July 28th, 2012 Bureaucratic Management


Bureaucratic management may be described as "a formal system of organisation based on clearly defined hierarchical levels and roles in order to maintain efficiency and effectiveness."

 

Max Weber embellished the scientific management theory with his bureaucratic management theory which is mainly focused on dividing organizations into hierarchies, establishing strong lines of authority and control. Weber suggested organizations develop comprehensive and detailed standard operating procedures for all routinized tasks.

 

Max Weber was a historian that wrote about the emergence of bureaucracy (or bureaucratic management) from more traditional organizational forms (like feudalism) and it's rising pre-eminance in modern society. Scott defines bureaucracy it as "the existence of a specialized administrative staff". According to Weber, beaucracy is a particular type of administrative structure developed through rational-legal authority. Bureaucratic structures evolved from traditional structures with the following changes:

 

1. Jurisdictional areas are clearly specified, activities are distributed as official duties (unlike traditional form where duties delegated by leader and changed at any time).

 

2. Organization follows hierarchial principle — subordinates follow orders or superiors, but have right of appeal (in contrast to more diffuse structure in traditional authority).

 

3. Intential, abstract rules govern decisions and actions. Rules are stable, exhaustive, and can be learned. Decisions are recorded in permanent files (in traditional forms few explicit rules or written records).

 

4. Means of production or administration belong to office. Personal property separated from office property.

 

5. Officials are selected on basis of technical qualifications, appointed not elected, and compensated by salary.

 

6. Employement by the organization is a career. The official is a full-time employee and looks forward to a life-long career. After a trial period they get tenure of position and are protected from arbitrary dismissal.

 

Max Weber said that bureaucracy resolves some of the shortcomings of the traditional system. Described above was his ideal-type construct, a simplified model (not a preferred model) that focuses on the most important features. Weber's view of bureaucracy (or bureaucratic management) was a system of power where leaders exercise control over others — a system based on discipline.

 

Weber stressed that the rational-legal form was the most stable of systems for both superiors and subordinates — it's more reliable and clear, yet allows the subordinate more independence and discretion. Subordinates ideally can challenge the decisions of their leaders by referring to the stated rules — charisma becomes less important. As a result, bureaucratic systems can handle more complex operations than traditional systems. (all above Scott p. 41-42).

 

The Ideal Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy is the division of labour applied to administration. 'Bureau', is a French word meaning desk, or by extension, an office; thus, 'Bureaucracy' is rule through a desk or office, that is, a form of organization built on the preparation and dispatch of written documents. In contrast to the commonly held view of bureaucracies, they do not 'rule' in their own right but are the means by which a monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, or other form of authority, rules.

 

Observing the changes that were taking place during the industrial revolution, Max Weber saw Capitalism as 'rational' way to organize activities: rational in the sense that all decisions could based on the calculation of their likely return to the enterprise. Weber's Ideal bureaucracy was therefore devoted to the principle of efficiency: maximizing output whilst minimizing inputs.

 

By studying the organizational innovations in Germany at the turn of the 20th century, Max Weber identified the core elements of this new form of organization. For Weber, the ideal bureaucracy was characterized by impersonality, efficiency and rationality. The key feature of the organization was that the authority of officials was subject to published rules and codes of practice; all rules, decisions and actions were recorded in writing.

 

The structure of the organization is a continuous hierarchy where each level is subject to control by the level above it. Each position in the hierarchy exists in its own right and job holders have no rights to a particular position. Responsibilities within each level are clearly delineated and each level has its own sphere of competence. An appointment to an office, and the levels of authority that go with it, are based solely on the grounds of technical competence.

 

Max Weber believed that, due to their efficiency and stability, bureaucracies would become the most prevalent form of organization in society. However, he was also concerned that bureaucracies shared so many common structures it could mean that all organizations would become very much alike, which in turn could lead to the development of a new class of worker, the professional bureaucrat.

 

A Theory of Bureaucratic Dysfunction

In 1964 the French Sociologist, Michel Crozier set out to re-examine Weber's concept of the efficient ideal bureaucracy in the light of the way that bureaucratic organizations had actually developed and constructed a theory of bureaucratic dysfunction based on an analysis of case studies.

 

The core of his theory stems from the observation that in situations where almost every outcome has been decided in advance, the only way for people to gain control over their lives is to exploit any remaining 'zones of uncertainty'. He argues that organizational relations become little more than strategic games that attempt to exploit such zones, either for their own ends, or to prevent others from gaining an advantage. The result is that the organization becomes locked into a series of inward looking power struggles – so called 'vicious circles' – that prevent it learning from its errors.

 

Thus, in order to be rational and egalitarian, bureaucracies attempt to come up with a set of impersonal rules to cover every event. The result is that because decisions are predetermined, hierarchical relationships become less important and the senior levels loose the power to govern.

 

Secondly, in order to maintain the impersonal nature of decision making, decisions must be made by people who cannot be influenced by those who are affected. The effect of this is that problems are only resolved by people who have no direct knowledge of them.

 

Thirdly, the elimination of opportunities for bargaining and negotiation creates an organization consisting of a series of isolated strata. The result is peer group pressure to conform to the norms of the strata regardless of individual beliefs or the wider goals of the organization.

 

Finally, individuals or groups that gain control the zones of uncertainty weild disproportionate power in an otherwise regulated and egalitarian organization. This leads to the creation of parallel power structures, which in turn results in decisions being made based on factors unrelated to those of the organization as a whole.

 

Characteristics of Bureaucracy

According to Max Weber official functions in the following specific manner:

 

I. There is the principle of fixed and official jurisdictional areas, which are generally ordered by rules, that is, by laws or administrative regulations.

 

1. The regular activities required for the purposes of the bureaucratically governed structure are distributed in a fixed way as official duties.

 

2. The authority to give the commands required for the discharge of these duties is distributed in a stable way and is strictly delimited by rules concerning the coercive means, physical, sacerdotal, or otherwise, which may be placed at the disposal of officials.

 

3. Methodical provision is made for the regular and continuous fulfilment of these duties and for the execution of the corresponding rights; only persons who have the generally regulated qualifications to serve are employed.

 

In public and lawful government these three elements constitute 'bureaucratic authority.' In private economic domination, they constitute bureaucratic 'management.' Bureaucracy, thus understood, is fully developed in political and ecclesiastical communities only in the modern state, and, in the private economy, only in the most advanced institutions of capitalism. Permanent and public office authority, with fixed jurisdiction, is not the historical rule but rather the exception. This is so even in large political structures such as those of the ancient Orient, the Germanic and Mongolian empires of conquest, or of many feudal structures of state. In all these cases, the ruler executes the most important measures through personal trustees, table-companions, or court-servants. Their commissions and authority are not precisely delimited and are temporarily called into being for each case.

 

II. The principles of office hierarchy and of levels of graded authority mean a firmly ordered system of super- and subordination in which there is a supervision of the lower offices by the higher ones. Such a system offers the governed the possibility of appealing the decision of a lower office to its higher authority, in a definitely regulated manner. With the full development of the bureaucratic type, the office hierarchy is monocratically organized. The principle of hierarchical office authority is found in all bureaucratic structures: in state and ecclesiastical structures as well as in large party organizations and private enterprises. It does not matter for the character of bureaucracy whether its authority is called 'private' or 'public.'

 

When the principle of jurisdictional 'competency' is fully carried through, hierarchical subordination–at least in public office–does not mean that the 'higher' authority is simply authorized to take over the business of the 'lower.' Indeed, the opposite is the rule. Once established and having fulfilled its task, an office tends to continue in existence and be held by another incumbent.

 

III. The management of the modern office is based upon written documents ('the files'), which are preserved in their original or draught form. There is, therefore, a staff of subaltern officials and scribes of all sorts. The body of officials actively engaged in a 'public' office, along with the respective apparatus of material implements and the files, make up a 'bureau.' In private enterprise, 'the bureau' is often called 'the office.'

 

In principle, the modern organization of the civil service separates the bureau from the private domicile of the official, and, in general, bureaucracy segregates official activity as something distinct from the sphere of private life. Public monies and equipment are divorced from the private property of the official. This condition is everywhere the product of a long development. Nowadays, it is found in public as well as in private enterprises; in the latter, the principle extends even to the leading entrepreneur. In principle, the executive office is separated from the household, business from private correspondence, and business assets from private fortunes. The more consistently the modern type of business management has been carried through the more are these separations the case. The beginnings of this process are to be found as early as the Middle Ages.

 

It is the peculiarity of the modern entrepreneur that he conducts himself as the 'first official' of his enterprise, in the very same way in which the ruler of a specifically modern bureaucratic state spoke of himself as 'the first servant' of the state. The idea that the bureau activities of the state are intrinsically different in character from the management of private economic offices is a continental European notion and, by way of contrast, is totally foreign to the American way.

 

IV. Office management, at least all specialized office management– and such management is distinctly modern–usually presupposes thorough and expert training. This increasingly holds for the modern executive and employee of private enterprises, in the same manner as it holds for the state official.

 

V. When the office is fully developed, official activity demands the full working capacity of the official, irrespective of the fact that his obligatory time in the bureau may be firmly delimited. In the normal case, this is only the product of a long development, in the public as well as in the private office. Formerly, in all cases, the normal state of affairs was reversed: official business was discharged as a secondary activity.

 

VI. The management of the office follows general rules, which are more or less stable, more or less exhaustive, and which can be learned. Knowledge of these rules represents a special technical learning which the officials possess. It involves jurisprudence, or administrative or business management.

 

The reduction of modern office management to rules is deeply embedded in its very nature. The theory of modern public administration, for instance, assumes that the authority to order certain matters by decree–which has been legally granted to public authorities–does not entitle the bureau to regulate the matter by commands given for each case, but only to regulate the matter abstractly. This stands in extreme contrast to the regulation of all relationships through individual privileges and bestowals of favor, which is absolutely dominant in patrimonialism, at least in so far as such relationships are not fixed by sacred tradition.

 

Bureaucracy and Unresponsiveness

Often public service organizations are criticized for being unresponsive to their customer's needs. One of Weber's most serious concerns was how society would maintain control over expanding state bureaucracies. He felt the most serious problem was not inefficiency or mismanagement but the increased power of public officials. A person in an important, specialized position will become to realize how dependent their bosses are on their expertise and begin to exercise their power in that position. Furthermore, the staff also begin to associate with the special social interests of their particular group or organization. Over history this has caused the shift in power from the leaders of society to the bureaucrats.

 

Criticism of Weberian Bureaucratic Theory

One critique was Weber's claim that bureacratic organizations were based on rational-legal authority. Parsons (1947) and Gouldner (1954) note that Weber said authority rests both in the "legal incumbancy of office" and on "technical competence". This works if superiors have more knowledge and skill, but often this is not the case.

 

Thompson notes that in modern organizations authority is centralized but ability is decentralized (Thompson 1961). In fact staff-line distictions seem to be a structural resolution of this authority-ability quandary that Weber overlooked.

 

Weber also doesn't distinguish between definitions and propositions in his model. His list of distinguishing characteristics are linked between each other.

 

Udy (1959) found in examining 150 organizations and found no correlation between the bureaucratic attributes of the organization and it's rational attributes.

 

More recent theorists think that earlier theorists misread Weber and distorted his views. Weber was defining a formal rationality that was not necessarily optimal for efficiency. He realized that formalization could degenerate into formalism, and that bureaucratic forms concentrated power at the top and could cause an "iron cage" to imprison the low-level worker in obscurity and monotonous detail.

 

References

http://www.chris-kimble.com/Courses/mis/Bureaucratic_Organisations.html

http://faculty.babson.edu/krollag/org_site/encyclop/weber_crit.html

http://faculty.babson.edu/krollag/org_site/encyclop/bureaucracy.html

http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/socsi/undergraduate/introsoc/bureau.html

Weber, Max. Essay in Sociology, Bureaucracy, 1946

 

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