Assess the view that bureaucracy is the most efficient form of organization.
Assess the view that bureaucracy is the most efficient form of organization
“The bureaucratization of society will, according to all available knowledge, some day triumph over capitalism, in our civilisation just as in ancient civilisations. In our civilisation also the “anarchy of production” will be supplanted in due course by an economic and social system similar to that typical of the Late Roman Empire, and even more so of the “New Kingdom” in Egypt or the sway of the Ptolemy’s”
(Gesammelte Aufsatze zur Sozial-und Wirtschaftsgeschichte, p.277)
When people hear the word bureaucracy several concepts come into their minds: government, red tape, paper work, corruption and the accumulation of power. These are just a few misconceptions that people have. A definition from a sociology dictionary defines bureaucracy as “A type of organization which administration is based upon impersonal, written rules and a hierarchy of offices. Domination based upon written rules, recruitment based upon qualification and offices that are impersonal and clearly distinguished from incumbents.” (Jary and Jary, 2000). What people forget is that bureaucracy were once conceptualised for there superior efficiency over other forms of organisation models. The machine like precision of a bureaucracy is its main strength; its ability to focus on work that needs to be completed without the distraction of personal consideration is uncompromising compared with other organisational structures. It is true that bureaucracy can evolve and become a personification of a slow, inefficient, unproductive machine or robot, an un-motivating place to work where employees are restricted to become cogs in the machine, thereby destroying innovation and personal development. To fully understand the organisational structure that is bureaucracy we need to look at its original conception, subsequently we can look at its perceived advantages and dysfunctions.
Several theorists have made major contributions to the theories of bureaucracies. The classic theories of bureaucracy were formulated by Max Weber, Robert Michels, Bruno Rizzi, Karl Marx and elaborating on Marx’s work, Leon Trotsky (Lev Davidovich Bronstein) and Vladimir Ilycih Lenin. Among these theorists, Max Weber has made the biggest impact. Weber’s landmark contribution was made in his Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, which in turn was originally published in Grundriss der Sozialoekonomik (Henderson and Parsons, 1947). His work was based on his special interest of power and authority, born (e) from this interest; Weber established three types of authority, charismatic, traditional and rational-legal. Positions of authority in a Charismatic authority are selected on the basis of charisma, the belief that the ruler has special or unique personal qualities (Hassard, 2003). There is no fixed hierarchy of officials and no legal rules governing the organisation of leaders and followers. It is fluid but ill-defined (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000). Traditional authority is based on the belief that the ruler has a natural right to rule (Huczynski and Buchanan, 2001). The ruler is bound by no specific rules; he or she can make decisions based on considerations of utility or raison d'etat, of substantive ethical justice (Henderson and Parsons, 1947). This structure is of little importance in contemporary societies (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000).
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Weber’s third type of authority, rational-legal, is the most fundamental of the three authorities. From this authority, Weber constructed a “pure” type of bureaucratic organisation, which he defined as “A hierarchical organisation designed rationally to coordinate the work of many individuals in the pursuit of large-scale administrative tasks and organisational goals.”(Haralambos and Holborn, 2000). Bureaucracy is a system of control; in order for control to be effective it must be legitimate. There are six elements which are the foundations of Weber’s “pure” type. “The regular activities required for the purposes of the organisation are distributed in a fixed way as official duties” (Gerth and Mills (eds), 1948). Officials specialise in a particular area of the organisation and complex tasks are broken into smaller manageable tasks. Each official has clearly defined responsibilities and competence. A chain of command and responsibility is established, officials are accountable for their conduct and the conduct of their subordinates (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000). Weber stated that: “The organisation of offices follows the principle of hierarchy; that is every lower office is under the control and supervision of a higher one” (Henderson and Parsons, 1947). Rules clearly define the limits of authority and there is an established belief in the correctness of these rules. These rules are procedures or obligations which are explicitly stated in the organisation’s documents (Huczynski and Buchanan, 2001). Rules lay down the fixed procedures for the performance of each individual task. They impose strict discipline and control and leave little room for personal initiative or discretion (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000). Activities are governed by rules, not by personal considerations therefore the “ideal official” performs his or her duties in “a spirit of formalistic impersonality…without hatred or passion.”(Henderson and Parsons, 1947). Weber said that “Bureaucratic administration means fundamentally the exercise of control on the basis of knowledge. This is the feature of it which makes it specifically rational.” Consequently according to Weber, officials should in a “pure” bureaucracy be promoted on their knowledge and skills which in turn benefit the organisational goals. Bureaucratic administration also involves the strict separation of private and official income. Officials in the administration do not own any part of the organisation and cannot make private gains from it (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000).
“The decisive reason for the advance of bureaucratic organisation has always been its purely technical superiority over any other form of organisation” Max Weber
The traditional or machine bureaucratic organisation possesses all the bureaucratic characteristics. The important decisions are made at the top, while at the bottom; standardised procedures are used to exercise control (Huczynski and Buchanan, 2001). In this organisation precision, speed, unambiguity, knowledge of the files, continuity, discretion, unity, strict subordination, reduction of friction and of material and personal costs are raised to optimum levels (Litterer, 1969). Superiority stems from specialised skills. There is a reduction in uncertainty because of the machine-like administrative system (Hassard, 2003). Rational rules are specific thereby furthering the organisations goals (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000). Throughout the world, organisations increasing rely on these components being maximised.
There are no personal emotions or interests the principle of bureaucracy is sine ira ac studio. The more “dehumanised” a bureaucracy can become, the more completely it succeeds in eliminating from official business love, hatred and all purely personal, irrational and emotional elements. Once a “pure” bureaucracy is fully established, it is among the hardest of social structures to destroy. Where the bureaucratisation of the organisation has been completely carried through, a form of power relation is established that is practically indestructible. (Litterer, 1969). A more modern type of bureaucracy has evolved from the classic traditional type; the professional bureaucracy is a type of organisation which possesses all the normal characteristics of the traditional bureaucracy, In addition, there are few levels between the strategic apex and the operating staff, control of which is achieved through professional indoctrination (Huczynski and Buchanan, 2001).
“It is horrible to think that the world would one day be filled with little cogs, little men clinging to little jobs and striving towards the bigger ones” Max Weber
Although the superiority of a bureaucratic organisation’s technical efficiency compared with other organisations is not in dispute, there are several disadvantages of this system. Karl Marx believed that bureaucracy contributed to a man’s alienation, feelings of powerlessness and helplessness due to the mystery and oppression of bureaucrats. Weber as quoted above conceptualised that the individual becomes a simple cog in a machine, a well disciplined and regulated automation with a specialised technical knowledge and a generalised ignorance and indifference as to his position and purpose in the organisation. Another critic of “pure” bureaucracy, Michels claimed that simple members of the organisation were eternally manipulated and exploited by those who supposedly promote their interests (Mouzelis, 1967).Once in a dominant position, the primary interest of the organisation elite is to maintain its power, even if such a policy were detrimental to the organisation as a whole (Michels, 1962). The position of the bureaucrat, his relationships with the ruler, the ruled and his colleagues are strictly defined by impersonal rules. For this reason the development of bureaucracy destroys real equality of opportunity and favours a plutocratic regime (Mouzelis, 1967).
Bureaucrats are continually preoccupied with uniformity and order. Uniform and rational rules and procedures, stifle spontaneity, creativity and initiative, thereby indoctrinating specialist “without spirit”. The bureaucratic organisation makes an iron cage (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000). To illustrate this point Ibid claimed that “In combination with the dead machine it [i.e. the bureaucracy] is at work to set up the iron cage of that bondage of the future to which perhaps some day men like the fellaheen in ancient Egypt will helplessly be forced to submit…” (Mommsen, 1947). Weber disputed that bureaucracy was the prime expression of rationalisation; however he argued was this irrational. In times of crisis, leadership would become ineffective, because people in the bureaucratic organisation were trained to follow orders and rules, not to make policy and initiative. Albert Weber, at the congress of the Verein fur Sozialpolitik in Vienna, 1909, summarised the major dysfunctions of the bureaucratic system
“Bureaucracy is the sworn enemy of individual liberty, and of all bold initiative in matters of internal policy. The dependence upon superior authorities characteristic of the average employee suppresses individuality and gives to the society in which employees predominate a narrow petty-bourgeois and philistine stamp. The bureaucratic spirit corrupts character and engenders moral poverty. In every bureaucracy we may observe place-hunting, a mania for promotion, and obsequiousness towards those upon whom promotion depends; there is arrogance towards inferiors and servility towards superiors.”
A bureaucratic organisation has a clearly defined goal. It involves the precise calculation of the means to attain this goal and systematically eliminating those factors that stand in the way of the achievement of its objective. Weber’s concept of bureaucracy, displays an in borne, insatiable appetite for more and more formal rationalisation; bureaucracy of necessity reorganizes everything it comes into contact with according to strictly “instrumentally-rational” principles (Mommsen, 1947). Weber believed fundamentally that bureaucracies consisted of individuals carrying out rational social actions designed to achieve the goals of bureaucracies (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000). He defined rational action as “the methodical attainment of a definitely given and practical end by means of an increasingly precise calculation of means.” rational action had become the dominant mode of action in modern industrial society.
Merton (1957), Selznick (1966) and Gouldner (1964) all focussed on the negatives of bureaucratic administration. Merton claimed that placing pressure upon an individual by the bureaucratic administration which tried to reinforce accountability and predictability through the use of rules and procedures could encourage counter-productive inflexibility. As a result the rules and procedures become ends instead of a means towards the goals of the organisation (Watson, 1995). Philip Selznick observed a form of goal-displacement. Sub - departments set up targets of their own via the delegation of authority of the administration (Hassard, 2003). The attainment of these targets may then come into direct conflict with the purpose of the organisation; thereby new departments need to be established subsequently exacerbating the problem.
[Gouldner, tendency of rules to be interpreted as minimum standards of performance, certain circumstances reduce all activity to an apathetic conformity to this official minimum. Rules are therefore tightened, effect being the power relations become more visible and conflict between managers and subordinates increases]
Marx thought bureaucracy as an oppressive instrument. Michels took that concept one step further and considered bureaucracy not an instrument but a master, inherit in the internal dynamics of bureaucracy (Mouzelis, 1967). He continued discrediting bureaucracy by stating that “The ideal type of bureaucracy is a conceptual construction of certain empirical elements into a logically precise and consistent form, a form which, in its ideal purity, is never to be found in concrete reality.” Bureaucracy tends to protect its power from hostiles by increasing the superiority of the professionally informed by keeping their knowledge and intentions secret (Litterer 1969). This continuing desire to keep power, is the heart of bureaucracy, the machine like mechanism does not allow individuality. Its existence and evolution has a transient and parasitic character. Marx observed that incompetence was also a major dysfunction of bureaucracy; bureaucrats persuade themselves that they have a more useful and salutary function to perform. They try to increase their domination in order to consolidate position and their prerogatives (Mouzelis, 1967). Weber understood that bureaucracy could take over society and the way of life of the individual. Throughout his life he attempted to answer his “great question”, in spite of this he never fundamentally reached a conclusion.
“What can we oppose to this machinery in order to keep a portion of mankind free from this parcelling-out of the soul, from this supreme mastery of the bureaucratic way of life?”
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