Reading a Culture Through Bureaucracy

You can tell a lot about the corporate culture of a company by how aggressive the SG&A functions are.

Do you get “escalated” (a favorite bureaucratic term, used only at large, inefficient companies) on when you:

  • Neglect to fill out some administrivia like a time sheet?
  • Procure a service from the best vendor, instead of the one on the officially permitted list?
  • Miss an accrual for some thousand dollar invoice?

Usually that escalation is couched in the form of some vague SOX or SEC threat, sometimes with links to the official policy page buried on some intranet (and which hasn’t been updated in three years).

If that’s happening to you,  you’ve got a culture where process and bureaucracy carries almost as much importance as making and selling goods and services. But what to do about it? A couple of ideas:

  • Ask the SG&A folks putting out the rules to share the rationale. There are, after all, very valid SOX/SEC reasons why some things have to be done a certain way, like it or not. Sometimes, though, they realize the rules make no sense and will change their process before they have to explain it.
  • Offer to help streamline the process. Usually the bureaucratic overhead bothers the SG&A team and they tend not to get the development and technology resources they need to make things smoother. Sometimes just a little help is all that’s needed.
  • Personal attention. Nobody (I believe) started out their career wanting to implement and administer a bunch of trivial policies. The folks who do the SG&A functions usually only catch negative feedback from their sales and product teams. Give them a few minutes of time to discuss the situation. In my experience, the personal touch smoothes over the communication issues.

And if the above doesn’t help, you need to ask yourself how much of your precious time and attention you want to devote to bureaucracy. Then act accordingly.

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