Bureaucracy and Innovation: poles apart or partners for life?

It was early in our final Friday in New York when we realised my partner had lost his passport. We were flying out that afternoon. Retracing our steps, I phoned the restaurant of our previous evening’s dinner. The staffer said ‘Lost and found is handled by our Chicago office. I’ll put you through.’ I said ‘I don’t want to talk to your Chicago office.I want to know if the passport was found last night. We fly out today.’ She…’but that’s our policy.’ 
 
Realising we were not going to find the passport, and with 6 hours prior to checkin, we headed for the NZ Embassy. There we were interviewed. She…. ‘Tell me what happened? ….You must be upset? …..Here is the process; you need
  • a report from us,
  • a police report,
  • a new photo,
  • a money order for the emergency travel documents, and then
  • Fedex this to Washington.
Here is a map with each place marked. Your documents will be here by Tuesday morning.
 
While we waited ten minutes for the embassy report, she asked us about our time in New York. Within four hours we had completed the requirements and two hours later I was on my way to the airport, leaving David awaiting his travel documents. My experience of the embassy service was immediate, friendly, personal, helpful, and precise. Their policies and systems were clear. How can two companies relate to customers in such different ways?
 
It is easy for leaders and their staff to hide behind systems and policies and mistake being impersonal for being objective. The difference is in being customer-centric or organisation -centric. Which is your organisation?
 
It is leaders’ role to ensure systems are personalised. That is why people work in organisations. The three silver bullets for bureaucracies to be innovative are:
  • Be personable and helpful in customer interactions
  • Ensure you policies related to clients changing contexts
  • Hold onto organisation infrastructure (policies and processes) that mutually serves staff and clients
Where is your organisation on the bureaucratic – innovation continuum?
Where are you on the personal/responsive – impersonal continuum in your interactions?