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How to Cut Through Corporate Bureaucracy and Red Tape

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on February 13, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Whether you work for a large firm or a small one, you're bound to encounter the bureaucracy in at least some of its glorious forms. At big firms, for instance, corporate policies limit innovation because every action has to performed according to a prearranged script, and deviations from that script are either not allowed or need to be approved by five levels of management.

On the other hand, at small firms, you're in charge of your life, but you're in more direct contact with the court system. Sometimes, it can be like pulling teeth to get an answer to a question or to get a problem solved.

How do you get what you want? Turns out it's all about collaboration and treating someone like a person.

Treat them like a person.

This is rule number one for trying to get something accomplished in the face of a Kafkaesque nightmare. Don't forget that whoever you're dealing with is a person, too. Yelling, screaming, and the inevitable "Do you know who I am?" will ensure only that your request will get thrown in the trash or placed at the bottom of the stack. Killing someone with kindness goes a long way toward navigating the bureaucracy and seeing if you can get your request processed faster.

Put the ball in the other person's court.

Say you're faced with a corporate policy that's preventing you from getting your job done. You're on the horn with the Home Office, but the person on the other end keeps insisting there's nothing he or she can do. In that situation, reframe the problem as their problem, not your problem: "I need to do X. I need you to help me get X done. So tell me what I have to do."

This puts the ball in the other person's court, placing the onus on them to use their knowledge of the arcane system to resolve the problem. It also makes the situation collaborative instead of adversarial: Both of you have to work together to solve a common problem.

Go above them.

Part of the problem with rigid bureaucratic systems is that they punish deviation from the script. If you're talking to a deputy clerk who insists that he or she can't possibly accommodate your request, it might be due to the fear of reprisal for making an exception. But you know who can make an exception? The clerk's boss.

This isn't a jerk move, as in the stereotypical "I'd like to speak to your supervisor" request, which is an attempt at intimidation. It's an acknowledgment that a front-line employee's power is limited, and if you want meaningful access to an alternative solution, you need to go to someone who has the authority to deviate from the script.

How do you deal with red tape and bureaucracy? File a formal request (in triplicate) to prepare to contact us via Twitter (@FindLawLP) or Facebook (FindLaw for Legal Professionals).

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