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BUREAUCRACY ESSAY POINTS
Introduction Given the subject matter of this essay revolves around bureaucracy, and given that bureaucracy is concerned with rules and order, it seems fitting to first begin with an official definition of the term; "A system of government in which most of the important decisions are made by state officials rather than by elected representatives; a state or organization governed or managed according to such a system." This essay will break down how this definition came about and where bureaucracy first originated before moving onto explore its unintended consequences and some of its extreme uses while counter balancing this with some of its more positive attributes. I shall look at the modern cases of bureaucracy and weigh up whether there is a place for it in the modern world and if not whether post bureaucracy is more fitting. Finally I shall conclude by attempting to come down on one side of the argument as to whether in fact bureaucracy is bad.
Bureaucracy as an ideal type and form of power based on legitimate authority Max Weber was a German social scientist (1864-1920) who was concerned with the question of what held societies together, he came to the conclusion that it was down to authority which allows those who have the right of legitimacy to give orders (Wilson, 1999). Weber questioned what the power of this authority was based on, because in most societies it is not based on force, fear or coercion. This authority previously came about in two main ways; authority based on charisma (the personal authority of a particular individual) or authority based on tradition (the established authority of institutions) (Grey, 2009). However, Weber put forward the idea that these previous types of authority were increasingly being overshadowed by rational-legal authority in modern societies (systems of rules devised for rational reasons). Weber was writing at a time where organisations were growing at a rate not seen before. He was commentating o the transformation that he was directly seeing. The idea of this rationality in society and organisations is not a new one and indeed in Weber's study regarding the rise of capitalism he argued that it owed a considerable amount to the practices of the Calvinist Church which was itself involved in logical calculative thought. This rationalisation can be defined as a process whereby the means chose to pursue ends can be determined by logical and rational calculation (Wilson, 1999). When applied to organisations, this rational-legal authority means bureaucracy.
When Weber was putting forward his ideas regarding bureaucracy he discussed it as "an ideal type" however a common misconception is that by this Weber meant bureaucracy was a desirable ideal when in fact he despaired of how dominant this organisational structure was becoming. The "ideal type" is simply a subjective element in social theory and research which formed from characteristics and elements of the given phenomena, but it is not meant to correspond to all of the characteristics of any one particular case. According to Wilson (1999) "the ideal type of bureaucracy is governed by a formal set of rules and procedures that ensures that operations and activities are carried out in a predictable, uniform and impersonal manner". This comes from the four foundational aspects that according to Weber bureaucracy consist of; functional specialisation (the formal division of labour), hierarchy of authority (the structure that gives those in a superior position authority, simply because they hold that position), system of rules (everything is based upon following a formal set of written rules about practices and procedures) and impersonality (rules are followed without regard for emotions) (Grey, 2009). According to Weber it was these four concepts that meant
bureaucracy was the most technically efficient and rational form of organisations, it was adopted because it was simply better than any other system. Form of rationality it promotes (instrumental/formal vs. value/substantive) It is clear to see that bureaucracy promotes an instrumental form of rationality, which is a type of decision making which is subject to calculation that goes into an action to increase its chance of success. Its decisive feature is that it eliminates an orientation to values because they are non-technical. Rationality is instrumental (formal) when problems are solved by the application of technical criteria. In opposition, substantive (value) rationality is a type of decision making which is subject to values and an appeal to ethical norms - this is not something that bureaucracy is concerned with especially given substantive rationality does not take into account the nature of outcomes. Weber also concluded that bureaucracy was substantively irrational following his work and reading on the "overall societal effects of its rise" (Grey, 2009). This is where Weber coined his term of "The Iron Cage" of rationality. The idea was that because bureaucracy was becoming so dominant in every aspect of life and work more and more people's lives were lived within the constraints of a rationalised system. Grey (2009) takes it ones step further and claims that bureaucracy undermines our very humanity. Whilst this may seem ludicrous, he presents a very interesting idea. We live in a world "in which every experience is organised from the hospital in which we are born to the undertakers that take us to our graves" (Grey, 2009).
Unintended consequences/Dysfunctions of bureaucracy (Blau, Gouldner, Merton) It is already clear to see that bureaucracy may not be without its problems, or unintended consequences. The word itself in the modern day world is often frowned on and associated with issues of red tape as well as a "needless waste and pedantic obsession with rules" (Grey, 2009). It is essential in many organisations nowadays that there is a paper trail, so that it can be proved everything was done how it was meant to be. However, the unintended consequences of bureaucracy go much further than this and begin with the idea that bureaucracy is thought of as a mechanical form of organisation. Whilst this means that every part is designed perfectly and operates in a predictable and standard way, it also means that the people within the organisation have to function as if they are merely cogs which lead to a number of key unintended consequences.
There is firstly an issue regarding the levels of motivation among employees. A lack of personal commitment is bred from having to follow set rules and having no discretion about doing so. These standard procedures that must be followed also provides little interest or stimulation for employees which again weakens their commitment to the organisation. It is not a new idea that motivation is clearly linked to job satisfaction and that higher motivation leads to better work performance. It therefore follows that in bureaucracies where motivation is low employees will simply perform sub optimally meaning they are not as efficient as first thought. Following on from the above problem, is that this lack of motivation often translates into poor customer service. Employees will simply follow rules and procedures blindly with little regard for the customer in the process. Bureaucratic rules are also designed for the benefit of the organisation, not the customer meaning they will not be changed to suit the demands of one individual.
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