Unless we can clearly understand where the bureaucracy came from and more importantly what the catalyst is that sustains its existence - then we will have little chance of changing it. In some cases we may well just add to the bureaucracy.
(1864-1920) termed this organisational form a "rational-legal system" - its
structure and processes expressly designed to achieve certain goals. The
bureaucracy is rationally designed for optimum functional performance and every
part (dept's., levels, posts) contributes to the whole (unity of purpose). The
bureaucracy is legal. Authority is exercised via rule and procedural systems
& the offices people occupy.
Organisational members and clients accept (conform to) its authority because the rules are defined and administered fairly. Rights & privileges protect individuals from organisational (officer) injustice - equity prevails regardless of "who you are". Rules include policies and standard procedures for implementing these. They are solutions to past problems demanding known responses (we avoid reinventing the wheel). Rules guide behaviour ensuring consistency at every level. Nine out of ten problems encountered are covered by regular procedures. This is a risk minimising, consistent apparatus.
Many feel that bureaucracy is synonymous with inefficiency, an emphasis on red-tape and excessive writing and recording - especially public administration. For Weber - the organisation is technically the most efficient form of structure possible.
"Precision, speed, un-ambiguity, knowledge of files, continuity, unit, strict subordination, reduction of friction and of material and personal costs - these are raised to the optimum point in the strictly bureaucratic administered organisation".
Though a smooth machine its rules and set procedures can be inflexible instruments of administration - experience of the past may not be in-tune with present conditions. Some rules cannot be readily adapted to suit individual needs and they can become barriers behind which the vulnerable administrators hide. Bureaucratic alienation is reinforced by conformations with "face-less administrators"
A tension occurs in organisational design between preserving control and encouraging flexibility & freedom of expression. Bureaucracy favours the former. Cries of "bureaucratic inefficiency" marks frustration of taxpayers, drivers, holiday makers, radical activists, people from other departments - who feel their personal domain has been infringed. Bureaucracy today is attacked for its inability to innovate, aspects of its alienating and demotivating effect on employees, and the dependent "unhealthy" relationships some feel it creates (rather than self- help).
Bureaucratic culture rewards safe, conformist attitudes - constrained, risk free work is good. Non-conformist, creative and outward-looking, opportunistic approaches to management are suspect. The bureaucratic model by definition embodies depersonalisation. Bureaucrats become more absorbed with maintaining the official form (the means). They lose sight of what they are supposed to achieve. Smooth, efficient running removes hassle for officers but may be effective (as valued by clients)?
and the Bureaucratic Form
Bureaucratic structures emphasise specialisation between jobs and departments, reliance on formal procedures and paperwork, extended managerial reporting structures and clearly marked status definitions. Job demarcation is an informal, interpersonal response by individuals and groups which may be at odds with the firm's objectives. Demarcation may be supported by trades union preferences. It is manifested also in officer rivalries and empire-building. If the firm becomes large & complex it bears formal & informal overheads of possible inefficiency.
Bureaucracies employ a system of delegation down these hierarchies. Employees use discretion only within delegated limits. Job roles are defined formally (often in writing) by profiles of task responsibility and /her authority - scope of discretion to act. An organisational principle is that job responsibilities require equivalent authority to carry these out. But authority comprises:-
• formal (job) authority - others know your responsibilities and their reporting relationships
• personal (interpersonal) authority - secure others co- operation
• resource authority (hours, staff, budget, rewards) for the task
• expertise authority: having the skills, knowledge and experience to carry out the responsibilities
Though posts are hierarchical with successive steps embracing all those beneath it - problems of role ambiguity, conflict & overload frequently occur. Delegation is a complex process reliant on managers' ability to communicate well with subordinates and obtain common perception of job requirements (so too with colleagues with whom the post interfaces).
Within Weber's model, rules and procedures aim to anticipate every possible contingency. Top management "know" that lower level staff are acting in controlled ways. This control is underpinned by training, briefing and observation/guidance by the superior. Loyalty and cooperation is expected. Officers should carry out their duties to the letter - without overstepping their role and conflicting with others duties. This assumes a perfect communication and cooperation - formally and interpersonally.
Of course where the person in terms of aptitude, skill and motivation is cheesed off or feels rivalry towards others or feels like being bloody-minded - problems arise. Fitting the job to the person and the person to the job is a key task for the personnel management of bureaucracy.
For officers, there clear separation between personal and business affairs.
"When I am at work, I do my job without personal feelings/biases entering into it!"
This is bolstered by contract & technical qualifications (techno-meritocracy). Instructions are obeyed because appointment assumes competence to issue such commands. A sign of developing bureaucracy is the growth of professional managers and more specialist/departmental experts. Manager-experts maintain the fabric of the existing firm and develop new responses (policies and practices) to external and internal events/conditions.
Information, Records and Decision-support
The "bureau" keeps records and files. System rationality demands that information is written down. The organisation can reference and compare past decisions to ensure consistency. Records and structure make the organisation concrete. It will continue even though the people who run it change. Policies, procedures, minutes, reports, records show it operating dynamically. The bureaucratic model implies a programmed organisation. Procedures and rules are algorithmic i.e. routinised solutions to known, common problems i.e. like computer programs. Records, policies and procedures provide a knowledge-base minimising risk and maximising consistency in decision-making..
Weber's rational, legal model of organisation is an important one for members and stakeholders. They accept the purpose of the organisation as rational. The authority of role relationships, the hierarchical structure of vertical and horizontal links, the dependencies in duties, obligations and accountabilities are logical. Authority is accepted or legitimised because the structures for decision-making and action are defined with objective purpose.
However Weber modelled three forms of power giving rise to authority structures. Power vacuums and struggles for position result if these structures fail to provide a holding framework for members. The three forms are charismatic, traditional and rational-legal.
The organisation is based on the leader. His/her special qualities attract the support of followers who value the benefits that association with the leader brings. The leader organises, directs and distributes rewards.
Roles, customs and practices have become accepted into the ritual of life. Things happen because they have always happened that way (precedent). They have symbolic and even sacred significance. Authority and position is an inherited commodity vested in those who for reasons of birth or ritual selection represent the traditional customs e.g. the monarch/dynasty, the temple, the lord- knight-yeoman and serf, the guild master and journeyman apprentice. The roles (born into) are not challenged. Rights and duties are accepted for reasons of this is the way things are done. The ideals and values of the charismatic leader are carried forward by the apostle successor. Personal servants - appointed by the leader - benefit from patronage and can become officials. Under feudalism - even they can inherit titles, demesnes and tithes subject to paying homage to the appointee leader who may withdraw or disenfranchise these rights.
values and behaviours can be found in the modern world - the authority of the
father in some families is an example. Those who are totally willing to dedicate
themselves to a spiritual doctrine or ideology may adopt a very powerful
position - an insular reality - which cuts across secular or scientific logic.
Theirs is the one right way regardless of evidence to the contrary.
Authority in this structure is based on purposeful reasoning and formally defined, accepted structures of rules and procedures. The power of those in authority depends on their acceptance of due legal process and qualification
• ownership according to purposeful, agreed rules
• appointment on technically defined grounds (merit and technical expertise)
• membership of a decision-making group and adherence to the rules of decision-making
consider such models?
Each model simplifies how authority becomes legitimised in organisations. A family business for example is a hybrid. Incorporated as limited company, the head of the family may always become the Chairman, a bright son or daughter may be the admired, energetic entrepreneur. Employee managers and specialist staff engaged on contracts of employment do their jobs according to policies and procedures. They respect the entrepreneur and accept the traditional values and role relationships within the firm.
Well-established, modern business relies on the bureaucratic form - albeit constrained in what it can do by the bureaucratic regulation imposed by community legislators - for the community's benefit.
Roles, rights, duties and behaviour are guided by policies, rules, reporting regulations and controls, standard operating procedures, hierarchical and functionally specialised work structures.
Job holders have clear scope within which to act, instruct others or implement and adapt policy.
Delegation (devolved responsibilities and tasks from the top down) provides a command and control structure of hierarchical relations vertical and lateral.
Co-operation is expected as department and staff must co-operate to achieve the purposes of policies which - all - agree are necessary (rationality).
People are appointed into their roles because they have the ability to do the job. Each accepts and supports the roles of those they report to and must co-ordinate with.
Clearly power is devolved from the top, down through a hierarchy.
Records are kept of decisions made - the data of the organisation becomes independent of those who made the decisions in the first place.
The Dysfunctional Bureaucracy
The legitimate power of a bureaucracy can be mediated from the bottom upwards. Individuals and groups may act informally in ways running counter to the impersonal, one-source of authority assumptions of the model. Such actions of course would be labelled as being dysfunctional.
Officials become overbearing.
They may apply administrative systems as ends in themselves - after all their role, position and continuity depend on them.
Individuals may protect their position and build up the power of the office.
Union activity and countervailing collective processes may emerge.
Structural regulation and control
In a bureaucracy, methods and rules are devised to support decision-making and operations. Such forms of regulation are solutions to functional problems such as processing sales transactions smoothly and efficiently. They are also solutions to political control problems.
Standardisation of methods and rules ensures that members of the organisation behave in predictable conformist ways and not personal whim. Their discretion is limited by the methods and rules that apply within the scope of their duties and responsibilities.
Divide and Rule
In a modern business, managers may pursue differentiation, rationalisation or out-sourcing as policy devices to re-assert personal control, maintain and enhance their status. They may offer reasons for the move but covertly they may have another agenda.
Divide and rule may minimise the influence of a large department or group. The efficacy of project teams (
Reforming the Bureaucracy
Re-redesign efforts illustrate the workings of organisational power structures. Senior managers - the top power holders - may see that the organisation's structures have become rigid. This may partly be a protection of derived power as departments and people, reluctant to make deep changes in operations and methods, cling to out-dated roles. This is ironic. Job roles and standard operating procedures were designed to control employees. But their complexity and the organisation's need to maintain operational continuity means that incremental change is preferred over radical. It is easier to close a department or unit than achieve radical change in the behaviour of employees who control their jobs and functions.
Rules, regulations and other formal procedures
Rules and regulations can be used against the bureaucracy as illustrated by the power of trade unionists if working to rule. Generally the employee does not forfeit pay.
They do exactly what is required by regulations. Many such rules were designed to control employees, ensure safety and protect employees, the public and the railway authorities. If a major accident occurred then clear regulations/rules define responsibilities and accountabilities. Yet paradoxically in, say, a railway organisation, zealous application of rules made over decades and not modified or rescinded means that few trains would leave on time. Work done to the letter and with all rules being inflexibly applied together can render a system inoperable. Normal working requires the application of individual discretion and interpretation of rules to the situation. The individual learns integration of rules not sequencing. The procedural aspects of a bureaucracy become streamlined by the skills and competences of those carrying them out.
If there is a major accident, a public investigation frequently follows. Investigators compare actual events with norms of formal regulations - who is in error (and to be blamed) - and try to record deviations in practice, gaps in rules and where negligence has occurred. The accident may be an act of god. Such a probability Perrow would argue is acknowledged by the system itself.
Blame (and a blame culture) is inevitability in the bureaucratic system as non-conformance with rules, regulations and other formal procedures by staff who deviate from accepted practice are managed.
Rules and regulations are often created, invoked and used in proactive or retrospective ways as part of power play. They give potential power to both controllers and controlled. Controllers may try to "streamline" procedures and thus lock the relationships they seek to control. They are then in a position to use the rules to their advantage. These are important sources of organisational power. They define a contested terrain.
Bureaucracy and Change
Given what we have already discussed about the bureaucracy we can conclude that this type of organisation will be subject to much resistance where change is concerned. Variables as wide as policy, process, internal politics, structure, unions, self interest, professional regulation and size of the organisation will all contribute to slowing down change. We can use the analogy which we are all familiar with of the OIL TANKER, it takes 25 miles to stop it so if you want to change direction at the next set of traffic lights it needs to be warned well in advance, everyone needs to know it is going to change direction, all need to be prepared for the direction change and to understand what it will mean to them and the change implemented.
are that the bureaucracy misses its deadlines (the traffic lights) and its
opportunity to change direction. In a global economy speed of change is a
critical success factor, particularly if the competitors can change faster than
the bureaucracy. It may be better then to split the organisation into a flotilla
of smaller ships (completely separate from the whole) but held together by a
catalyst and good communication conduit. The flotilla can change direction much
more quickly than the oil tanker, communications are quicker, reaction times are
quicker, costs are lower because we can see where resources are deployed and
used and we can manage costs for competitiveness advantage tightly. Biggest is
not always better - in the short term combined resources for efficiency might
seem the right way to go but in reality combining just confuses the issue more,
makes the bureaucracy even more bureaucratic and resource requirements escalate.
In Webber's time costs of labour and production was relatively at low cost, and
in low cost countries this may still be the same – in the highly competitive
costly workforce it is a major issue.
The bureaucracy had its place designed for organisations of that time, we now need something new.