There’s something about bureaucracy that violates my sense of ethics. Bureaucracy represses one’s humanity. Humans want to make a difference in their lives, but bureaucracy forces conformity and sameness. One definition in the American Heritage Dictionary is “an administrative system in which the need or inclination to follow rigid or complex procedures impedes effective action.”
The bureaucratic system is founded on rules, supervision and enforcement by specialists and inspectors to make sure workers follow the rules, even when the rules deviate from common sense.
We need to move beyond it, but moving beyond it means shifting to a different form of control, one based on a strong sense of mission and a culture of trust, with authority and responsibility shifted from the few at the top to the many front-line workers.
This shift also requires that the organization have a strong ethical grounding. Ethics must replace the missing rules, but in many organizations what passes for ethics is merely another set of rules to comply with, and ethics training usually consists of badgering workers about bribery, conflict of interest and favoritism.
Enron had a nice 65-page code of ethics. The International City/County Management Association has a pretty good code of ethics except that it’s 2000 words long, has a 3200-word supplementary “Rules of Procedure for Enforcement,” and is written by lawyers or at least by people who have mastered esoteric, lawyerly writing. Most people can’t live by the ICMA code because they simply can’t remember any of it. (more…)