Waging war on red tape

Red tape is sometimes a necessary evil, but there are many cases when it’s not. EAs can help cut the ribbons entangling their business says Bryan Whitefield.

EAs are in a great position to help fight the good fight against unnecessary red tape. How big is the problem? In a media release by Deloitte for their 2014 Deloitte Access Economics report on red tape they said:

“Australia’s productivity is being choked by red tape, with the combined cost of administering and complying with public and private sector bureaucracy costing the nation $250 billion every year.”

But what are the underlying causes of inappropriate red tape? As an EA, you can wage war on red tape but you need to understand the three main causes.

Royal commissions

Since 2014 we have had religious, education and other industries reeling from Royal Commissions into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the Home Insulation Program and Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry.

One of the results of Royal Commissions is that regulators come under the spotlight as much as the industries themselves. Regulators of all spots pay attention and are either forced to or feel compelled to act. And that means more red tape.


Regulators want your industry to deliver on its promises and therefore have happy customers. Happy customers mean no complaints to politicians. What makes customers happy? Not being lied to, not being hurt or mistreated and not losing their money.

Your organisation must develop policies, processes and systems to ensure you deliver on your promises. This makes red tape inevitable. Just having red tape is not enough though. Your people need to be taught about the red tape, have evidence of having done so and be held accountable for following policies and procedures. Which leads to the final cause of mountains of inappropriate red tape.

Support functions

It is support functions like finance, HR, WHS, risk, compliance and procurement that are tasked with creating the required red tape. However, often they make one or both of two fatal mistakes.

The most common mistake is that the creators of rules—the support functions—don’t sufficiently understand the producing areas of the business. They haven’t stood in the shoes of the business and don’t appreciate the impact their rules are having, or can’t see how the rules could be designed a better way.

The other big mistake is ‘best practice’. Support function staff go to industry conferences and seminars and come back with ‘best practice ideas’. The problem is, these ideas are often only good for the support function, but not for the business. Or what might be best practice somewhere else simply won’t work in your organisation. In the meantime, the business and the producers for the business, spend mountains of their time avoiding red tape!

What can you do about it?

As an EA, even if you are EA to the CEO, you will appreciate that you have red tape to navigate. You can see first-hand how beneficial or not it is. How complex it is, or how over the top it is, or how simply wrong it is. You are in a perfect position to gauge the need for a war on unnecessary red tape.

And here is something quite stunning from the Deloitte report. They estimate that of the $250 billion a year cost of red tape, and that $155 billion is self-imposed!

Do your organisation a favour and wage war on red tape. Call out whenever you see inappropriate red tape. Better still, politely ask the leadership team if the support functions truly understand the business. If the answer is “No,” ask them “Why not?” It might be a lack of awareness of support function staff. It might be the culture of the front office to be dismissive of the back office. Both are fixable!

Bryan Whitefield mentors executives in organisations to increase their influence and improve decisions across their organisation. He is the author of Winning Conversations: How to turn red tape into blue ribbon and delivers his Persuasive Adviser Program across all sectors of the economy. http://www.bryanwhitefield.com