If you’ve ever dealt with an actual government department, you have first-hand knowledge of what governance bloat looks like.  

There are so many rules and procedures that instead of helping to move things along, it paralyses everything. Paperwork lies in in-trays, waiting for the right signature and stamp to move on to the next step in the process. Then when you follow up, you’re told that your file is ‘in progress’. What they don’t tell you is that it could take weeks, months, or even years to make it all the way out the other side. 

Processes and procedures themselves aren’t a bad thing. Every organisation needs to have some kind of document that tells them how things get done. But when they stand in the way of performance, you need to start looking for ways to cut back on the red tape. Here’s how you know you have a problem. 

Everything Takes Longer 

The goal of processes and procedures should always be to improve productivity and performance. When people know what they need to do, and when you’ve got the right balance, your processes will make things happen faster.  

If you’re seeing the opposite, then there’s a good chance you’ve made things too complicated and time-consuming. And that is a clear sign of governance bloat.  

There are Bottlenecks and Roadblocks

Checks and balances are good – even in agile organisations. Hold points are not always a bad idea. But if your systems and regulations have so many hold points and checkpoints that nothing ever gets done on time, you’re doing it wrong.  

In an agile organisation, information should flow freely. From paperwork to processes, it should move through the system easily. Nothing should ever get stuck waiting to be rubber-stamped.   

If you find that things get stuck in your processes, it’s time to review and change them.  

It’s Hard to Teach New Hires

Well-designed, agile systems and processes make sense and they’re easy to learn. If your new hires are spending hours every week cross-referencing your employee manual – like they’re reading a choose-your-own adventure novel – it’s time to make some changes!   

Often, these kinds of problems aren’t as visible to the people who have been with your company for a while. They’re like the proverbial frog in the pot – the water keeps getting hotter, but they continue to adjust rather than fix the underlying problems.  

When you hire new people, they look at things with fresh eyes, and it’s a lot easier for them to spot problems. So be sure to ask your new employees how they’re finding your processes, rules, and regulations, and take note if they say things are complicated.  

In fact, if you are seeing higher than normal retention issues, it’s very likely you have a bigger problem brewing. 

Your Customers are Frustrated

Any person who has ever called a government department to follow up on something has probably spent the call rolling their eyes. Not to mention sighing in frustration! If you ever make it through the robotic phone menu and talk to a person, chances are they’re not going to tell you what you want to hear – or even have any advice about what you can try instead.  

If your customers feel that way when they call or visit your organisation, it’s a sure sign there’s a problem.  

Customers should be able to get information quickly. They should be able to speak to the right person to solve their problem and get clear answers about how much longer they will be waiting. If you can’t do those things because you have no idea how long their project will be trapped in your process maze, you need to change the way you work.  

How You Can Make a Change

If you’ve read this far and you’re cringing just a little because you recognise your business here, you probably need to make some changes.  

Most businesses that are struggling with governance bloat didn’t get there intentionally. They were creating rules they thought they needed, to make things run smoothly. Usually, they were addressing a problem, whilst the layers kept adding up.  

 When you try to undo that, you will need to be intentional. Think about the shortest and easiest way to get from one task to the other and base your new processes on that. Instead of trying to police your employees by tying them up in rules, trust them to be responsible professionals, and to get the job done. After all, if you need to force your people to do their jobs right, you probably need new people!  

Transformation takes time, especially when you’re trying to undo years of governance bloat and become more agile. But it will always be worth the time and energy you have to put into it. When you do, you’ll have a leaner, more productive organisation – and that’s better for your company and your customers.  

Need help?

To learn more about building good processes, reducing governance bloat and uplifting capability. Check out www.agilemanagementoffice.com or reach out to me personally at www.fatimahabbouchi.com

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