Management Principles: Principle of Bureaucracy

According to the name bureaucracy theory was evolved by the German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920). The principle of bureaucracy is based upon hierarchy of authority and web of rules and relations. It visualizes a machine model of organisation characterized by impersonal control over human beings.

Characteristics of Principle of Bureaucracy

  1. A well-defined hierarchy of authority with clear lines of authority and control and responsibility concentrated at the top of the hierarchy.
  2. A high degree of specialization.
  3. A division of work based on functional departmentalization.
  4. A system of rules covering the rights and duties of employees.
  5. A definite system of procedures for dealing with the work situation and “rationally” coordinating activities.
  6. A centralized system of written documents (“the files”) for collecting and summarizing the activities of the organisation.
  7. Impersonality of relationships between employees.
  8. Recruitment of managers on the basis of ability and technical knowledge.

The bureaucracy, or “bureaucratic model,” was one of the first theories of organisation. It was a theory; Weber hoped that would be used to understand how and why organisations were structured as they were, and the standard against which other organisations would be compared.

But like most “ideal” forms of anything it was an extreme, an exaggeration. Having some specialization, adequate procedures and rules, and some centralization was and is clearly better than having no organisation at all. But Weber’s bureaucratic model quickly became synonymous with a rigid, unbending, inflexible structure manned by “robots”.

Criticism of Principle of Bureaucracy

Today when we hear the word “bureaucracy”, it immediately brings to mind visions of a ponderous, slowly moving organisation-one steeped in red tape, meaningless hurdles, and inefficiency. Various grounds of criticisms of principle bureaucracy are as under:

  1. The specialization of labor often inhibits effective communication among technical specialists and between higher and lower levels of the organisation.
  2. The procedures and rules sometimes encourage organisational members to act mechanically rather than exercising initiative and using their inherent creativity. They often breed resistance to change.
  3. Promotions in real life can result from “whom one knows” and “how one plays the organisation game” rather from technical ability. Competent people may be denied promotion.
  4. Bureaucracy involves excessive paperwork, as every decision must be put in writing. All documents have to be maintained in their draft and original forms. This leads to great wastage of time, stationery and space.
  5. Personnel in a bureaucracy tend to use their positions and resources to perpetuate self-interests or the interests of their sub-units. Every superior ties to increase the number of his subordinates as if this number is considered a symbol of power and prestige. It is hard to destroy bureaucracy even if it has outlived its utility.
  6. Bureaucratic procedures involve inordinate delays and frustration in the performance of tasks. The procedures are nevertheless valued, perpetuated and multiplied for their own sake as also to pass the buck.

Despite its drawbacks, bureaucracy has become an integral feature of modern organisations. It cannot be wished away. It is, therefore necessary to overcome its negative aspects through proper application of rules and regulations, and reconciling the individual needs and organisational goals.

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