Minimizing ‘Red Tape’ to Deliver Better Experiences

Minimizing ‘Red Tape’ to Deliver Better Experiences

Doing CX Right podcast show on Spotify with host Stacy Sherman
Doing Customer Experience (CX) Right Podcast - Hosted by Stacy Sherman
Doing CX Right podcast show on iHeart Radio with host Stacy Sherman

Podcast Summary About Reducing “Red Tape”

Have you heard of the term “red tape”? “Friction, sludge, no redeeming value” are some of the words associated with red tape in scholarly literature. Most people think of red tape pertaining just to government, yet also impacts business results.

For example, as a customer, have you ever had to decipher a bill you knew was incorrect and then try to get it fixed? It is difficult because organizations have dysfunctional and outdated rules, processes, redundant paperwork, wastefulness, and unnecessarily long wait times. The keyword is unnecessary.

Red tape is avoidable, which is the theme of my podcast episode featuring Stephanie Thum. She has spent the last year studying bureaucratic red tape from a customer experience perspective. While Red Tape is a customer problem, it has a tremendous impact on employee engagement and their ability to deliver customer excellence.

 Topics include:

  • What is bureaucratic ‘Red Tape?’ 
  • Why it’s a customer problem and obliterate employee experiences?
  • What are the root causes?
  • Is it all bad? How can change happen whereby leaders stop looking the other way to improve customer and employee loyalty?

There is one irrefutable fact.

The onus is on leaders to lead change, create high-performing efficient organizations and make decisions that contribute to employee satisfaction and retention. Red Tape stands in the way of reaching that goal.

Stephanie Thum


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More Highlights from Stephanie.

It has been argued that red tape is hardest on customers. But bureaucratic red tape has a compounded impact on employees. Most employees usually must administer red tape of some kind to customers. It’s their job to know the rules, communicate them, and enforce customer service policies or rules, for example. But then employees have rules, procedures, and processes of their own to deal with at work. Things like:

  • Rigid hierarchy.

  • Piles of paperwork to get reimbursed for travel expenses.

  • More piles of paperwork to get approval for a training seminar.

  • Rules that make it hard to get a promotion.

  • Rules about communicating with colleagues in other departments.

  • Unnecessarily long processes to hire and fire.

  • Long requisition processes to get the materials to do a job.

Why Red Tape Is A Big Deal

Research has shown red tape can:

  • Create cognitive uncertainty for employees.

  • Send employees into rule-bending mode.

  • Lead to cheating or gaming performance data.

  • Make employees want to leave their jobs.

  • Lead to employees deliberately working against leadership.

  • Create job stress.

  • Cause mistakes from being overburdened.

  • Inhibit innovation and employee motivation.

  • Make employees feel powerless and alienated.

  • Slow down productivity.

  • Cause job dissatisfaction.

  • Impact performance.

  • Stand in the way of employee participation in organizational change.

Unfortunately, few leaders seem to want to do anything about the red tape that causes poor employee experiences. In fact, most seem to be looking the other way while the rules pile up.

Why Leaders Are Looking The Other Way

You might think that since red tape is a problem for employees, it’s a problem for leadership. But red tape is usually so deeply embedded in organizational culture that it isn’t on the radar as a trouble spot.

And there’s easy debate—too easy—about how red tape isn’t really a problem. Some people argue that red tape rules and burdensome processes are needed because they:

  • Reduce risk.

  • Create structure.

  • Create certainty.

  • Create a level playing field.

  • Preserve program integrity.

  • Repel cheaters.

  • Prevent fraud.

And they’re not necessarily wrong.

Structure can be a good thing. For example, a study of workers in Ghana showed that 50.3% found red tape to be a negative for job satisfaction while 49.7% said it was positive. So, some people do indeed prefer the structure of bureaucratic red tape in their work.

What Leaders Can Do To Reduce Red Tape

  • Measure employee perceptions of red tape. Scholars have developed and validated a scale that can help leaders to measure red tape perceptions among employees.

  • Conduct a sludge audit. Sludge audits help you to evaluate the time and related expenses of filling out forms, waiting for decisions, and repeating processes.

  • Streamline and automate processes. The streamlining work you do may have a ripple impact on customer experience, as well.

  • Apply rules consistently. Advocating for consistency in how rules are applied can reduce the cognitive uncertainty that causes employee job stress.

  • Be mindful of when, where, and how you’re creating rules. Are they really necessary? Are the rules created on top of more rules?

On The Upside

Leaders have many good reasons to consider the impact of administrative red tape on citizens, customers, and employees.

Some red tape may be good for reducing organizational risks and protecting stakeholder interests. However, there’s no denying what is in the research. Red tape can also have a detrimental impact on employees who are responsible for delivering services to customers.

In your quest to lead change, create great employee experiences, perhaps it is best to think of it like this: 
Red tape may not be a bad thing if it motivates you to innovate your processes.

So when you say employee experiences lead to great customer experiences, make sure you clearly express what the problems are and what can be done.

Back To Specifics

As customer experience professionals, we can’t be vague. Otherwise, it’s too easy to be viewed as part of the organization’s problems, instead of being viewed as part of the solution.


About Stephanie Thum

Consultant, writer, speaker, evangelist, researcher, a former practitioner in B2B and government. Recently published in the scholarly world. My Dictionary of U.S. Federal Government Customer Experience Terms, Phrases, and Acronyms: A Guide for Practitioners and Consultants, is listed as a top CX book of 2021 by Book Authority.

Stepanie’s website

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About Stacy Sherman: Founder of Doing CX Right®‬

An award-winning certified marketing and customer experience (CX) corporate executive, speaker, author, and podcaster, known for DoingCXRight®. She created a Heart & Science™ framework that accelerates customer loyalty, referrals, and revenue, fueled by engaged employees and customer service representatives. Stacy’s been in the trenches improving experiences as a brand differentiator for 20+ years, working at companies of all sizes and industries, like Liveops, Schindler elevator, Verizon, Martha Steward Craft, AT&T++.   Stacy is on a mission to help people DOING, not just TALKING about CX, so real human connections & happiness exist. Continue reading bio >here.