysterious topic for most managers and organizations. One of the keys to simplifying and demystifying the topic of organizational culture is to understand the degree to which an organization’s culture is intended or unintended. An Intended Culture™ is consciously configured to achieve an organization’s desired results; e.g., its goals and objectives. An Unintended Culture™ tends to be riddled with ineffective autopilot operations and Invisible Bureaucracy that derail, frustrate, and undermine organizational intentions as embodied in its goals and objectives. Even outstanding organizational performance may be episodic and short-lived because it is an artifact of the specific configuration of internal and external environments within which the organization exists, rather than the result of an Intended Culture. The ability of an organization to change and adapt with conscious intention is the true test of the degree to which its culture is consciously chosen for specific ends.

The approach to creating an Intended Culture described in this book will help you transform your organization’s culture into a powerful resource that effectively performs day-to-day operations on autopilot; e.g., effectively and seamlessly without thinking about them. When done effectively, autopilot operations can be your greatest ally because they increase your ability to compete and achieve your goals. But in most cases the autopilot operations that typify an Unintended Culture are self-defeating because they perpetuate problems with work performance, communication, interpersonal conflict, and decision-making and then derail attempts to create positive change. This unique approach to creating an Intended Culture helps managers take ineffective operations off autopilot, reconfigure them, and then migrate them back to autopilot operations that produce the desired results. Understanding how these invisible forces actually work begins to transform “culture” into a more reliable resource that can be used to achieve an organization’s goals and objectives.

My overall goal in writing this book is to share my experience of helping leaders and managers to assess and change organizational culture in a way that accomplishes six objectives. First, I want readers to “see” organizations differently by first broadening the definition of organizational culture, and then defining it with more precision to eliminate much of the confusion around what organizational culture is and why it matters. My intention is that readers will learn concrete and tangible reasons why an organization’s culture matters (or should matter) to every business owner, top manager, middle manager, supervisor, and staff member in every organization.

Second, I want to address the misconception that an organization’s culture can be either “good or bad” head-on with a more pragmatic, and operational view that asks – “Does an organization’s culture allow it to get the results it wants?” I’d like to underscore the fact that the autopilot operations of organizational culture are not Invisible Bureaucracy when they enable an organization to get the results it wants in a self-determined, intentional way. In fact, effective autopilot operations are a competitive advantage. Invisible Bureaucracy as defined in this book is confined to ineffective autopilot operations that prevent an organization from achieving its desired results by frustrating and undermining its performance, thus robbing it of its free-will and conscious choice. Invisible Bureaucracy is most problematic because managers and staff members look right at it, and don’t see it as indicated by the recurring and troubling questions described earlier. In fact, I’ve had managers who were A-Level talent tell me, “I wish I’d have known about this material fifteen years ago. Now I know why things have been so difficult in some of the organizations I’ve been in.” Reading and internalizing the principles and practices in this book will enable you to “see” yourself, others, and the world differently and to identify the kind of Invisible Bureaucracy that frustrates and undermines organizational and individual performance. Like a pair of infra-red glasses allows you to see things at night, the material in this book will make Invisible Bureaucracy visible. Once you’ve learned to see differently, you’ll never see organizations (or the people in them) the same way again.

Third, I am convinced that the process of assessing and changing organizational culture must be focused on real business problems – issues that managers care about deeply. It’s a mistake to lead with cultural analysis and cultural change. Assessing and changing organizational culture is of little value unless it is linked to (and motivated by) one or more of these six interdependent dimensions of organizational life:

  • Generating and retaining revenue
  • The effective use and cost of labor as human capital
  • The effectiveness and non-labor related cost of operating an organization
  • Key performance indicators that measure an organization’s performance with high-precision
  • The identification and reduction of squandered time and energy
  • A focus on sustainability, creating value, and making long-term investments in human, material, and financial resources

If the activities associated with assessing and changing organizational culture cannot be meaningfully linked to one or more of these six dimensions, then they should probably not be done. Diagnosing and changing organizational culture for its own sake is an academic exercise that provides little or no value to organizations and the managers who lead them. But if an organization needs to develop a new strategy or strategic plan; improve its execution and day-to-day operations; implement new IT infrastructure; seamlessly integrate business systems; build bench-strength in leadership and management skills; or improve the decision-making and consensus process for the allocation of human, material, and financial resources, then understanding how its culture positively and negatively impacts these issues is not only value-added, it’s probably necessary. The key is to lead with a concrete, tangible business issue, not the study of organizational culture as an end in itself.

Fourth, I want to offer an assessment model that teaches people how to evaluate an entire organization, including the strategic view; execution and day-to-day operations; organizational climate; levels of organizational trust; financial management; corporate life-cycle analysis; and other key areas that shape and define an organization’s performance. As such, the book is written for top-managers, middle-managers; human resource professionals; and internal and external consultants who conduct management reviews, performance assessments, change-management activities, improvement projects, organizational interventions, strategic planning activities, culture assessments, and other key initiatives that focus on improving organizational and individual performance.

The fifth objective I want to accomplish is to describe a portfolio of quantitative and qualitative assessment tools that readers could use to empirically test the principles and practices contained in this book in their own organization. Assessment tools like the Breckenridge Culture Indicator™ (BCI™) will provide empirical evidence for the new ways of seeing organizations, and make Invisible Bureaucracy visible in tangible and concrete ways. The book is a comprehensive articulation of the theoretical model that is measured by the BCI and can be used as the basis of a program to train and qualify people to use this powerful on-line assessment tool. This book can also be used as the basis of seminars, workshops, and training programs in the areas of organization development, organizational assessment, cultural assessment, cultural interventions, management development, and leadership development.

Finally, once readers have learned and internalized the principles, practices, methodologies, and tools described in this book, they will be able to intentionally create, manage, and (if necessary) destroy and reconstruct an Intended Culture that will produce the desired results within the context of an ever changing business environment. In other words, leaders and managers will learn how to use their organization’s culture as a powerful resource that facilitates, rather than opposes, achieving organizational goals and objectives. Bottom Line: an Intended Culture is the key to becoming an Island of Excellence® in a sea of mediocrity.

Mark Bodnarczuk

Boulder, Colorado
June, 2009

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