Friday, 9 November 2012

Why I Don't Like Big-Company Decision-Making

Peter Drucker says somewhere that the purpose of organisations is to allow ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things. Many might add that organisations also prevent extraordinary people from doing ordinary things. (Ordinary, that is, to an extraordinary person.)
In a large organisation, many people can say NO and nobody can say YES. Let me explain: in a small owner-managed company, if the boss wants it done, it will be done, unless the few people he listens to persuade him otherwise. Nobody is under any doubt that if he insists, then it will be done. In a large company, even if the CEO orders it so, it can be blocked by bureaucrats of so lowly a junior status that they will never meet the CEO, even if they have defied him. This is why CEOs, like Heads of State, prefer to spend time on mergers and acquisitions (foreign policy) rather than internal growth and development (domestic policy). Merchant bankers and lawyers are so much more responsive than their own staff  - as at those prices, they should be.

Getting anything done in a large organisation isn't about finding someone to say YES. It's about making sure everyone who can say NO won't. It isn't about making a decision, it's about stopping the decisions being thwarted. It's less about getting the go-ahead as not getting the stop sign. It's about convincing people that whatever it is won't mess up their personal and departmental agendas, especially the ones about their egos. And it's never anybody's fault: it's budgets, rules, or priorities. Except that's a total crock and everyone knows it. If it was about having favours out and due, or having clout, I could live with that. I understand the favour economy. But it isn't. 

And sometimes the bureaucracy does things to make its life easy. As the result of a re-organisation, I and my co-analyst (a team of two) suddenly needed access to the full range of data, which had been denied us in the past for every nonsense reason you could think of. We were dreading the endless futility of applying for access and being denied because we didn't have the "business case". However, one Monday morning we signed in to the database... and found we had access. I swear we never filled in one form. In this case, someone realised their lives would be easier if they just did it, and they did. 

Needless to say I find that process frustrating. NO is to me a personal rejection, a sign of indifference and contempt. (Addict, remember?). There are plenty of other people who can take it as "come back with another proposal and we'll toss a coin on that as well" and are happy in a world of coin-toss decisions. (Sorry, I meant, a world of rapidly-changing priorities.) I'm good with work and I subsume myself to the work. I have no time for people who seek out positions where they can exercise their egos at the expense of the work, and I'm really bad at hiding my dislike of them. 

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