Zero-Tolerance to Bureaucracy

My Zero-Tolerance to Bureaucracy Policy

I refuse to do meaningless work when it only satisfies another company’s need for bureaucracy.

Sometimes, event organizers ask me to fill out a form asking me for my company name, address, bank account number, bank name, tax number, and much more. They tell me they need this information in order to make their payment to me later. But I think this is a bit silly.

It’s Your Bureaucracy, Not Mine

Event organizers and other businesses can only pay me after they have received my invoice, because they usually don’t know my exact travel and accommodation expenses beforehand. Obviously, besides the exact fee, my invoices contain all relevant information about my company, including name, address, bank account number, bank name, tax number, and more. So, why should I copy-paste all that information onto some form a month in advance, when the information is useless until I actually send the invoice, which will contain the same information? That doesn’t make any sense. I would be giving the information twice. Sometimes people reply, “But we need the data in our system!” to which my answer is, “OK, but it’s your system, so why don’t you copy-paste the data from my invoice? I get paid for speaking, not for data entry.”

Sometimes, businesses ask me to send them an “original invoice on paper”. That doesn’t make any sense either, because my entire company is digital. The only thing I have on paper is an official registry of shareholders (listing only me). Everything else exists as bits and bytes in Dropbox. “But we need your invoice on paper,” is what they sometimes tell me. Clearly, my answer to this should be, “Do you need help clicking the Print button in Adobe Reader?”

Sometimes, customers ask me to supply an official letter on “headed paper” containing the same information that is also on the invoice. My reply is that I have no headed paper. After all, I never write and post any letters; I only write emails. But sure enough, the invoice has a fine digital header and it can double as “headed paper”. When people need a letter and an invoice, they can simply click the Print button twice.

Sometimes, organizers ask me to send them a speaking agreement but I’ve never needed such agreements. Instead, I just refer to the FAQ on my website for all common questions. Of course, I don’t complain when they need a signature on their agreement, as long as I don’t have to do all the legal work for them.

No Bureauracy for Me

I’m sure you can see the pattern here. The pattern is that I refuse to do meaningless work when it only satisfies another company’s need for bureaucracy. It makes no difference to me whether they are customers, suppliers, or business partners. Their bureaucratic systems are their responsibility, not mine. I cannot change the world when I’m expected to follow other company’s silly rules all the time. It is part of my new Zero-Tolerance to Bureaucracy Policy.

Am I being too tough on people? I don’t think so.

They hire me because they want me to speak about organizational change. They hire me because my writing, marketing, and branding are different from what other speakers are doing. Therefore, when I have an issue with their rules and procedures, I will gladly point it out to them, at no extra charge.

Just to be clear, I work without agreements. Therefore, if they find my comments or attitude annoying, they are free to cancel their invitation at any time until the day I’m scheduled to speak. That is also my policy. I happily accept that, because it’s no use visiting organizations that are unable to make even the smallest changes.

p.s. Sadly, my Zero-Tolerance to Bureaucracy Policy does not apply to rules imposed by governments. Visa application procedures, company registration papers, and tax forms are a regular part of my work-life. I blame nobody for trying to work within the boundaries of (sometimes stupid) laws.

image (c) 2013 Christian Schnettelker, Creative Commons 2.0


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  • Eddy Bruin

    I think you touched a very delicate topic here. One I would like to challenge in software development.If I’m getting paid to develop software and respond with ‘It’s your system that needs this 12 RFC’s for this bug fix to bring to production’ it would probably not work getting the job done.

    My point is, I too hate to do meaningless work when it only satisfies another company’s need for bureaucracy, but I simply can’t refuse it.
    At most I can show management that a large (sometimes the largest) part of ‘developing’ software consists of administration. (and encouraging big bang releases by being so bureaucratic)

    Assuming you (both Jurgen and readers) have been in such a situation too. How did you deal with this?

    (My first tip would be give the guy in charge the book ‘The phoenix project’)

    • jurgenappelo

      Getting paid to do meaningless work is less painful than not getting paid for it. 🙂

  • http://www.flowa.fi/ Antti Kirjavainen

    Couldn’t agree with you more, Jurgen. If only we could have zero-tolerance policy for governmental bureaucracy, too.

    Founding our company Flowa has been a breeze. Except for the part where we’ve had to try and make it a legal entity according to the processes of the Finnish patent and registration office.

    And then they wonder why so few take up entrepreneurship in Finland…

    • jurgenappelo

      And Finland is supposed to be easy compared to all other countries! 🙂

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