Bureaucracy Blamed for Bad Decisions

As Einstein famously stated, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

According to a Wall Street Journal article this morning (Don Clark and; Shara Tibken, “Cisco to Reduce Its Bureaucracy”) Cisco CEO John Chambers has proven he is not insane. Several explanations of Cisco’s recent performance problems have been discussed. This blog has highlighted cannibalization of high margin staples by low margin products and the lack of accountability in decision making (the cause of the cannibalization?). It is appropriate to highlight Chambers’ solution. Per the WSJ Cisco will:

dispense with most of a network of internal councils and associated boards that have been criticized for adding layers of bureaucracy and wasting managers’ time.

Analysts applaud the move.

The question that should be asked is whether the problem was the existence of the collaborative councils, or the absence of executive decision making? To the extent that Cisco’s problems derived from a lack of executive accountability, deferring to collaborative councils for 70% of decisions, Chambers may be overreacting by eliminating the councils entirely. Collaborative processes provide a more complete fact set for executives to consider, we use a collaborative approach extensively at HarrisData for just this purpose. What was missing at Cisco was the accountability for the decisions taken – collaborative decisions diffuse accountability. While accountability at Cisco will be restored by this move, can the executives make good decisions without the comprehensive fact sets collaboration provides? Chambers may have thrown out the baby with the bath water.

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