How to eat bureaucracy for breakfast

In a start-up, it’s critical to have people that can implement process and structure, often without any known parameters or templates about how to make something work successfully. An adage that rings true at My Food Bag is, who dares and does wins. But, what I find most interesting is how often people confuse solid structure for good, old fashioned bureaucracy. And what I mean by that is: bad, old fashioned bureaucracy.

I have zero tolerance for politics or bureaucracy (it goes well with my no bullshit policy) but on the other hand, I love efficiency, structure and process. With James’ background at Telecom, he has taught me a huge amount about structure and process, and made me fall in-love with both while we were running Au Pair Link.

When we started My Food Bag, we began with an empty playbook. It was up to us to fill the pages (which, in turn, grew into chapters) as we went along.

For us, that’s not unusual. When we started, there were some clear areas that we found challenging. In particular, recipe development was a completely new area for us and we found it thrilling to have to resolve it without any background knowledge.

Our biggest asset was that we both knew that without appropriate structure and process we wouldn’t be able to scale the business. And many of the processes we implemented into My Food Bag in its early days still exist today (I’ll admit, for better or worse).

As I walked into our Development Kitchen the other day, I listened to our team talking about how Microsoft SharePoint worked, and why it was important to use it properly. Through SharePoint, we’ve planned all our recipe development for the past 2 ½ years. It’s enabled us to scale from 2 Food Bags to 7, and from 1 chef to 12. While, at times, it’s arduous and ‘clunky’, Sharepoint has done what we asked it to do all that time ago.

When I built our recipe development process, My Food Bag was 6 months old, I knew that we needed to THINK BIG to be able to achieve the results we aspired to, and that process and structure has stood the test of time. And while it might now be time to think about ‘what’s next’ (hint, hint to our new team of developers), it’s been a fantastic process for us to have in place.

So, how do we manage the battle between bureaucracy vs process and structure in a start-up? For me, it’s simple. Process and structure has been created with the vision to say ‘Yes’. It’s a pretty powerful word. Here’s what I mean…

We are saying YES to growth, YES to opportunity and most importantly YES to our customers. Through committing to say YES to the things above, we establish the direction and meaning of process and structure. So while SharePoint might not be the sexiest thing on earth (just in case this sounded like a Microsoft plug), our recipe development process has enabled us to grow from 0 to 100M in turnover and keep saying YES to our customers by implementing new products.

Bureaucracy, on the other hand, is often there to say ‘no’. To justify why something can’t be done, or to put obstacles and issues at the forefront and opportunities at the back. As soon as I hear us beginning to say no, without a clear reason or understanding of why we are saying no, I know that bureaucracy is slowly working its way into our business.

Bureaucracy can really be the death of innovation and I believe it is the reason why many businesses plateau and stop innovating. They become unresponsive. Therefore, I challenge you to fall in love with process and structure. Regularly review it, because in a start-up environment that’s growing as fast as My Food Bag is, we need to challenge our processes and equally important, focus on enhancing it and saying YES.