Thursday, December 24, 2009

On Bureaucracy (Exciting title, I know)

From a Redditor's comments on why corporations are considered people when it's convenient, but people aren't eligible for the same tax breaks: "The corporate structure exists primarily to arrange for the transfer of wealth from most people to a few people. It is a cleverly arranged ruse. A sinister, but mundane plot."

Quite an interesting perspective, though it's really only the tip of the iceberg. It's pretty clear that the corporate structure (really, any bureaucratic, insulatory structure) "exists primarily" to aggregate prestige, power, respect and wealth to only a few people, while moving responsibility, accountability and vulnerability downward. Anybody who's seen the plainly contradictory and self-serving behavior of management can confirm this.

The emperor has no clothes, of course, though we've gotten so used to it that it's really nothing we think about. Managers often don't know how to measure their employees' performance, either because they're so insulated from the work being done that they have little knowledge of what it takes to do it well, or because they're so far from the work being done that they're left to form small bits of information into their confident minds and act, above all things act. Whatever they happen to view and the way they interpret it becomes their reality. The alternative - that their information is incomplete or that they're simply bad managers - is unthinkable. That's why lunatics and numbskulls get promoted, why managers can behave arbitrarily, ignoring rules or creating new ones when convenient. The responsibility for failure simply doesn't exist at that level, and the rewards (both social and monetary) are great.

Now, most of us would achieve this mindset easily given this level of power - the delusion is simply so convincing that it's really impossible not to subscribe to it. The problem is the structure itself, the way that we think of a corporation as an entity - important in and of itself - while neglecting those who make it run. And I mean really make it run, independent of the mostly manufactured power structure. I remember being amazed when I first learned that CEOs and directors can move from company to company without any real knowledge of the field they're moving to - when did we ever get used to that? Why do we tolerate VPs when they suggest courses of action in meetings that have already been tried and failed, but who couldn't bother to check the facts in their continuous quest for self-aggrandizement? Insulation, charisma and self-confidence, moreso than competence, often seems to be the order of the day. And we allow it.

It takes a lot of character to manage well. I'm now working at the first place in my life which seems blessedly free of most of this nonsense. It's a good feeling.

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