Is bureaucracy as bad as its critics suggest? The ideology of bureaucracy wasintroduced by a German sociologist and political economist called Max Weber, inthe early-1920s. Appraised in the early staged of its existence, bureaucracywas a revolutionary way of making organisations more effective and efficient.After a few years bureaucracy has been facing some critiques, afterimplementation and negative aspects appeared to stand out. The best way tounderstand the critics of bureaucracy will be to discuss what bureaucracy is,to understand its fundamentals and advantages, so that we are able tounderstand its critics and have a more concreate point of view over thesituation.
We will also discuss another alternative to Weber’s bureaucracythrough the Heckscher’s post-bureaucracy work, which could be more adapted totoday’s organisations. What is bureaucracy? Who invented bureaucracy? To understand bureaucracy it isimportant to understand its meaning first. The etymology of the wordbureaucracy comes from the French word ‘bureau’, which means office, and theGreek word ‘kratia’ or ‘kratos’, which means ruling (Etymonline.com, 2018).This helps us understand that bureaucracy is the art of Government by bureaux,so in other terms governing through office ruling.According to Max Weber, a German sociologist and political economist whoinvented the concept, bureaucracy is a hierarchical organization, which followsformal lines of authority, a fixed area of activity, rigid division of labour,regular and continuous execution of assigned tasks. It is also important tonotice that all decisions and powers are specified and restricted by regulations,as well as career advancement dependents on technical qualifications that areevaluated by organisational rules and not individuals, due to a high level ofimpersonality.
Weber also believed that superior’s power should be based on theposition of the individual in the organization, the level of competence thatthey have and the adherence to explicit rules and regulations. The higher aperson is in the hierarchy, the most power they will have throughout theorganization, if they have the competence to do so by following the regulations(Weber, 1921). What are the advantages and critics/disadvantages ofbureaucracy? By following the main principals ofbureaucracy, stated by Max Weber, it will give us a good view of whatadvantages we can gain from such a structure, and what disadvantages thisstructure can create and how other researcher have critiqued it. The first group of characteristicsfor bureaucracy are a well-defined hierarchical structure that help distinguishthe different levels of authority within an organization (Weber 1921). By thisit is meant that individuals that hold higher positions in the organization,will supervise and dictate the lower position individuals, as well as makingthe final choices in organisations.
Herbert A. Simon argues by centralisingpolicy setting and decentralising decision making, the structure of bureaucracyfacilitates the management of organisational scale and its complexity. (Simon,1976). So for example, a manager of asupermarket will have authority over the normal workers who fill in the shelfs,this authority over the lower ranked workers will insure that all the goals aremet and it will give a sense of decision-making to the manager. The second characteristic is themanagement by the rules and regulations stated by the organization (Weber,1921).
They provide a set of standard operating procedure which must befollowed by everyone part of the organization, at any time. This will ease theconsistency of both management and organizational practices of the organization,by uniforming their work force. A lack to follow these regulations could end upin negative effects over the individual that failed to do so. For example, if aworker is sick for the day, they need to call in to let the managers know, sothat someone else can be replacing the person that is ill.
A failure to call inwill surely result in a warring, due to not meeting the working regulations ofthe organisation. Thethird group of characteristics stated by Weber, are the rigid division oflabour, regular and continuous execution of assigned task (Weber, 1921). Thesecharacteristics are used to align the individuals/employees to their task, andonly to their task. This will make the organisation more successful asemployees will be assigned work with which they are experienced, although itcan be repetitive, this will make the level of productivity rise because theywill be able to achieve every aspect of the work (Nelson and Winter, 1982). Forexample, if in a supermarket you have a fisherman and a normal employee, itwill be more interesting for the supermarket to put the fisherman at the fishcounter, while putting the other employee as a cashier. The fourth, and last, group ofcharacteristics are based on the qualification of the individuals.
Everyemployee should be an expert in their field, so for example if an employeewants to change job within the same organization they will have to have the qualificationsto do so (Weber, 1921). To advance in their career, employees’ qualificationsshould be the only dependency on going up the hierarchy, as it is the onlyfactor that is relevant to their knowledge. This will help the company to beable employ the right individuals for the job that are opened and this willmake the company be more successful as people will know exactly what to do andhow to act. The four group of characteristics,stated by Max Weber in his publication, are showing us why bureaucracy can bebeneficial for an organization and what advantage a company could benefit byfollowing them.
This will often result, at least in theory, to more accuratework from the employees as they are closely watched over every movement and therules will keep them on the right track. Although in theory bureaucracy seemsto be fairly good, there are some big disadvantages to it, which came up yearsafter its release. As well as its effectiveness,bureaucracy has some imminent limitations for the employees as well as for theway the leadership works.
Peter Blau and Marshall Meyer (1987)have opposed themselves to Weber’s bureaucracy model. Max Weber has used someexpressions to describe his bureaucracy structure, such as: “the pure type” oreven “most highly developed”, which shows that Weber truly believes that hisstructure is perfect and that it always functions perfectively and efficiently.It has in reality not shown that success, the bureaucratic structure is not”fully developed”, it has shown some lacks of effectiveness in some publicperformances and its ability to meet the citizens’ social needs and politicalrights. Therefore P. Blau and M. Meyer have argued that the bureaucracystructure is not idealistic and that organizations are being fooled. Byfollowing the bureaucratic path they might never achieve the efficiency that isstated by Max Weber in his research.
Peter Blau and Marhsall Meyer have stated:”since perfect bureaucratization is never fully realized, no existingorganisation precisely fits the ‘ideal type’ … which does not provideunderstanding of concrete bureaucratic structure” (Blau and Meyer, 1987).Although that it is arguable that the ideal bureaucracy is only a conceptualguide, Blau and Meyer have stated that “empirical studies have shown that thisapproach is misleading”. The idea behind this limitation, is that it shows thatbureaucracy is never going to be achieved fully, because no organisation isever going to achieve the ‘ideal type’ of organisation to be able to completelyfollow the theory side of the structure. So this bureaucracy structure isarguably more a conceptual model than a model that organisations could followto the letter. The Weberian bureaucracy structureis based on the on the formal elements of bureaucracy, which are composed ofspecialization, rules, hierarchy and qualifications. This structure is ignoringthe aspect of informal organizations introduced by Barnard (1966), whichsuggests that it does not take into account any human emotions or relations ofany form. Barnard suggests that the informal elements, such as humanrelationships, communication networks, motivation and others were not used wellin the private and public organisations structures that were following thebureaucracy scheme (Barnard, 1966).
Bureaucracy’s most knowndisadvantage is the obstruction of achieving results in time due to a slowprocess. By this it is meant that for a bureaucratic organizations, everyaction or decision that needs to be taken, needs to pass through a chain ofcommand for it to be approved. This process often takes time, as many differentindividual need to approve the decision before it can be applied.
Crozier(1964) states that this slowness is a maladapted response to the needs whichbureaucratic organizations should answer to (Crozier, 1964). There are numerousexamples of this issue such as in the military. A certain decision likemilitary defence often needs to be approved by a numerous of people from themilitary and the government hierarchy, which can result in being too slow toreact to the problem. It can result in dramatic outcomes, such as manycausalities or even a failure to react to some terrorist strategies. Theslowness of the bureaucratic process is often criticised and it is the maindisadvantage of such a model.
As being explained in theadvantages, the work done by employees in a bureaucracy is often repetitive asemployees are assigned with the same work all the time (Spahr,2014). Thespecialisation in jobs can provoke a rise in productivity as well as a fall inproductivity, because employees face boredom of repetition (Gardiner andHaladyn, 2017). Employees need to have a positive belief about their work, butin a bureaucratic organisation it can be hard to keep over time as their taskwill be the same daily and it will not be challenging over a longer period oftime. The applied rules and regulations ofa bureaucratic structure can often be problematic for some individuals. Theserules often take away the freedom of the employees and resolve them to onlyfollow the strict rules and they are implied to do their job and nothing else.By doing so, bureaucracy does not allow any employees to think outside the box,which can be quite problematic.
Warren Bennis (1968) suggests that bureaucracydevelops conformity, which puts everyone in the same box (Bennis and Slater,1968). The bureaucracy structure denies that employees’ opinion can sometimesbe crucial to the success of a company by opposing themselves against not welldesigned strategies, which in this case is left out. The hierarchical structure of bureaucracyis a big disadvantage to its structure, it gives a bad image to the structureas it can be compared to an oligarchy. By this it is meant that in abureaucracy the hierarchy pattern follows the path of oligarchy, a small groupof highly placed individuals are ruling over the rest.
The leaders oftenpromote the junior officials higher up in the hierarchy, because they sharesimilar views. This problem often occurs in bureaucracy and goes against theideology, as you are supposed to be promoted or employed based on yourqualifications. Bennis (1968) also argues that the system of control andauthority is outdated, conflicts between ranks in the hierarchy are ignored andthere is an inappropriate pressure of the higher ranks over the lower ones dueto hierarchical division (Bennis and Slater, 1968). Post-bureaucracya possible alternative The term post-bureaucracy has beendeveloped since the 1970s and the end of the industrial era, it is a shift frommass production of standard products to niche products (Al-Amoudi, 2017). Manyscholars and researchers, such as Charles Heckscher (1994), have contrastedthis new type of structure to the old bureaucracy suggested by Max Weber.Heckscher argues that these post-bureaucracy are not a fundamental shift frombureaucracy, but more a cleaned-up version of the Weberian model (Heckscher andDonnellon, 1994). This shows us that the matter of the organisation has shiftedfrom organisational structure to organisation culture, in which all theinformal organisations from Barnard are being taken into account.
According toCharles Heckscher rules are now being replaced with consensus and dialoguebased on personal influence rather than status, responsibilities are assignedon the basis of competence for tasks rather than hierarchy, these are the mainfactors that individuals are looking to move to. By this it is meant that thesefactors are primordial for employees of the new generation, people inorganisations want to be more flexible and innovative rather than simplyfollowing orders. Employees’ are looking to be treated as individuals ratherthan impersonally, they want to be granted freedom of thinking and freedom ofaction, which is not possible in traditional bureaucracy. Charles Heckscher, as the one of theleading researcher on post bureaucracy, has devised a list of characteristicscalled ‘the post bureaucratic ideal type’, which is contrasting from Weber’sideal type of bureaucracy. The post-bureaucratic organisations need to followeleven ideal-type feature, according to Heckscher. The most important featuresare to introduce consensus through institutionalized dialogue rather thanacquiescence to authority and rules, influence by persuasion rather thanofficial position, integration through a strong emphasis on organisationalmission rather than formal job definitions and rules, sharing informationrather than hiding it, consultation and communication based on the problem orproject rather than a formal chain of command. Other features such as,verification of qualifications and expertise through open processes ofassociation and peer evaluation rather than formal credentials and officialposition, or furthermore, evaluation, compensation and promotion based onpublic and negotiated standards of performance rather than rigid objectivecriteria (Heckscher and Donnellon, 1994).
All these factors are important to understandthe difference between bureaucracy and post-bureaucracy, Charles Heckscher isreformulating the ideal type of Weber’s bureaucracy to a new way of using it bychanging some fundamental boundaries. It gives post-bureaucracy the edge tomake bureaucracy work in the late 20th and 21st century. CONCLUSION Bureaucracy, as a newtheory invented in the early 1920s by Weber, is an organisation structure basedon a few different factors. As Weber has introduced his concept, with thedifferent features needed to be followed, he insisted on the efficiency and effectivenessof his model. However throughout the years, after the release of Weber’s work,many critiques have been conducted over the viability of the structure and its effectiveness.By contrasting the advantages and the disadvantages of bureaucracy we have aclear view of what aspects are not achievable and viable in today’sorganisations. The studies conducted by Charles Heckscher, the most dominant writerfor the post-bureaucracy structure, has showed us how post-bureaucracy is notputting bureaucracy aside, but it is actually renewing the structure of bureaucracyin today’s context. This shows us that the structure of bureaucracy is not asbad as critiques make it appear, although it is lacking, to some extent, theedge of today’s organisations.
Bureaucracy is still viable in some of today’sorganisation, such as in “the administration of government through departmentsand subdivision managed by sets of appointed officials following an inflexibleroutine” (Yourdictionary.com, 2018).The military is also using a bureaucratical structure through the way it isfunctioning and it could lack its efficiency if it did not follow thisstructure (Callaghan and Kernic, 2004). Although it might not follow all ofWeber’s features, it still shows that some organisations’ need to usebureaucracy to be well managed, mostly in public sector organisations.