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THE THEORY OF BUREAUCRACY OF MAX WEBER,

MERITS AND DEMERITS

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Table of Contents
Introduction ............................................................................................................1

What Is Bureaucracy? ............................................................................................2

Bureaucratic Management Theory.........................................................................3

Merits of Bureaucracy: ..........................................................................................7

Demerits of Bureaucracy: ....................................................................................10

References ............................................................................................................13

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The Theory of Bureaucracy by Max Weber

Introduction

The emergence of the management process and organization theory took place in

two forms: Fayol’s identification of the principles and elements of management and

Weber’s search for an ideal way of organizing. From different backgrounds and

perspectives, both Fayol and Weber attempted to develop methods for managing

large-scale organizations. Fayol stressed education for management rather than

technical training, the importance of planning, organizing, command, coordination,

and control. Weber sought to replace authority based on tradition and charisma with

legal authority and to prescribe an impersonal and merit basis for selecting, hiring,

and promoting employees. Both Weber and Fayol had history’s misfortune of being

overshadowed by others and having to wait until after their deaths to receive proper

credit for their roles in the ongoing evolution of management thought. Max Weber

(1864-1920), is said to be the 'father of bureaucratic management theory.' Weber

was a German sociologist and political economist that viewed bureaucracy in a

positive light, believing it to be more rational and efficient than its historical

predecessors.

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What Is Bureaucracy?

Bureaucracy is a personnel and administrative structure of an organization. Business,

labor, religious, educational, and governmental systems depend on a large workforce

arranged in a hierarchy to carry out specialized tasks based on internal rules and

procedures. The term is used mostly in referring to government administration,

especially regarding officials in the federal government and civil service. It is often

used derogatorily to suggest waste, inefficiency, and red tape. (Microsoft Encarta,

2009).

The term ‘bureaucracy’ has been widely used with invidious connotations directed

at government and business. Bureaucracy is an administrative system designed to

accomplish large-scale administrative tasks by systematically coordinating the work

of many individuals. Weber has observed three types of power in organisations:

traditional, charismatic and rational-legal or bureaucratic. He has emphasized that

bureaucratic type of power is the ideal one. (Smriti Chand, 2010)

Primarily prescriptive in nature, Weber’s writings strike an interesting contrast with

the practitioner-oriented recommendations offered by Taylor and Fayol. Weber’s

major contribution was an outline of the characteristics of what he termed

“bureaucracy,” that is, government by bureaus (German Buro, 1979).

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Bureaucratic Management Theory

Weber's theory of bureaucratic management has two essential elements. First, it

entails structuring an organization into a hierarchy. Secondly, the organization and

its members are governed by clearly defined rational-legal decision-making rules.

Each element helps an organization to achieve its goals.

Weber developed the principles of bureaucracy—a formal system of organization

and administration designed to ensure efficiency and effectiveness.

A bureaucratic system of administration is based on five (5) principles which

are:

1. Managers Formal Authority; is the power to hold people accountable for

their actions and to make decisions concerning the use of organizational

resources

Bureaucratic organizations generally have administrative class responsible for

maintaining coordinative activities of the members. Main features of this class

are as follows:

a. People are paid and are whole time employees,

b. They receive salary and other perquisites normally based on their


positions,

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c. Their tenure in the organization is determined by the rules and regulations
of the organization,

d. They do not have any proprietary interest in the organization,

e. They are selected for the purpose of employment based on their


competence.

2. Positions should be Arranged Hierarchically, so employees know whom to

report to and who reports to them. The basic feature of bureaucratic

organization is that there is hierarchy of positions in the organization.

Hierarchy is a system of ranking various positions in descending scale from

top to bottom of the organization. In bureaucratic organization, offices also

follow the principle of hierarchy that is each lower office is subject to control

and supervision by higher office.

Thus, no office is left uncontrolled in the organization. This is the fundamental

concept of hierarchy in bureaucratic organization. This hierarchy serves as

lines of communication and delegation of authority. It implies that

communication coming down or going up must pass through each position.

Similarly, a subordinate will get authority from his immediate superior.

However, this hierarchy is net unitary but sub-pyramids of officials within the

large organization corresponding etc. functional divisions exist.

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Thus, there are offices with the same amount of authority but with different

kinds of functions operating in different areas of competence. For example,

the Government organizations, we can observe separate offices looking after

particular functions. This happens in business organizations too.

3. Tasks and Authority associated with various positions in the organization

should be clearly specified for managers and workers to know what is

expected of them. Work of the organization is divided on the basis of

specialization to take the advantages of division of labour. Each office in the

bureaucratic organization has specific sphere of competence.

This involves:

a. A sphere of obligations to perform functions which has been marked off

as part of a systematic division of labour;

b. The provision of the incumbent with necessary authority to carry out these

functions; and

c. The necessary means of compulsion are clearly defined and their use is

subject to definite conditions.

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Thus, division of labour try to ensure that each office has a clearly-defined

area of competence within the organization and each official knows the areas

in which he operates and the areas in which he must abstain from action so

that he does not overstep the boundary between his role and those of others.

Further, division of labour also tries to ensure that no work is left uncovered.

4. Managers Must Create a Well-Defined System of Rules, standard

operating procedures, and norms so that they can effectively control behaviour

within an organization. A basic and most emphasized feature of bureaucratic

organization is that administrative process is continuous and governed by

official rules. Bureaucratic organization is the antithesis of ad hoc, temporary,

and temporary and unstable relations. A rational approach to organization

calls for a system of maintaining rules to ensure twin requirements of

uniformity and coordination of efforts by individual members in the

organization.

These rules are more or less stable and more or less exhaustive. When there

is no rule on any aspect of organizational operation, the matter is referred

upward for decision which subsequently becomes precedent for future

decision on the similar matter. Rules provide the benefits of stability,

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continuity, and predictability and each official knows precisely the outcome

of his behaviour in a particular matter.

5. Appointment and Promotion Base on Competency not Base on

Sentiment. A notable feature of bureaucracy is that relationships among

individuals are governed through the system of official authority and rules.

Official positions are free from personal involvement, emotions and

sentiments. Thus, decisions are governed by rational factors rather than

personal factors. This impersonality concept is used in dealing with

organizational relations as well as relations between the organization and

outsiders.

Merits of Bureaucracy:

Weber identified the essential characteristics of his “ideal” bureaucracy and believed

that specific advantages would accrue to undertakings that embodied them. These

characteristics and sample advantages include:

a. Division of Labor: Labour is divided so that authority and responsibility are

clearly defined. The division of labour assists workers in becoming experts in

their jobs. The performance of employees improves considerably.

Advantage—Efficiency will increase through specialization.

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b. Managerial Hierarchy: Offices or positions are organized in a hierarchy of

authority.

Advantage— A clear chain of command will develop from the highest to the

lowest level of an organization (Fayol’s scalar chain principle), defining

different levels of authority, and thus individual discretion, as well as enabling

better communication.

c. Formal Selection: All employees are selected on the basis of technical

qualifications demonstrated by formal examination, education, or training.

The selection process and promotion procedures are based on merit and

expertise. It assists in putting right persons on right jobs. There is optimum

utilization of human resources.

Advantage—Employees will be hired and promoted based on merit and

expertise, thus, benefiting both them and their employer.

d. Career Orientation. Although a measure of flexibility is attained by electing

higher-level officials who presumably express the will of an electorate (for

example, a body of citizens or a board of directors), employees are career

professionals rather than “politicians.” They work for fixed salaries and

pursue “careers” within their respective fields.

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Advantage—The hiring of “career” professionals will ensure the performance

of assigned duties without regard for extraneous pressures, as well as ensure

a continuity of operations across election cycles.

e. Formal Rules and Other Control: All employees are subject to formal rules

and other controls regarding the performance of their duties. The rules and

procedures are decided for every work it leads to, consistency in employee

behaviour. Since employees are bound to follow the rules etc., the

management process becomes easy.

Advantage—Efficiency will increase as formal rules and other controls

relating to employee performance are enforced.

f. Impersonality: Rules and other controls are impersonal and uniformly

applied in all cases. The enterprise does not suffer when some persons leave

it. If one person leaves then some other occupies that place and the work does

not suffer.

Advantage — When rules and other controls are applied impersonally and

uniformly, involvement with personalities and personal preferences is

avoided. Subordinates are thereby protected from arbitrary actions of their

superior.

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Demerits of Bureaucracy:

Although Weber considered bureaucracy to be the most efficient means of

organizing, both his own experience and subsequent research have shown that it

often results in certain disadvantages. These include:

a. Rules and other controls may take on significance of their own and, as

consequence, become ends in themselves. Employees, for example, may

accuse budget personnel of being more interested in applying rules and

regulations than achieving a firm’s primary goals.

b. Extreme devotion to rules and other controls may lead to situations in which

past decisions are blindly repeated without appreciation or concern for

changed conditions. Such “bureaucratic rigidity” results in managers being

compensated for doing what they are told and not for thinking. The result is

“rule by rules” rather than common sense.

c. Whereas delegation of authority to lower levels may increase operational

effectiveness, it may also encourage an emphasis on subunit rather than

overall goals, thereby prompting subunit conflict and decreasing

effectiveness. A typical example can be found in many universities where

conflicts over which department is going to offer what courses often result in

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unnecessary duplication of subject offerings, as well as the unnecessary

expenditure of resources.

d. Although rules and other controls are intended to counter worker apathy, they

may actually contribute to it by defining unacceptable behavior and, thus,

specifying a minimum level of acceptable performance. That is, it is possible,

once rules have been defined, for employees to remain apathetic, for they now

know just how little they can do and still remain secure. This is commonly

known as “working to the rules,” because what is not covered by rules is by

definition not an employee’s responsibility. Within an educational setting,

statements such as “all students must attend at least 50 percent of the classes

during a term to pass” or “the minimum requirement for graduation is a C

average on all course work undertaken” are in frustrations of this phenomenon

in that they clearly define minimum levels of acceptable behavior.

Unfortunately, a typical administrative response in such circumstances is to

enact additional bureaucratic rules (such as mandatory class attendance) and,

in turn, further aggravate an already poor situation. Unless care is taken,

however, such a situation may result in a “vicious circle of bureaucracy,”

because once employees discover the appeasing effect of rules, they may push

for even more controls to further restrict management’s power. Therefore

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rules maybe functional in one sense, but in another (unintended) sense, they

permit employee involvement without requiring emotional commitment.

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References

Daniel, A. & Arthur, G. (2009). The evolution of management thought, 6th ed.
Printed in the United States of America

Max Weber, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, ed. and trans. Hans H. Gerth
and C. Wright MiHs (New York: Oxford University Press, 1946), pp. 196—
294. (Originally published in 1922.)

Max Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, trans. A. M.


Henderson and Talcott Parsons, ed. Talcott Parsons (New York: Free Press,
1947), p. 337. (Originally published 1922.)

Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation. All rights


reserved.

Vincent de Gournay in 1745. See Fred Riggs, “Shifting Meanings of the Term
‘Bureaucracy,’” International Social Science Journal 31 (1979), pp. 563—584.

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