5 Ways to Reduce Bureaucracy in your Small Business

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Albert Einstein


As challenging as it is to start a business, it’s just as difficult to grow one. Growth requires orderly operations and structure, which can lead to “excessively complicated administrative procedures”. So how do you standardize your operations to maintain quality without making it too complex? How do you maintain your flexibility while adapting to change?

This flexibility is what got you growing in the first place. Your customers loved it when you knew them by name and extended off-list credit terms. Your employees were comfortable with your open door policy.  However, with more customers, you take on more risk. Your costs get bigger and your staff requires deeper engagement. Additionally, you have to respond more quickly to changes in your competitive environment.

The dreaded ‘B’ word can either be the big bear that sits unapproachable in your reception area. Or you can make it the cute puppy that everyone wants to play with. Here are some ways to create your own minimalist bureaucracy as your small business grows up:

Customers first

Always think about how to best serve both your external and internal customers first. If you are about to add a process that will make their life a little more complex, then don’t do it. Make operations efficient at all angles. If you don’t trust the people who work for you, let them go. Adding convoluted procedures won’t remove the risk of sabotage or theft.  Your customers will also be frustrated by the difficulties in getting service. So always think about how your customers will experience your service and build around it.

Score goals

Align everyone’s work with achieving your business goals. Whenever you are about to create a new position, add only what’s necessary to achieve operational goals.  Help your staff to understand what these goals are and how their work contribute to achieving them. Don’t try to fill a 40 hour work week with unnecessary tasks. It’s okay to allow time for creativity and innovation in your employees’ workday. It may just help them to work smarter and benefit you in the long-run.

Delegate directly

Your instructions shouldn’t have to go through a VP to a Director to a Manager to an Officer to an Assistant to get done. This might be an extreme example, but it’s an easy trap to fall into as your small business grows up. Staff may want more credibility by asking for big titles in lieu of small salaries. As you expand, this could morph into an animal of a different color. So practice to delegate responsibility to the level at which the work is carried out.

Less levels

In support of the previous point, plan for an almost flat organization structure. The different layers may work well for global organizations with a staff count over a thousand. But your growing business doesn’t need to set itself up for layoffs and ‘downsizing’ at this stage. Keep a level head about adding layers and only add levels that are necessary.

Sharing culture

Share information and feedback. Within a knowledge organization, everyone knows that what they know about the business holds great value. So staff will carry out ‘subversive extortion’ by holding on to the knowledge they have gained about the business to secure their tenure. From the start, encourage a culture of sharing information. Facilitate sharing by often encouraging clear details on how tasks can be carried out.

There are other ways to maintain your entrepreneurial simplicity. Some persons recommend the radical approach of having all staff (including CEO) working in one room. What are some ways that you think you can grow your operations without adding layers of complexity? Please share with us in the comments below.

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