The ‘axis of evil’ in management

My view of what represents the “axis of evil” in management is bureaucracy + matrix organization + process orientation. When these three characteristics are present in a single organization, it’s trouble.

Generally speaking, they lead to a lack of organizational accountability and a lot of CYA (cover your a**) behaviors.
Let us look at each individually:

Bureaucracy

When decisions cannot be made without several emails, meetings and approval “stamps,” then you suffer from the bureaucratic syndrome. Things have a tendency to take forever to get done and emails get lost in a black hole.

The level of bureaucracy is directly correlated to the size of the business, but also the leadership culture.

Bureaucratic cultures indicate a lack of desire to take risks, to be accountable and to get things done. They can slow down the pace of doing business. When customers tell you “it takes forever to get a quote” or “it takes three days to get an approval for a return,” you work in a bureaucratic culture.

Matrix structure

When not properly designed and led, a matrix organizational structure can become a number of silo functions not communicating with one another. It can also become kingdoms where chiefs fight for their turf and spend most of their time and energy in political discussions protecting their “clans.”

Matrix organizations aren’t for everyone. They require a strong and decisive CEO who is able to influence multiple stakeholders and sell them a combined vision.

If that isn’t the case, the most influential chief will win the battle, which can paralyze progress and innovation. He or she will whisper in the CEO’s ear and drive the organization indirectly.

This is the case when people say “finance runs the show around here” or “nothing can get done without going through Joe.”

Process orientation

Lots of academic studies show the benefits of a process-oriented organization. Process management can bring discipline, innovation and excellence to an organization.

Extreme process orientation can also be destructive when the process becomes more important than the content and its value to the organization.

People end up in numerous meetings and conference calls that are only held to fill out spreadsheets and presentations that make the process owners happy. The “checking the box” phenomenon can destroy organizational value, reduce employee morale and damage teams’ ability to execute business strategies.

 

Chances are your organization might experience one or two of these management evils. If that’s the case, there is hope. You can make a difference to improve the culture.

If you face all three of these elements in your organization, you’re likely frustrated. The organization moves slowly, spends most of its time internally and resists changes. Your ability to get things done and to meet market requirements is probably also challenged.

Organizations facing all three evils don’t survive for the long run. Eventually, customers leave, the competition catches up and the board makes a CEO change to break the patterns. It is just a matter of time.

 

Stephan Liozu, Ph.D. is the Chief Value Officer of the Thales Group and an adjunct professor at Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland. Stephan specializes in disruptive approaches in innovation, pricing and value management.