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Your Red-Tape is Invisible

Our increasingly complex world is having an impact on how people meet and get work done. The old ways of working simply aren’t going to work in the new world. If you’re still spending weeks prepping for a conversation, you are going to be left in the dust by your competitors.

I heard a company once say, “How did our competitor implement that price change so quickly?! There’s no way they could have done it that fast!” (the time was 3 weeks). They were blind to the fact that their price change process only took an hour, it was the power points, approvals and meetings that took the other 5 months, 29 days and 23 hours.

Companies build complex bureaucracies and then wonder why things take so long. Consider how you might be contributing to the red tape. When I help companies examine these processes, the process is so ingrained in everyone’s mind as an undeniable truth, people can’t see around it.

Here are some tips on seeing the red-tape, and then removing it.

Don’t sell to Upper Management. If you have a process step called “sell Upper Management on the idea” then you have a problem right there. Good ideas should be prioritized, not sold. When people think they have to “sell upper management” on an idea, the result is a ton of useless work that goes into powerpoint. Your Upper Management team should be looking and welcoming good ideas, and making it as easy as possible to get them prioritized. Executives love to defer decisions by asking you to go do more analysis. That’s just slows down the time it takes to get to the benefit. Kindly refuse analysis and instead agree to start experimenting with the idea once it’s prioritized.

Question your Approval Process. I once saw and approval process that had to cycle through twice; once to get multiple approvals up the chain to agree to a purchase and then again to get approval to execute the purchase. If that sounds insanely redundant, that’s because it is. Another great example of extraneous approval is stakeholder approval. Multiple horizontal approvals are often needed in order to move forward, compliance is a great example because of course no one wants to violate any regulatory rules. What are some lightweight ways you can make sure your work is in compliance? One team I worked with met with compliance right up front and created some guardrails about where they might need to consult with compliance. If they stayed within bounds they were free to move forward without approval, but if the work expanded beyond the guardrails, they would have to bring in compliance. This worked well and shaved weeks off the delivery time.

The Mailbox in the Sky. Some companies have all their internal processes automated to submission. If you need to make a purchase? Submit to If you need to add a product to the company catalog? Submit a request to Or fill out a form on the intranet. When will you hear back? Who knows. If you have a question, you submit another form, you can’t talk to anyone until you submit a form. If you submitted the wrong form, it could take days to find out. These automated processes are intended to improve productivity, but instead they prolong timelines and cause frustration. If you are the keeper of a “mailbox in the sky” please consider looking for ways to open up dialogue with the groups using your process. We know you are overwhelmed with requests and time is limited. Office hours are a great way to open your door to people with questions.

How have you uncovered red-tape in your company? Let us know!

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