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Bureaucracy And Post Bureaucracy Notes

Management Notes > Organisational Behaviour Notes

This is an extract of our Bureaucracy And Post Bureaucracy document, which we sell as part of our Organisational Behaviour Notes collection written by the top tier of University Of Exeter (Business School) students.

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Bureaucracy and Post Bureaucracy

Introduction

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One of the founding figures of organisational behaviour was Max Weber (18641920), a German social scientist who was interested in a wide range of social and political questions in his time. One of these was the question of what held societies together, and this he thought was to do with authority.

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Authority comes in different form in different societies at different times. It may be based on charisma 9the personal authority of particular individuals) or on tradition (the established authority of institutions).

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But according to Weber, modern societies were increasingly based on rational legal authority (systems of rules devised for rational reasons). People in society accepted that they had to follow the dictates of these systems. Hence they were a form of authority.

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Rational legal authority was the basis not just of the legal system, but the state, the civil service, industry and most other kinds of organisation. Applied to organisations rational legal authority means bureaucracy.

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Nowadays we often use this term to imply something inefficient - red tape. But in its pure form, what Weber called an ideal type, it refers to a highly efficient form of organisation. This was the reason why, according to Weber, it was becoming more and more dominant from the late 19th century onwards.

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Bureaucracy was, he said, the most technically efficient and rational form of organisation. It simply got the job done better than any other system and this was why it was adopted.

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Bureaucracies consist of; o

Functional specialisation - there is a formal division of labour so that some people are paid to do one kind of function as their official duty and they do not do anything other than their official duty. They are employed full time within the context of lifetime career structure and are appointed and promoted on the basis of qualifications and experience.

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Hierarchy of authority - there is a structure that those holding a superior position have the authority, solely by virtue of holding that position, to give orders to those in subordinate positions. Subordinates in turn report upwards to their superiors.

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System of rules - everything that goes on in the organisation is based upon following a formal, written set of rules about procedures and practices that must be adhered to.

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Impersonality - rules are followed and authority is held with regard for emotions, personality or personal preference. Employees and customers are treated in accordance with these rules.

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Weber was trying to pin down all the features that separated bureaucracy from all other kinds of organisation.

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Some features may be a little dated - full time, permanent jobs for life for example, are not necessarily a feature of modern bureaucracies.

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A bureaucratic way of organising is one bound up with tasks of a particular kind. Specifically it is effective in situations where very large numbers of identical, standard operations are needed. It also suits situations where a rigid chain of command is favoured, where little training or initiative is required since all that people need to do is follow rules and order.

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Many commentators believe that these kinds of conditions are increasingly rare. Since at least the 1970's and with growing insistence, it has been claimed that such industrial conditions are giving way to a post-industrial era. This argument takes many forms but in essence it says that the economy has moved from the mass production of standard products towards short product runs for niche markets. At the same time it is suggested that people in organisations need - and perhaps want - to be more flexible and innovative rather than simply following orders.

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There has arguably been the development of a range of new organisational forms. These are given many different names but as an umbrella term we call the post bureaucracies. Charles Heckscher (1994), one of the leading writers on post bureaucracy has devised a list of characteristics he calls the post bureaucratic ideal type, in contrast to Weber's ideal type of bureaucracy; o

Rules are replaced with consensus and dialogue based upon personal influence rather than status. People are trusted to act on the basis of shared values rather than rules.

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Responsibilities are assigned on the basis of competence for tasks rather than hierarchy and are treated as individuals rather than impersonally.

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The organisation has an open bureaucracy so that rather than full time permanent employment people come into and out of the organisation in a flexible way including part time, temporary and consultancy arrangements. Work is no longer done in fixed hours or at a designated place.

Key Problems with Bureaucracy

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Although bureaucracy has been adopted in probably every large organisation in every country in the world, organisation theorists and analysts have always recognised that it poses problems. Some of these problems are to do with the social

impact of bureaucracy but there are also problems from the more narrow perspective of organisational design and efficiency.

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Many of these are kinds of problems that give rise to the everyday sense that bureaucracy equals red tape, a needless waste and pedantic obsession with rules.

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Bureaucracy can be thought of as a form of organisation which is like a machine. In principle every part is perfectly designed to perform its task and the whole thing operates like clockwork in an entirely predictable and standard way. It is this that makes a bureaucracy efficient. But it also means that the people within the organisation have to function as if they were cogs within the machine. This leads to three key problems for bureaucracy; o

The problem of motivation. Because people in bureaucracies have to follow rules, and have no choice or discretion about doing so, they may well have little personal commitment to the organisation and gain little interest or stimulation from their work. Theorists of motivation have long recognised that very often motivation is linked to factors such as job satisfaction and to a sense of achievement and responsibility at work. Bureaucracies rarely deliver this and if high motivation leads to better work performance then it follows that employees will perform sub optimally in bureaucracies. In this sense they may not be as efficient as they seem at first sight.

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The problem that bureaucracies, as rule based systems, may not be very good at customer service. If the workforce is poorly motivated they are unlikely to care much about customer service but simply follow rules grudgingly or blindly. These rules are there for the good of the organisation rather than customers and will not be changed to suit the particular demands an individual customer may have. For this reason bureaucracies are sometimes described as producer focused.

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The problem of resistance to innovation and change. Rules, once made, are enshrined for all time and will only change very slowly. This may not matter in contexts of producing large quantities of standard products, the specifications of which do not vary for long periods of time. However, in more volatile and uncertain conditions bureaucratic inertia will mean that these organisations fail to adapt and therefore will either disappear when faced with competition or survive only because they are being protected by government from competition but deliver goods and services in an inefficient way.

Key Problems with Post Bureaucracy

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Post bureaucracy is very much a response to the kinds of problems believed to characterise bureaucracies and it proceeds from the analysis that many or most sectors are in fact unstable and rapidly changing. This means that bureaucratic inertia will indeed be a problem. However, as an alternative model of organisations, post bureaucracy generates its own set of problems, many of them being precisely what bureaucracy seems to solve.

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