Drawing on Weber’s ideal type, critically consider the relevance of bureaucratic administration to the management of twenty-first century organizations. Max Weber was a German sociologist in the twentieth century; he was famous for his classical management theory. Weber classified three different types of authority, traditional, charismatic and legitimate authority. Traditional authority is based on traditions and customs that the leader has the legitimate right to use authority. Charismatic authority is the belief that the leader whose mission and visions will inspire others. Legitimate authority is based on formal, system of rules. In the 1930s, Weber introduced that the bureaucratic form as being the ideal way of organizing government agencies. This soon became popular in both the private and public sectors. Weber believes that the development of rational forms to be the most important characteristics in the development of Western society and capitalism.
He considered the traditional and charismatic forms as irrational. Rationality is based on reasoning, calculation and logic. One of the many types of rationality includes the formal rationality. The notion of formal rationality is important to the emergence of industrial capitalism as capitalism values reason, calculation and precision, science and logic. Formal rationality is a form of rationality that characterizes bureaucratic organizations. Bureaucracy refers to the execution of tasks that are governed by official administrative and formal rules of an organization. Weber’s bureaucratic management theory focuses on dividing organizations into hierarchies with authorities and control.
The ideal type is extreme, empirically based and yardstick for comparison. Weber has 6 major principles for his ideal type of management style. Firstly, the organization has a formal hierarchical structure, which refers to the ranking system within in the management. A hierarchical structure management style also suggests a centralized decision making process, where the vast majority of decisions are made by a small number of people, usually the senior management teams. Secondly, the organization follows a management by rules system; the organization is controlled by rules, which allows decisions to be made at high level then executed by the lower levels.
Thirdly, the organization is organized by functional specialty, which means that there is specialization within the organization; employees are divided into separate departments based on their abilities and skills. Specialization allows the employee to be efficient and more skilled at a specific task, which increases productivity. Furthermore, all decisions and rules are recorded in writing to ensure continuity over time. In addition, in an ideal system, there is equality between all employees, applying to both managerial and non-managerial workers. Lastly, employment is wholly based on technical qualifications, which means employees are hired on a basis of their abilities and competence.
Weber’s bureaucratic management focuses on the authorities in the top level of the hierarchy and causes an “iron cage” to restrict the lower lever workers which leads to demotivation and a feeling of insignificance. Many researchers argue that weber emphasizes on the positive consequences of bureaucracy and ignores the dysfunctions of it. These researchers include Gouldner, Merton and Thompson.
In Gouldner opinions, he does not believe the bureaucracy authority is neither acceptable nor efficient. He proposed three types of bureaucracy, mock bureaucracy, punishment centered bureaucracy and representative bureaucracy. In mock bureaucracy, the rules are ignored because they come from an outside agency; employees feel that there is too much ‘red tape’. In punishment-centered bureaucracy, the rules are imposed on the workers from inside the organization. This type of authority discourages the workers from full commitment; workers would only perform a adequate amount of work. In representative bureaucracy, the rules are developed and supported by managers and the employees.
As for Merton, he believes that rational rules and the close control leads to inflexibility. He introduced the idea of ‘goal displacement’; this is when organizational goals are replaced by personal goals. Bureaucracies’ rules become more important than what they were designed to serve, which results in inefficiencies. In bureaucratic systems, specialization consists of different departments with different goals. These goals could cause conflict and these goals may become more important than the organization’s original objectives.
Victor Thompson also criticized Weber’s ‘ideal type’, he suggests the bureaupathic behavior, and this is when employees are more interested in the rules than the purposes and goals of the organization. Thompson also argued that in bureaucratic systems, the authorities generate a sense of insecurity that uses rules to protect them from making errors. There are many more dysfunctional consequences of bureaucracy. Firstly, bureaucracy is a rigid management system, it is designed for a stable and predictable business environment, hence it cannot adapt to rapid and unexpected changes. Also, in a bureaucratic system, there is a concentration of power in the higher levels of management, which would create distance between the employees at the lower levels of the hierarchy and leading to a sense of demotivation.
There was not only Weber’s theories about management style, there were also Taylorism by Fredrick Winslow Taylor, Fordism by Henry Ford, and McDonaldism by George Ritzer. Taylor was regarded as the father of scientific management. Taylorism was aimed to a) minimize production time, b) achieve divison of labour, c) reduce the amount of work by following a machinelike routine d) separate work equally among the workers and the managers, e) gain control by supervision of work with managers planning, and workers performing the tasks.
His ultimate goal was to succeed in gaining efficiency by increasing output from his workers. Taylor also introduced the Time and Motion Study, this was to establish productivity. He first separated the tasks into small steps, then performance was monitored to eliminate wasteful motion, with the exact time recorded, then the production and delivery time and prices can be calculated. However, this is only suitable for repetitive tasks. The idea of taylorism is usually argued that it exploits human beings, it also ignores personal creativity and there is a loss of autonomy to the employees.
Fordism was the system of mass production that was introduced by Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company. His aim was to achieve higher productivity by standardizing the output by his company. He was also the first to introduce the use of assembly lines. In Taylorism, it focused on machine and worker efficiency, however, in Fordism, ford replaced labour with machinery and he minimizes costs instead of maximizing profits. Critics argued that Fordism destroys craftsmanship and de-skilled jobs as it focuses on machinery to perform the tasks, and with the small number of workers of the workplace, the repetitiveness of the job is believed to lead to stress and alienation of the workers.
After Fordism, George Ritzer introduced the idea of McDonaldism, the term was to refer to the process of fast food restaurants dominating the world. This new structure of Ritzer’s replaced Weber’s bureaucratic structure. He proposed four principles of McDonaldization. 1) Efficiency: In McDonaldized structures, the ideal way for completing a task was the whole of the organization aims to minimize time of production. 2) Calculability: McDonaldism suggests that a large amount of product delivered in a short period of time is equivalent to a quality product. 3) Predictability: In McDonaldism, products and services are standardized, despite the location or time. 4) Control: According to McDonaldism, employees perform specific tasks with non-human technologies to replace them when needed.
Bureaucracy belongs to the twentieth century when the business environment is stable and predictable, however, in the twenty-first century; the business environment is forever changing and is in need for a flexible structure. There are five key organizational trends in the twenty-first century. Firstly, globalization is the increase integration of national economies into global markets rather than national markets. Over the past years, there is an increased globalized labour market. The increased globalized markets are mainly due to improvements in transportation and communication such as the Internet. Secondly, the workforce is becoming more diversified due to changing demographics and the globalization of the labour market. Thirdly, in the twenty-first century, organizations are becoming more flexible; there are fewer detailed rules and procedures within the workplace.
Employees are receiving greater autonomy with a more flexible organizational structure. Furthermore, businesses prefer to adapt to a flat organizational structure with less management levels, bringing the top management closer to the lower levels of employees hence improving the flow of information and speeding up communication within the organization. Lastly, organizations are mostly networked; there is direct communication between different departments, ignoring the chains of command. Business decision-making is decentralized in networked organizations, which improves the speed of decision-making, encourages input from the workforce and improves accountability of the employees.
In conclusion, Weber’s theory of the ideal type of organization is inappropriate for the management of the twenty-first century organizations; the business environment in the current days is rapidly changing. Bureaucracy is a rigid system that does not allow easy changes which is required in the modern world. Hence, bureaucratic system is only suitable in the twentieth century where the business environment is static.
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