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Bureaucracy Is Still Relevant for Understanding Organisations in 21st Century

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Bureaucracy is Still Relevant for Understanding Organisations in 21st Century


“A bureaucracy is a form of organisational structure in which people can be held fully accountable for their actions because they are required to act in accordance with well-specified and agreed-upon rules and standard operating procedures” (Jones, 1999).  Max Weber argues how bureaucracy is based on the rational legal bureaucracy where in roles are defined on the grounds of proficiency rather than their influence in the organization. The structure is layered in hierarchal way such that higher authorities have complete supervision over lower ranked workers. Bureaucracy is the first thing that an organisation should consider to have a better understanding of the organisation of other alternatives (Gay, 2000). But (Ledema, 2003) argues that bureaucratic approach is not just irrelevant in 21st century but obstructive as well Bureaucracy does not support the ever changing and highly demanding attributes of contemporary organisations. Contrary to these studies (Grey, 2013) argues that though bureaucratic structure of organisation has been fading away, it can’t be avoided when framing the rules and principles of an organisation. This essay argues on if bureaucracy is still relevant for organisations to have productive and desirable results.

Literature Review

Weber argues that rules, regulations and operating procedures must be used to control the behaviour and the relationship between roles in an organisation and to be a part of it, people had to follow the rational legal authority. He considered bureaucracy as an ideal type because it had features like functional division of labour where employees are evaluated based on their skills and success. Here rules are structured by superiors who are held responsible for the activities of subordinates which eventually results in an efficient and productive form of organisation. But with the ever changing business world the organisations are facing challenges regarding the association with the hierarchical structure of the organisation (Wilson, 1989). Thus, bureaucracy even though practised in organisations still had the problems due to said hierarchical structure, as employees had trouble sharing their values with that of the organisations due to strict rules the lack of capacity to tap into the full potential in terms of creativity. (The telegraph, n.d.)

Bureaucracy leads to organisations which are rigid and unsuitable to improvising and demanding features of contemporary organisations. These organisations tend to fabricate an alienated environment with even less shared values (Adler, 1999). Therefore organisations structured towards  a more innovative and efficient working environment needed a change in their organisational structures. This led to demise of bureaucracy and rise to emergent models of innovation (Lunenburg, 2010). This can also be described as the end of red tape era or emergence of post bureaucracy. (Linkert, 1987) describes the attributes of post bureaucracy in a remarkable manner putting emphasis on leadership of perceived confidence and trust between their subordinates with motivational attitudes towards the goal of organisation. Interaction process is open and extensive; both superiors and subordinates are able to affect departmental goals, methods, and activities. Training and human resource are recognized as necessity for execution of performance goals.

The idea of “Goal displacement” has been a significant approach towards the attainment of goals in the post-bureaucracy as Phillip Selznick (Maheshwari, 2002) argues that the compartmentalization of goals will eventually accomplish the organisational goals. He puts emphasis the need for delegation of powers to lower sub-units. Endowed with the powers in organisation they are able to realise their own goals with the organisations and deliver the desired results. As opposed to this (Havens, 1968) asserts that this is in fact the central problems in organisational analysis to account for the tendency to concentrate upon activities and programs that contribute little to the attainment of the organisational goals. Here main goals are looked down in favour of goals associated with maintaining personal goals. This manifests the need of bureaucracy in an organisation to have a strict and maintained set of activities to achieve the organisational goals.

“Bureaucracy expands to keep up with the needs of an expanded bureaucracy.” (Wilde, n.d.). As the number of employees increased so did the bureaucratisation. Organisations tend to differentiate as they become larger. Size is a major determinant of organisational structure as these organisations grow in size they generally produces new job descriptions. For example if a single salesperson gradually through success have a marketing department with more sales personnel for various regions to be covered. So as an organisation becomes larger it increase administrative power over an increased number of employees. (Thompson, n.d.) Where as Aldrich suggests that size is a dependent variable, the highly structured firms with great degree of specialization and formalization need to employ more a larger workforce than less structured workforce (Aldrich, 1972). “Rather than concentrating upon the technological adjuncts of executive tasks, and on the technical logic whereby such tasks are linked, there would seem to be a good case for focusing upon the work itself” (Child, 1972). Modern organisational layouts in the United States though having vast bureaucracies are still running and work successfully. (Manker, n.d.)ex: department of motors, police departments, prisons and college universities. Thus it is the requirements of the situations and environment that generally needs and doesn’t need bureaucratic structure.

Weber referred to individual bureaucratic employees as cogs, he was identifying the length to which bureaucracy is dehumanising and turns the employees into just a wheel in a machine organisation. But in the post-bureaucratic era as there was a change in the context of working, it further created threats and opportunities that only companies practicing with the agility that flexible working arrangements provide. (Institute, 2012). . Charles Hechsher {1994, (Grey, 2013)} describes this notion as organisation having an open boundary, avoiding full-time permanent job and giving people a choice to work on their own content(in a time frame obviously)on a part-time, consultancy and temporary basis. Yet Warhurst and Thompson {1998, (Grey, 2013)} through their studies of statistical evidence and individual cases were able to conclude how job structures remain the same.  They further deduced that this led to new trends and more standardized jobs. These contradicting views exhibit how job structures though unaltered from the bureaucratic days may still have productive outcomes.



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