Is Bureaucracy Stifling Your Firm’s Writing Process?


Posted October 29, 2019

Bureaucracy is a disease.
That’s not our word for it. That’s how JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon puts it, according to The Harvard Business Review (HBR), which further describes bureaucracy as “a tax on human achievement.”
Unfortunately, a survey by HBR also finds that almost two-thirds of respondents believe bureaucracy is getting worse at their corporations. That means that bloated operational processes and procedures are slowing work, reducing innovation, bottlenecking productivity, and disincentivizing creative thinking. The result is a loss of over $3 trillion of economic output annually.
And bureaucracy can wind its way into almost every corner of a business operation, and business writing – everything from reports and proposals to presentations and memos to marketing materials and sales pitches – can be affected.
How? Well, consider the prospect of multiple people doing the same work over and over again through a bureaucratic writing editing process. A team member writes something for the company – perhaps it’s a quarterly report containing sensitive and/or proprietary information. For that reason, multiple people in multiple departments must review to approve the content. On the surface, that may make sense, but it can also create enormous duplication of work and, over time, it’s likely the process has incorporated editors who do not add any value to the process. Complicating things further, not all reviewers are good at editing, and their efforts can result in a degraded document.
If a dozen people have to read the same piece of writing, the company is losing a dozen (or more) hours of productivity on a single round of edits, and the writing process will slow to a grind – especially if the army of reviewers reads drafts sequentially rather than simultaneously. It’s horrifically inefficient and painfully slow and it worsens the quality of the final product. What can you do to improve the situation?

1: Review your writing processes.

Start by peeling back the number of people involved in the process, particularly managers. The more “approvals” a document must obtain, the more time the organization will waste. Obviously, some approvals are necessary, like making sure the legal department signs off on certain documents, but it may still be possible to slim their involvement to the very end and limit their edits. For instance, disallow editing of voice and style.

2: Empower your people with writing skills.

The better your writers and editors, the less time your corporation will spend on writing tasks. Specifically, the stronger your writers, the more you will be able to trust the quality of their work, and fewer reviewers/approvals may be needed. Then, stronger editors will be able to work more quickly and confidently while legitimately improving the work. A single effective editor can do more for hammering a document into shape than ten amateurs. And make no mistake: editing and revising are themselves skills worthy of development.
About Hurley Write, Inc.
Hurley Write, Inc., a certified women-owned small business (WBENC and WOSB), Historically Underutilized (HUB), and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), has been designing and teaching customized onsite and online technical, business, and scientific writing courses for over 30 years. We also develop and teach specialty courses, such as how to write proposals and standard operating procedures (SOPs) and deviation and investigation reports, and how to prepare and give great presentations.  
Links: The Harvard Business Review, internal