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This report is focused on the investigation of Max Weber’s (1978) bureaucracy. Max Weber, one of the major individuals in the world of management thinking, was born in 1864 in Prussia (Weber, 1978). He is mostly famous for his sociological and economic studies, in which the researcher tries to understand the Western world and the unique way of its development (Weber, 2009). Weber’s studies and works have produced a significant impact on sociology and economics. It was Max Weber who studied the flow of information within an organisation and formulated the main principles of bureaucracy (Houghton, 2010). Max Weber lived and worked in the era of German expansionism, which had significantly influenced his studies (Greenwood and Lawrence, 2005).
2. Bureaucracy Management
According to Greenwood and Lawrence (2005), Weber believed that all organisations need to be managed impersonally on the basis of a specific set of rules. Weber (1978) was convinced that authority should be based on a person’s job and not on his/her personality. The main idea of the bureaucracy theory lies in the fact that authority should be passed from one individual to another as one of them left his/her job and another took it (Houghton, 2010; Law, 2011). Hence, bureaucracy can be defined as “management by the office or position rather than by a person or patrimonial” (Styhre and Lind, 2010, p. 109). It was believed by Weber that bureaucracy is the most effective and efficient form of any organisation since “the decisive reason for the advance of the bureaucratic organisation has always been its purely technical superiority over any other form of organisation” (Weber, 2009, p. 75). This superiority is achieved due to a well-defined line of authority and clear and strict rules (Styhre and Lind, 2010).
Weber (1978) believed that administrative functions represent a system of control that is based on knowledge. The researcher identified several common characteristics of a bureaucratic organisation. For instance, authority and responsibilities of each worker need to be clearly defined; officials should work for a fixed salary and they should not be elected, but rather appointed (Weber, 2009). In addition, officials and administrators should be the subject to strict rules and policies; relationships between managers and their subordinates need to be impersonal (Weber, 2009). Finally, any bureaucratic organisation was argued by Weber to maintain all files and documents regarding its activity (Weber, 1978).
3. Weber’s Bureaucracy and Quinn Competing Values
The competing value framework affirms the usefulness of several approaches to management, including internal maintenance, external positioning, flexibility and control (Boddy, 2009).
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Figure 1: Competing Values Framework
Source: Quinn and Cameron (1983, p. 39)
It can be argued that a bureaucratic organisation’s manager is more likely to perform either a monitoring role or coordinating role. A “monitor” assesses job and project performance, ensures standardisation of processes and analyses information (Quinn and Cameron, 1983). This manager neglects possibilities since they are associated with particular risks. Alternatively, the role of a “coordinator” implies managing project dependencies and designing work assignments (Quinn and Rohrbaugh, 1983; Law, 2011). Similarly to the “monitor” role, coordinators stifle progress since they are sceptical to any innovation (Quinn and Cameron, 1983). Hence, it can be stated that Weber’s (1978) bureaucracy can limit organisational development. Indeed, managers are forced to operate in a highly unstable business environment. As a consequence, managers need to take quick organisational decisions in order to remain competitive (Darling and Nurmi, 2009). However, bureaucratic leadership and organisational structure limit the decision-making process and make it less effective in comparison to transformational and transactional leadership styles (Darling and Nurmi, 2009).
4. Critical Assessment
It was critically remarked by Bennis (1966) that bureaucracy is not able to effectively deal with today’s business environment due to its constant change. According to the previous report section, bureaucratic companies are not able to response to today’s environmental changes fast enough in order to gain a competitive edge over their non-bureaucratic rivals (Bennis, 1966). However, this criticism does not take into consideration the fact that Weber’s (2009) bureaucracy is more like a concept of a rational and effective organisational form. Furthermore, the majority of modern public corporations and private companies (e.g. fast-food chains and large multinational companies) are bureaucratic in structure (Bass and Riggio, 2012). The choice of this structure can be justified by the fact that in many cases bureaucracy is the most convenient way to manage an organisation (Bass and Riggio, 2012).
The assumption that bureaucracies are not effective under uncertain economic circumstances was criticised by Greenwood and Lawrence (2005). According to the researchers, hierarchical structures are more likely to replace markets in the long-term perspective. The point is that bureaucracies allocate resources through authority and rules. As a result, organisational costs can be reduced (Greenwood and Lawrence, 2005). However, this assumption cannot be examined in practice, which makes it questionable. Furthermore, organisations are entering a new age of technology meaning that new organisational principles are more likely to become of significant interest to managers and leaders (Gross et al., 2013).
Similarly to Bennis (1966), Kotter (2012) argued that Weber’s (1978) bureaucracy has a row of drawbacks that limit organisational effectiveness and efficiency. To be more particular, Kotter (2012) believed that a flat organisational structure is able to successfully compete in rapidly changing markets in comparison to bureaucracies. According to the researcher, culture, structure, systems and practices predetermine organisational success. It should be mentioned that Kotter (2012) put an emphasis on organisational development in the short-term perspective. Furthermore, the researcher emphasised the importance of organisational change. However, as it has been discussed in the previous section of this report, these characteristics are not consistent with Weber’s (1978) bureaucracy.
The lack of flexibility and limited capacities were argued by Houghton (2010) to be among the major disadvantages of a bureaucratic organisational structure. Furthermore, the researcher argued that interpersonal relations are discarded in bureaucracies. As a result, these organisations have considerable difficulties in adapting to changing circumstances (Houghton, 2010; Boddy, 2009). This statement can be explained by the fact that bureaucratic organisations are focused on the achievement of predetermined goals (Houghton, 2010). In addition, it was mentioned by Houghton (2010) that bureaucratic structures are too mechanical. Hence, they are not able to satisfy the needs of modern companies. These outcomes are consistent with Bennis (1966) who also stated that bureaucracies lag behind their non-bureaucratic competitors.
It can be concluded that Max Weber’s studies have significantly contributed to the development of sociology and economics (Houghton, 2010). Weber’s (1978) bureaucracy theory provides researchers with a deep insight into organisational structure, the mechanisation of industry as well as “the proliferation of bureaucratic forms of organisation” (Kotter, 2012, p. 93). However, despite the fact that Weber’s (1978) bureaucracy is widely used in organisations and companies, it is associated with a number of disadvantages (Kotter, 2012). For instance, bureaucratic organisations are reported to be less adapted to rapidly changing markets comparing to flat companies. In addition, bureaucracies have been revealed to have issues with innovativeness and change implementation (Law, 2011). Alternatively, these companies are focused on the achievement of predetermined goals (Houghton, 2010).