Karl Emil Maximilian Weber (Max Weber) was born in Erfurt, Germany on April 21, 1864. Max Weber was one of the greatest sociologists of the twentieth century, a founding “father” of modern sociology; he was also a historian and a philosopher (Asiado, 2008). Weber deeply influenced social theory, social research and the study of society itself. His wide ranging contributions gave incentive to the birth of new disciplines such as economic sociology and public administration as well as a significant change of direction in economics, political science, and religion.
Weber’s most inspiring work was focused on the study of religion, bureaucracy, and rationalization (Asiado, 2008). He was assigned as professor of political economy at the University of Freiburg in 1894 and at Heidelberg University in 1897. He suffered from a mental breakdown in 1898 after his father died and did not continue his academic works until 1904 (Asiado, 2008). In 1907, Weber received a family inheritance which enabled him to continue his work as a private scholar. Max Weber died of pneumonia on June 14, 1920 (Smith, 2001).
Max Weber was mainly interested in the reasons behind the employees’ actions and in why people who work in an organization accept the authority of their superiors and obey the laws of the organization. Since authority and power can be used interchangeably, Weber was able to uniquely define these two terms. According to Weber, power forces individuals to comply with the rules and regulations in place and therefore power influences people to act or do something they would not have done (Cutajar, 2010).
As opposed to power, Weber defined legitimate authority involved the individual’s consent that authority is practiced upon them by their superiors. According to Weber, there are three distinct types of legitimate authority. Cutajar states the first being traditional authority, this type of authority’s legitimacy arises from tradition and religious beliefs; traditional authority is found in tribes and monarchies.
Cutajar also states that the second type of authority is charismatic authority, this type of authority is based on an individual’s charisma which sets individuals apart from others and individuals who have gained the respect and trust of their followers. The third type of authority is rational or legal authority, this type of authority gains its power from the system of bureaucracy and therefore the rulers and the ruled abide by these regulations (Cutajar, 2010). Weber’s theories on the types of authority lead to the term of bureaucracy (Cutajar, 2010).
Cutajar also found that the term bureaucracy, according to Weber, in terms of an organization and management, consisted of a number of related characteristics. There are several distinct characteristics of bureaucracy that when combined together in the same organization, lead to the “pure” or “ideal-type” bureaucracy. Coser (1977) states that firstly, a hierarchical structure is used to organize the organization into a hierarchy of authority where there exists only one superior at highest level of the hierarchy.
A hierarchical structure also includes a unity of command, this means that there exists only one supervisor at each level in the hierarchy. Coser also states secondly, specialization of labour allowed workers to focus on very specific narrowed down tasks in order to become more efficient at the job at hand. This allowed the organization to assign responsibilities to subordinates clearly and distinctively. Thirdly, employment and promotion were based on an individual’s performance and level of competency in order to increase efficiency of operation (Coser, 1977).
Therefore, work is assigned based on the experience and skill set of the individual. Another characteristic of bureaucracy is that decisions are based on impersonal rules (Coser, 1977). Coser states that a set of impersonal rules are appointed by the organization and apply equally to all levels of the organization. The importance of written files is another characteristic of bureaucracy that ensures that individuals are abiding by the rules of the organization (Smith, 2001). Individuals must maintain written files of the rules themselves and the actions taken thereafter.
Lastly, bureaucrats are not to obtain any personal gain from their position except for a fixed salary (Shortell, 2006). This is to distinguish that the power the bureaucrat gains is only in their position in the organization and not in their personal life. Weber’s idea of bureaucracy takes into account the reasoning and rationality which is supported by experienced and trained administrators. The aspect of a bureaucracy offers a reliable hierarchical structure for an organization (Cutajar, 2010).
Nonetheless, there are limitations to Weber’s bureaucracy since it depends on the roles and esponsibilities of the individuals rather than on the tasks performed by the organization. There is also a lack of flexibility in terms of responding to the changing demands in the business environment due to the rigidity of Weber’s bureaucracy theory. Cutajar also found that another issue that arises from Weber’s bureaucracy theory is that a hierarchical organization can, over time, have too many levels of operation and therefore could possibly lead to a more difficult and frustrating environment.
On the other hand, bureaucracy is suitable for government organizations where change is very slow or static. However, Weber also realized the dysfunctions of bureaucracy. One of bureaucracy’s major advantages, the calculability of results, can also become very complex and demanding when dealing on an individual basis (Coser, 1977). Therefore, modern rationalized and bureaucratized systems of law have become inadequate to dealing with individual differences, whereas earlier forms of justice were very well capable of such issues.
Max Weber viewed bureaucracy as a solution to problems or defects within earlier and more traditional administrative systems. Furthermore, he viewed the characteristics of bureaucracy as parts of a complete system infrastructure, which when combined and implemented correctly, would increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the any organization whether it was government or business (Shortell, 2006). The bureaucratic structure would to a greater extent protect employees from irrational rulings from leaders, and would potentially provide a greater sense of security to the employees in the organization.
Shortell also states that additionally, the bureaucratic structure would create an opportunity for employees to become specialists within one specific area, which would increase the effectiveness and efficiency in each area of the organization. Finally, when rules for performance are relatively stable, employees would have a greater possibility to act creatively within the realm of their respective duties and sub-tasks, and to find creative ways to accomplish rather stable goals and targets (Shortell, 2006). Public service organizations are very often criticized for being fairly passive and slow to react to their customer’s needs.
One of Weber’s most serious concerns was how society would maintain control over expanding state bureaucracies. He felt the most serious problem was not inefficiency or mismanagement but the increased power of public officials (Cutajar, 2010). A person in an important, specialized position will become to realize how dependent their bosses are on their expertise and begin to exercise their power in that position. Cutajar also found that furthermore, the staff also begins to associate with the special social interests of their particular group or organization.
Over history this has caused the shift in power from the leaders of society to the bureaucrats (Shortell, 2006). In conclusion, there is no doubt that even though Weber believed rationality and efficiency can be attained through bureaucracy, but he was also very aware of its lack of personal freedom that individuals gained in the bureaucratic structure. Weber realized that bureaucracy limits individual freedom and makes it difficult if not impossible for individuals to understand their activities in relation to the organization as a whole.
Most importantly, bureaucracy can lead to indifferences in the goals of an organization and the goals of the individual workers. Therefore, the need to restructure or readjust the bureaucracy to adapt to new and complex problems becomes very tangible. Weber also viewed good management as devising an optimal organizational structure to maximize output. His theory of bureaucracy took little consideration of the needs and desires of the workers themselves, deeming a counterproductive business process method. ?
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