By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

The Lectern: Jack Welch says, 'Death to bureaucracy'

Jack and Suzy Welch have an interesting weekly BusinessWeek column in which they answer a question or two that perhaps some readers of this blog follow. 


In the current (Dec. 24) issue, the question they answer is, "How do you take on the bureaucracy that damages so many organizations?"


The column takes up the query up with relish: "Damages?” they ask. “How about deadens?" 


The Welches take a dim view of bureaucracy. It "sucks the life out of" an organization. "It turns normal people...into rule-bound technocrats." In business, "It's a competitiveness killer."


The column states that leaders must ruthlessly take on bureaucracy inside their organizations and offers suggestions to that end. "Make it so unpleasant for people to act rigid or formal that they physically recoil at just the thought of uttering: 'That's the way it's always been done.'" And "leaders can fight bureaucracy by letting people fail. Not too often, of course! But a company that routinely hands its high-potential managers risky tasks and says, 'Swing for the fence,' breeds a culture of excitement and engagement. And that broadcasts a bold message: This company is not a machine, and you are not a cog." 


Our elected officials spout rhetoric against bureaucracy, but more as a way of appealing to public anti-government sentiments or bashing civil servants. But when it comes to what they are doing -- especially these days -- it is adding more and more bureaucracy to government. Their role model is the inspector general, not the dedicated public servant who "swings for the fence" on behalf of his or her agency's mission. Which elected officials are talking like Jack Welch in terms of what needs to be done to improve public management?


Unfortunately, Jack Welch is no fan of government (significantly because he sees it as so bureaucratized). But I really wish he would direct at least a bit of his powerful voice to the hard fight to reduce bureaucracy in government, where it has the same deadening impact as in business.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Dec 21, 2007 at 12:08 PM


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