19 August 2011

Bureaucracy at its Canadian "Finest"

In one volume of his landmark, sociological trilogy entitled, The Rise of the Network Society, Manuel Castells describes bureaucracy as, "organizations for which the reproduction of their system of means becomes their main organizational goal." In other words, bureaucracies strive to maintain the bureaucracy and its procedural systems at all costs (which often tend to be high costs) quite irrespective of the nominal purpose or tasks otherwise to be accomplished. The business of the bureaucratic organization is secondary to the preservation of the bureaucracy of the organization.

Such is indeed the case in what might be considered an archetype of a BAH (Bureaucratic, Administratively controlled, Hierarchical) organization, the Canadian military. In a "landmark report charged with transforming the Canadian Forces," that was released this week, Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie identifies major restructuring and reallocation of funds away from non-operations-oriented staffing, instead recommending more resources be provided directly to "regular" Forces personnel - those women and men who are actually in the field, on the water, and in the air.

But bureaucracies will go to great lengths to reinforce and preserve themselves, with well-adapted immune systems that overwhelm "attackers" who might seek to create a more effective organization. In this regard, I will let Gen. Leslie's report speak for itself:
Reactions to previous reports urging reform
“If the results were likely to cause institutional angst, a variety of options existed, from waiting until the team disappeared, to conducting lengthy reviews of the recommendations and, finally to classifying the work to an extent that only a few could see it.”

On resistance to this report
“[At] a large meeting in December 2010 involving the generals, admirals and senior DND civil servants ... it became apparent the tendency was to argue for the preservation of the status quo. ... Though grimly amusing, these interactions proved that consensus has not and probably never will be achieved on any significant change.”

How DND handles funding cuts
“Most subordinate organizations have done their very best to preserve their structures, their internal funding (what they need to take care of themselves) and their process ... which usually result in overhead staying much the same while support to the front-line deployable unit is cut far more than originally forecasted.”

On waste and inefficiency
“These are symptomatic of old processes, new overhead layered on old, lots of committees and in certain areas a sometimes bewildering number of steps ...to actually achieve a government directed spending outcome.”
Although it might be easy to chuckle at the "grimly amusing" responses of a military (or even the non-military departments of government) bureaucracy, if you are a leader in your respective organization, how familiar do General Leslie's caveats sound to you?

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