Bureaucracy Creep

Bureaucracy Creep

Some of the challenges I encounter, living in a developing country are related to seemingly never-ending bureaucracy. Even back in Australia I always hated completing forms that asked for information with no apparent use. Why is my residential address required instead of my postal address if the organisation has no intention of ever visiting me personally? How is my marital status or my daughters place of birth relevant? Here in the Philippines, I am frequently asked for my “permanent address in country of origin”. Not having one, I either give my last residential address – a Sydney property I sold 4 years ago, or my father’s address, in a city I haven’t called home for 30 years. The rules of the government offices that I deal with stipulate that this information is required, and it goes unchallenged by anyone except crazy foreigners like me.

Many of the bureaucratic practices in developing nations come from the admirable objective to provide people with jobs. There are no customer-operated product scanners in the supermarkets here; they would be more expensive to install and maintain than the labour costs, and what would all those displaced workers do? My groceries are still bagged for me and carried to the car or my office next-door. In some city supermarkets that are adjacent to condominiums, the bag-boys will wheel the trolley right up to the apartment and unload the groceries on the kitchen counter. This is a level of service that I love, brought about by a desire to provide minimum wage jobs to a university educated workforce. What I don’t love is the limited availability of online bill payments, no cash-out EFTPOS, and the non-existent postal system.

Coming from a first world country, it’s easy for me to assume that the frustrating inefficiencies I encounter are the consequence of a workforce that doesn’t know any other way; they are doing what has always been done, and they will continue to do so until a change is forced upon them. This is the case in some circumstances, but my Western arrogance has caught me out a number of times and I’ve been humbled by my lack of appreciation for another culture and the necessities that drive a different way of doing things.

The wide use of identifications cards, the need for passport-sized photographs for almost everything, the security checks, the monitoring of my movements are all for my safety. As a foreigner, I enjoy a more secure lifestyle than many residents, so it is easy to forget that this is a country with a high level of poverty, and poverty breeds desperation, and desperation breeds crime. A bill payment process that requires someone to check the amount, another person to accept payment and yet another to issue a receipt is a mechanism to protect me from corruption. As a privileged guest in this country, I must sometimes remind myself to seek to understand before I judge and to implement change where it is in my power via role modeling and encouragement.

While I challenged some well-embedded practices at the commencement of my business, I have had to adjust my thinking as we have matured. My staffs are accustomed to hearing me say “we are not a time-clock organisation” and they understand my aspirations for a business that is outcome driven, without penalties or pettiness over tardiness. But the staff themselves are not accustomed to this practice, and while there hasn’t been intentional abuse, many are confused by the lack of structure. Manual timekeeping has also caused massive headaches for supervisors. So, despite my anti-bureaucratic aspirations,  timekeeping rules do have a place after all, which we are now implementing.

Other bureaucratic elements slipped into our processes unnoticed in our first year. Well, meaning employees introduced practices that were present with their previous employer, and the one before that, so they became the norm in Yempo. An overhaul to our onboarding procedures removed the need for “siblings names and occupations” and other irrelevant information.

With our increasing organisational maturity, I see that our culture will stand us in good stead when it comes to bureaucracy creep. At Yempo we encourage collaboration and challenge, and we are open to change. What seemed like a good practice two years ago may not be appropriate next year, but it worked for us at the time. Our rapid growth now demands a high degree of scalability and flexibility in everything we do, and I’m excited about the rules we will question, break and make in this coming year.