17 Pages, Grade: A
Question 1: What are the main characteristics of bureaucratic management?
Positions arranged in a hierarchy
A system of abstract rules
Question 2: Why did bureaucratic forms develop?
19th and 20th century development
Max Weber (1864 – 1920) and the development of Bureaucracy
Question 3: Are we now working in a Post-Bureaucratic management tradition?
Network enterprise and knowledge management as the corn stones of new organisational forms
Are we now working in a Post-Bureaucratic management tradition?
The theory of bureaucracy is one of the fundamental elements of the study of organisations and derives from the work of the German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) (Toye, 2006). A bureaucratic organisation is typified by formal processes, standardisation, hierarchic procedures, and written communication. When operated sensibly, bureaucracy is efficient because it benefits from economies of scale and avoids duplication of effort, whilst maintaining standards of quality (Ballé, 1999).
Aim of this essay is to provide an overall understanding of bureaucratic management by illustrating why bureaucratic systems developed in the 19th century; how bureaucracy solved the problems and satisfied the needs of the last two centuries; which advantages and disadvantages derive from the main characteristics of bureaucracy; and to which extend bureaucratic management form is able to survive in the modern ever changing world.
The first section of this paper comments on the Weberian characteristics of bureaucracy, in the way it has been used in recent organisation literature. Development and importance of those characteristics will be introduced and main advantages and disadvantages will be identified.
In the second part reasons for the development of the bureaucratic model will be analysed and changes in the 19th century which caused the need for a bureaucratic approach will be illustrated. Moreover it will be shown how and to which extent the bureaucratic approach solved the problems of those times.
The third section will demonstrate whether or not we are now working in a post-bureaucratic management tradition. The modern times, with its challenging environment and changing technologies will be analysed, along with the post-bureaucratic concept and its characteristics. As well the academic literature will be consulted in order to understand whether or not we are living in a post-bureaucratic management tradition.
Also Weber perceived bureaucracy as a threat to basic personal liberties, he also recognized it as the most efficient possible system of organising. He predicted the triumph of bureaucracy because of its ability to ensure more efficient functioning of organisations in both business and government setting (Daft, 2007). Weber believed that bureaucracy could be understood by analysing a set of organisational characteristics that could be found in successful bureaucratic organisations (Toye, 2006). In this paper four major characteristics will be discussed and analysed in detail.
Specialisation describes how each person working to produce a good, might work on one part of the production instead of producing the whole good. In a bureaucratic organisation each employee has a clear task to perform with detailed rights, obligations, responsibilities and scope of authority (Daft, 2007). With great insight, functional specialisation enables each actor to learn more about his or her specialised trade, and therefore enables them to produce more, better and cheaper (Ballé, 1999).
The primary strength of the bureaucracy lies in its ability to perform standardized activities in a highly efficient manner (Robbins, 2005). Weber’s bureaucratic model emphasizes that specialisation enhances productivity and efficiency as putting specialties together in functional departments results in economies of scale, minimum duplication of personnel and equipment, and employees who have the opportunity to talk “the same language” among their peers (Ballé, 1999).
However, speciality does not only lead to increased productivity and efficiency but can also create conflicts between specialized units. E.g. specialisation may impede communication between units, as highly specialised units tend to not fully communicate with units above, below, or horizontal to it since those are considered as being different and outsiders (Luthans, 1998). Specialisation could as well create sub-unit conflicts so that functional unit goals can override the overall goals of the organisation (Robbins, 2005).
Moreover performing a highly specialized job is a major cause of employee boredom and burnout (Luthans, 1998).
‘The organisation of offices follows the principle of hierarchy; that is, each lower office is under the control and supervision of a higher one’ (Weber, 1947, p.331). Hierarchy is a basic characteristic of complex organisation structures and forces control over every member in the structure.
The functional attributes of a hierarchy are that it maintains unity of command, coordinates activities and personnel, reinforces authority, and serves as a formal system of communication (Luthans, 1998). Buchanan (2004) even argues that hierarchical structure is more likely to produce rational decisions and better control within the organisation than any other structure of authority such as e.g. one based on teams.
In theory the centralised pyramidal chain of command should allow the bureaucracy to be co-ordinated and aligned ‘monocratic’, i.e. by one individual with the perspective to make the right moves (Ballé, 1999). In practice it doesn’t quite work. The information reach the top person very distorted, decision making process takes ages, and the system allows errors to be easily hidden (Ballé, 1999).
Furthermore hierarchy often turns out to have only a downward emphasis which blocks individual initiative and participation. Due to absence of upward communication there will be little entrepreneurship as everyone waits to see what the boss wants before they advance their own ideas (Robbins, 2005).
A set of formal rules are the general purpose tool of bureaucracies to ensure uniformity and coordination of effort (Ballé, 1999). A well-understood system of regulations also provides the continuity and stability that Weber thought were so important (Robbins, 2005).
Administrative acts, decisions, and rules are formulated and recorded in writing and serve as standards for organisational actions (Weber, 1947). Those rules specify tasks that are specific, distinct, and done by different formal categories of personnel who specialise in these tasks (Clegg et al, 2006). Rules show exactly how an employee has to behave and to work and what has to be done in certain situations.
However, it could be difficult to set operational rules and problems can occur as some rules are too complex and too difficult to be easily followed (Ballé, 1999). Moreover rules tend to multiply as time goes by: Changed situations require new rules, but the old ones are very rarely killed (Ballé, 1999).
As well officials often become dependent on rules to guide and justify their actions. No rule can be rational at all times and not every situation involves an appropriate set of rules. Some scholars even argue that forms should only be used in cases where judgement is not required (Fineman et al, 2005; Robbins, 2005) and that breaking the rules rather than following them could often produce more efficient outcomes (Clegg et al, 2006).
Bureaucracy means subjection to impersonal rules, requiring officials to treat their ‘subjects’ impersonally, sine ira et studio (= without hatred and partiality; Weber’s favourite expression), and without respect to persons or status (Höpfl, 2006). It was Weber’s belief that the ideal official should be dominated by a spirit of formalistic impersonality, without hatred or passion, and hence without affection or enthusiasm (Luthans, 1998). This, for Weber, ‘is the spirit in which the ideal official conducts his office’ (Weber, 1947, p.331).
Impersonality, strict adherence to the rational-legal rules, and even-handed treatment of staff and clients are fundamental features of bureaucratic human behaviour (Casey, 2004). Some of the decisions people make in organisations are very unpleasant. Firing an employee or failing a student are not easy or agreeable decisions. Impersonality cushions the employees from suffering and misery of others (Fineman et al, 2005).
Impersonality also means that each decision is unaffected by the specific circumstances of individuals, which can have advantages and disadvantages (Fineman et al, 2005). Advantages, as everyone is treated according to the rule and everyone is treated the same. Disadvantages as different circumstances have to be treated different (everybody has horror stories about everyday irritations in dealing with impersonal bureaucracies).
Weber as well recognised some other important characteristics of bureaucracy such as: employment is based on technical qualifications; bureaucrat is protected against arbitrary dismissal; promotions are made according to seniority and achievement; etc. (Luthans, 1998).
Bureaucratic characteristics have worked extremely well for many years. However, as illustrated above, in today’s business environment many problems and disadvantages could appear due to those, mostly old fashioned, characteristics.
Bureaucracy existed long before words and theories were devised to describe it in detail. Hierarchy, regimentation and specialisation, and social structures that are triangular in shape existed for thousands of years (Dick, 2003). E.g. Confucianism, which has permeated Chinese life for centuries, contains philosophic elements that in effect are preconditions for a bureaucratic regimen (Dick, 2003).
The word bureaucracy was coined by the French mid-18th century devotee of laissez-faire, French Vincent de Gournay. Taken from the French ‘bureau’, a cloth used to cover a desk, and the Greek ‘kratein’, meaning ‘to rule’, bureaucracy in literal translation meant ‘rule by office’ (Dick, 2003).
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