From the Comms Cupboard

Communicating through the mist of bureaucracy

Humans seem to love hierarchy, but red tape and bureaucracy can lead to poor communication and lack of respect for creativity.

John and Shaun cite the Handforth Parish Council viral video as an example of poor communication, and of status, titles and officious behaviour. It's good for a giggle, but corporate culture is something we may need to check if we want individual creativity to flourish.

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Episode transcript

John: Have you seen that video that's trending right now?

Shaun: I saw that video 😄

John: Everyone's talking about it. How can a parish council be the number one trending thing on Twitter?

Shaun: And it's pretty close to home!

John: Which makes it worse, to think that we might be paying for these people to have this conversation.

Shaun: What do you mean may be? We are paying these people to have these conversations. I think the thing I took away ... For those who haven't seen it – what's the best way to search for it? Go on YouTube and search ... what's the best keyword for it?

John: Handforth. Is it Handforth Parish Council?

Shaun: Handforth Parish Council, and you will get to it. I don't think you have to watch the whole thing but you should if you want to see a car crash in action 😖 Do you know what I took away from it?

John: Go on.

Shaun: I giggled, but I could have cried.

John: Oh definitely.

Shaun: A group of people getting caught up in the bureaucracy and self-importance of titles ...

John: And status.

Shaun: Status, responsibility, instead of thinking: "Why are we having this meeting? Oh yeah, it's for people who pay us to be here.”

John: Is it not one of the best examples you've seen in a long time of terrible communication?

Shaun: Terrible.

John: How upset people were, how over-the-top their reactions were over simple things or simple suggestions.

Shaun: The guy just flipped, didn't he? He was out of order! I would have switched him off as well.

John: “You have no authority!” 🤬 Those words alone are ... The fact that someone's not allowed to speak because they're not allowed to speak by some poorly written thing.

Shaun: Do you think we have more or less red tape than we used to?

John: It's probably just as bad. I personally think over the last 10 years, businesses have become more relaxed. I'm not someone who's worked in local government, but I still feel like it will still be there – the rules will still be there.

Shaun: I think you're right. I think humans love hierarchy. I'm not sure it's a particularly British thing.

John: I'm sure it's not – I'm sure it's everywhere. You see it in America, don't you. I mean we've seen ...

Shaun: You especially see it in America.

John: You see them storming the Capitol and that sort of thing. It always makes me laugh when I see Gordon Ramsay on the show in America and it's always “Chef Ramsay”, and I always wonder why that is. It's a status thing. They're showing how important he is and that he's the person who knows what he's doing in that episode, but it does make you giggle. There's nothing relaxed about it or enjoyable.

Shaun: It does make you giggle, but it does make you think have we not changed and have we not moved on?

John: How do we change and move on from things like that? How can we as communicators help change that?

Shaun: I think by recognising that it's going on. It's automatic, especially in office environments, it's automatic. Someone sits in that office and they are so-and-so, or you mustn't order a stapler unless you go through so-and-so, or you can't ask me that so go through your line manager first and they will come and ask me.

John: Here's the policy you need to follow with 86 steps before you can book your holiday 🏖

Shaun: Oh don't tell me about it! Or a PO ...

John: Yes!

Shaun: To actually organise a holiday, I remember it taking so many steps to get three folders down to find a Word doc (I don't even use Word, so I had to convert it to something that I used), then fill it in and then give it to someone else, then they would give it to someone else to approve it ... It was madness! Absolute madness! That could've been available very quickly, or a shared calendar – you know, one of those shared ... Do you use those? I think it's an assistant and you just go in and say “holiday”.

John: Not personally.

Shaun: But they exist, don't they? Tell me they exist.

John: They exist. So is this another one of those things that comes down to culture and how we change and simplify our culture?

Shaun: Corporate culture. We need to break it down. I think a lot of places are breaking corporate culture down, but you have to recognise that you have one before you can do it.

John: I have never ever experienced anything like we saw on that video, where people were very aggressive in that way. I imagine most corporate cultures are not that way, but I do imagine that there’s a lot of hierarchy. How are you break that down with your values and by living them and showing it, and behaving in the right way ...

Shaun: Respect.

John: You've got to have respect for everybody that you work with.

Shaun: I think so. Some say you have to earn respect, and you do. I do believe in earning respect. It shouldn't be a given. But I think there’s a foundation of a casual respect; the baseline of minimum ...

John: It's almost that thing that people used to say treat someone how you want to be treated. And everyone should be the same – it should be the same for everybody.

Shaun: But we've moved away a little bit from the core of this conversation, which is red tape and bureaucracy. Yes, we can be rude and everything, and have more respect, but that would mean you're still maintaining a level of bureaucracy where someone might say you didn't have respect for the chairman.

John: Absolutely.

Shaun: But actually they didn't have respect for anyone on the call, never mind the chairman.

John: And to be honest, it felt like no one wanted to be there in the first place. I think that comes back to: don't be somewhere you don't want to be. But cutting red tape is going to lead to so many things if you're a business.

Shaun: Bad things as well, but it's about planning.

John: But there's uncertainty when you remove it because at least people can say they can refer to page 16 of XY document.

Shaun: People want a structure.

John: Intense structure removes creativity. If you want to be a thriving organisation, people have got to be able to think for themselves and not feel at risk if they do.

Shaun: Are we talking about Mourinho at Tottenham here? ⚽️

John: Potentially 😋

Shaun: About people not being able to express their creative footballing abilities.

John: I'm sure it's not just him. I'm sure there are plenty of other people in the same boat!

Shaun: Absolutely, yeah!

🚣‍♀️

Photo by Jess Bailey on Unsplash

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