Businessman sinking in heap of documentsDo your organization’s systems, policies, and procedures inspire team members, help them perform well, and help them serve customers well? Or do those systems inhibit inspiration, consistent performance, and great service delivery?

Organizations need rules – and they need to demonstrate disciplined alignment to those rules. Rules can help ensure fairness and consistency across the organization.

And, dumb rules can be bureaucratic, inhibiting efficiency and effectiveness.

I follow a number of websites where employees share pride in their organizations – or share frustration with their organizations.

On one site, a recent post from an employee expressed total frustration: “Today, I got written up for asking my coworker a question that I should have asked my boss to ask my coworker. Yay bureaucracy.”

Bureaucracy can be defined as “administration characterized by excessive red tape and routine.” Bureaucracy is often embraced by officials that maintain the bureaucracy – that approach may be all they have ever known!

Bureaucracies are often frustrating to employees or even customers who must try to get something accomplished within that system.

An example might be beneficial, here. Years ago, I had a municipal government client that helped me understand the kind of thinking that creates and maintains bureaucracies. I was conducting a leadership seminar and the class was going well. At one point during the afternoon, one woman – let’s call her Joyce – shared her frustrations with a woman in her office (who was not attending the program).

Joyce explained that this peer of hers had a unique role which placed her in a “gatekeeper” position. This peer – let’s call her Roberta – touched key projects at key times, moving paperwork to decision makers for approval, scheduling meetings of decision makers with project staff, etc. Roberta had a tendency to move more quickly on activities that her “work friends” would benefit by, and she allowed other activities to sit, untouched. Sometimes for days.

Roberta’s inconsistencies caused much consternation to Joyce and to others in the room. I was about to inquire about how the group has tried to address these issues when Joyce stated, “And Roberta is ‘Employee of the Month’ this month!”

I felt like my jaw dropped to the floor. I sputtered a moment then asked Joyce, “Why would you make Roberta ‘Employee of the Month’?” Joyce looked at me and calmly said, “It was her turn.”

That’s not the way to run a nimble, high performing, values aligned workplace!

High performance, values aligned work environments require leaders that are in tune with team member’s enthusiasm or frustration with systems, policies, and procedures. Those organizations require team members to be open and honest about systems that hold them back, that keep team members from doing the right thing, the right way, the first time.

High performance, values aligned organizations constantly evolve their systems, policies, and practices. If a rule made terrific sense ten years ago but inhibits aligned action today, that rule gets appraised and refined so it serves team members, the organization, and its customers equally well.

Don’t let bureaucracy inhibit team member’s performance or engagement. Eliminating dumb rules will inspire your people.

What do you think? How does bureaucracy get in the way of performance and engagement in your organization? How do your #GreatBosses help eliminate bureaucracy? Add your comments, insights, or questions below.

Add your experiences to two fast & free research projects I have underway: the Great Boss Assessment and the Performance-Values Assessment. Results and analysis are available on my research page.

My new book from Wiley, The Culture Engine, guides leaders to create workplace inspiration with an organizational constitution. Get your free sample chapter here.

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S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers: Good Comes First (2021) and The Culture Engine (2014).
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Reader Interactions


  1. DS says

    Often times, the intent behind the “rules” are good. They are to streamline, provide a consistent answer, and provide needed boundaries to those who are likely to abuse something. However, these often take the heart and soul out of people. These can be challenged if presented properly, usually based upon an argument that is rooted in adding business value. Other times it’s the amount of time it takes for an “official” answer to be delivered.

    Congrats on the next book release this September!

    • S. Chris Edmonds says

      You’re so right, David – if those rules are seen as inhibiting active communication, involvement, and problem solving, they drain the soul!

      Excited about the book – 15 weeks and counting!

      Will email you in a minute –



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