Bureaucracy is a form of organization intended to achieve the organization’s formally stated goals. Because misuse of power for personal advantage and favoritism in decision making by employees interferes with organizational goal achievement, rational organizations seek explicitly to delimit authority and enforce merit-based impersonal decisions. Bureaucracy is an idea which has made a major contribution to the structure and functioning of large organizations including those in the public sector.
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Bureaucracy determines the structure, functions and performance isues within the organization. Max Weber and Marl Marx developed and extended the notion of bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is a system of administrative efficiency. This approach sees bureaucracies as complex organizations with hierarchies which can be found in both the public and private sectors (Mullins). Bureaucracy can be identified as a consistent set of written rules, intentionally established rather than handed down from tradition. In organizations, rules are established for a reason and justified as furthering the organization’s formally stated objectives. Following Mullins: “Bureaucracy, as applying to certain structural features of organization, is the most dominant type of formal organization”. In practice, rules may become outdated, and officials may not want to bother to explain them. But this is a human failure to implement bureaucracy fully. No one is above the law in a bureaucracy. This means that the company per-person limit on meal expenses holds equally for the president and the sales trainee (Hughes, p. 43).
The company leader cannot use his or her power over the bookkeeper to seek personal exceptions to rules. This feature of bureaucracy is regarded as central to its legitimacy by those, such as clients and low-level employees, who do not wield much power. In such organizations, employees do not do as their supervisors suggest because they like them, or what is most important, they do not disobey because they detest them. They do so because the person making the suggestion legitimately holds the office, and following the supervisor’s commands is what employees agreed to do when joining the organization. In bureaucracies, there are no personal loyalties, only loyalty to the system. They should not repair the machine of an important person first, or let the one from the rude engineer languish for months. In bureaucracies obedience is owed only within a sphere of delimited authority. This means that authorities are allowed to give orders only regarding job-relevant behaviors. A supervisor can tell an employee to put one project aside and work on another one that has a higher priority, but cannot dictate the employee’s social life (Mullins, pp. 30-32).
The disadvantages of bureaucracy are centralization of power, hierarchical structure of the organization, absence of flexibility in division-making, strict command and control system within the organization. The resources and power used on the job are only for the assigned task and are not the personal property of the employee. For example, in an idea bureaucracy, accounting supervisors may not order their subordinates to spend Saturday helping them move furniture to their new apartments. Job rights exist, when they do, according to rules intended to ensure that the employees conduct their duties in a normatively desired manner. That is, job rights exist only when extending them facilitates organizational goal attainment. Certainly, this principle is difficult for anyone with power to maintain (Mullins, p. 33).
The advantage of bureaucracy is that each department is unambiguously responsible to another, with each lower office under the supervision of a higher one. The formalization of responsibility serves two important purposes. First, it guarantees that no employee is outside the organization’s control. This is the basic organizational control system: everyone is always responsible to someone else. In addition, this allows the handling of the unexpected (Mullins, p. 35). If something does not fit the rules, it is declared to be an exception and passed up the hierarchy of responsibility until it reaches someone who can make a decision in this exceptional case. This procedure is intended to ensure that the exceptional decision, which may have broader implications that people at the lower level do not know, is made on the basis of the best available information.
Hiring, promoting, and firing are to be based on objective demonstrations of what we today would call job-relevant merit. In the ideal bureaucracy, personnel decisions are based on impersonal judgments of who is the most competent to perform the work. Decisions are not based on family or nationality, as in traditional systems, or on personal grace or belief in the leader’s vision as in charismatic systems. Administrative acts, decisions, and rules are recorded in writing, or formalized. The requirement that all decisions and rules must be written down ensures that those making decisions can be held accountable, and that others can learn about the organization’s decisions. This openness becomes an advantage for organizations and management. Certainly, the larger the organization is, the greater the need for a written memory, because the volume of information overwhelms the ability of any one individual to know all relevant information. Most importantly, it also prevents officials from using nonmerit criteria in making decisions or misusing company resources for personal gain because a written record ensures that decisions can be scrutinized (Hughes, p. 42). According to Mullins: “formalization is central to bureaucracy and is often called ‘red tape’. There are many times when predictability of actions that must be taken are essential to an organization, but too much conformity may result in a loss of initiative in non-standard situations”. Potential access to information eliminates the ability of those in authority to release information only to those they wish to favor.
In sum, bureaucracy has both advantages and disadvantages for management and organizations. Employees in bureaucracies are protected from unconstrained exploitation. A requirement for written records allows to control employees to insure that they are not misusing their offices for personal gain. bureaucracy in organizations have a positive impact on management and employee relations establishing procedures and formal rules. This makes employees more valuable and more powerful with experience. Bureaucracy creates a kind of seniority system of expertise, based on knowledge of rules and policies acquired over time. Bureaucracy allows to establish a formal organization and support management and control systems. Bureaucracy allows them to agree performance indicators for output and outcomes. Managers become accountable for performance and introduce insensitive for employees accordingly to outputs and performance outcomes. These rewards are aimed to increase efficiencies and organizational effectiveness. As the most important, it implies competition between public organizations and between public and private sector. Managers become accountable for performance and introduce insensitive for employees accordingly to outputs and performance outcomes. This is then followed up with systems of recording to ensure effective communication of action taken.
- Hughes, O. Public Management and Administration. Basingstoke, Palgrave, 2003
- Mullins, L. Management and Organizational Behavior. 8th edition, 2007.