The Organizational Theories of Max Weber
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Published: Mon, 13 Aug 2018
Bureaucracy is a distinct concept within organizational settings since it exemplifies a working organizational design as per the ideologies of Max Weber. The principles of bureaucracy derive their basis from the organizational practices and theory. It is thus noted that Weber deduced that bureaucratic organizations conformed to streamlined organizational practices and constructs that improved productivity and efficiency. Diverse factors contributed to efficiency and productivity thus a rational career structure that typifies relations among positions. It is equally noted that such positions are arranged in reference to hierarchy thus according rights, responsibilities to the position within the hierarchy. It is noted that Weber stressed that current bureaucracies need to be managed in accordance to the stipulated rules, procedures and policies that can be learnt. Furthermore, a need arises to record events and transactions so that corrective measures can be initiated. In as much as the current understanding of bureaucracy differs from Weber’s ideologies, it is crucial to exemplify its ideal characteristics, the roles of power and authority, the model’s weaknesses and potency.
Bureaucracy as per the ideologies of Weber is characterized by specification of jobs consequently illuminating scope of authority, rights and responsibilities. It is crucial to understand the concept of job specification within the constraints of organizational theory since it highlights the strategies required to satisfactorily complete a task. Arguments by technocrats posit that specification of jobs accords a worker the right to engage in practices within the organization thus attaining stipulated objectives. It is also argued that Weber shunned the operational and tactical levels of an organization consequently focusing on the managerial levels thus limiting specialization (Du Gay, 2000).
Authority is a distinct concept that exemplifies bureaucracy, it is thus crucial to deduce this concept by analysis of theoretical constructs and literature. First, authority is widely deduced as the legitimate use of power within the constraints of an organization. Such an organization needs to be defined by rules that enhance appropriate relations. Secondly, authority is derived from a position within an organization and not a person. Assumptions made indicate that for a person to reach a position of authority he or she must be subjected to scrutiny. This is with reference to seniority and skills; furthermore, this process should be conducted in a legitimate and organizational based manner. This will consolidate the position consequently making it simple to exercise authority.
Another assumption pertaining to authority is that an individual may lose his or her authority, upon deviation from the norms established within an organization (Clegg, Kornberger & Pitsis, 2008). This is part of the discipline process and adherence to the stipulated policies, laws and regulations. As illustrated in popular literature, power and authority assumes a personal dimension. This contradicts Weber’s ideologies on bureaucracy (Daft, 2007). Organizations are consequently urged to strive to enhance legitimate authority controlled by respect for personnel rights and responsibilities.
Centralization is a key bureaucratic concept that needs to be explored by drawing reference to the organizational theory. This highlights the organizational level constructs which are cogent and indispensable for a functional bureaucracy. In order to explore this concept further, it is crucial to hypothesize the degree of specialization since it emphasizes distinct roles played by organizational members; thus, centralization refers to the extent to which such roles are correlated. This is by relations that draw their functionality from a familiar central position or set of positions with the ability to issue commands.
Organizational theory and literature affirm that the degrees of centralization in organizations are different. This means that some organizations are more centralized thus they have a single center of command through which all decisions pass. This characterizes a typical bureaucracy thus indicating that possible deviations from this concept lack the spirit and letter of Weber’s ideologies. A key concept pertaining to centralization indicates that growth in bureaucracy is commensurate to increase in the level of centralization. However, when the level of centralization in an organization is high then the ability to communicate among the members is significantly diminished. This is because other aspects of the bureaucratic organizational design such as formalization and specialization are increasingly manifested (Clegg, Kornberger & Pitsis, 2008).
Additional key arguments pertaining to centralization indicate that large organizations with departments responsible for definite processes are habitually accorded the opportunity to make their own decisions. This means that when organizations become increasingly large, they decentralize in order to enhance competence and productivity. The classical theory provides insight thus comprehending the concept of centralization through reconciliation of the contrary requisites of centralization and decentralization to attain flexibility in the functioning of different constituents of an organization.
Several theories and practices as pertains to public administration equally illuminate the concept of centralization. First, it is a move based on increased administrative competency consequently empowering leaders to engage in elaborate decision-making exercises. Secondly, centralization in the public sector is based on the need to provide uniform services to the people. This becomes simpler when the power to make decisions is with a well-defined position (Denhardt, 2007).
Rules within the bureaucratic model constitute the formalization process. These are exemplified by processes or procedures that exemplify the goals and objectives of an organization. These rules are derived from written manuals, policy documents or job descriptions that indicate the rights, as well as the duties of personnel. The classical theory indicates that organizations that are more developed rely, on formal structures such as policies and rules, to achieve discipline and concerted efforts. This is because decision making authorities are unlikely to maintain discipline and control through observing the actions of employees. Furthermore, such actions will only result to conflicts and diminished levels of understanding. It is worth mentioning that Weber’s ideologies on rules are best exemplified when they are formally coded. The rules that specify tasks need to be distinct and specific; furthermore, they need to be achieved by formal categories of personnel who are qualified and comprehend the nature of the tasks.
Hierarchy is an important constituent of bureaucracy since it supports other organizational attributes such as specialization and centralization. Weber highlights a key constituent of hierarchy, which entails span of control and reporting process. This means that there should be a clear illustration of ‘which leader or manager reports to whom’. This enhances unity of command or direction consequently exemplifying the principles of management as fronted by Fayol (Daft, 2007). At this point, it is interesting to note that the characteristics of an ideal bureaucracy are related to the aspects fronted by Fayol with regards to the principles of management. In the event that spans of control are diminished thus the employees reporting to a supervisor are few then the hierarchy assumes ‘a tall’ stature; furthermore, the vice versa is equally true. A key definitive principle of hierarchy indicates that it is an aspect of complex systems, which are likely to evolve rapidly when stable intermediary forms are exemplified (Morgan, 1995).
Diverse positions within a hierarchy require different qualifications; thus, the need to adopt a clear career structure. This means that personnel can only be promoted on the basis of seniority or distinguished performance within the organization. This will enhance the level of respect for the hierarchy within the organization. It is not forgotten that positions in a hierarchy are paid differently since they carry out different functions and roles.
Supervision of personnel is a key concept in bureaucracy since it enhances growth of organizations. The process ensures that personnel act in accordance with the knowledge descriptions that exemplify their roles. Supervision as per the administrative theory fronted by Fayol enhances adherence to rules and technical specifications. It is crucial to highlight that supervision draws recognition for the hierarchy within an organization together with the sources of power.
Grey and Willmott indicate that organizational supervision is the key to governance within an institution (Grey and Willmott, 2005). In order to accord the supervision process increased influence, it is crucial to train employees on requirements so that the supervision process does not seem like a learning process. Supervision and training reduces the problems that are associated with specialization within an organization thus the need to ensure they are included in organizational processes (Clegg, Kornberger & Pitsis, 2008).
Power and authority play distinct roles within an organization as exemplified by the bureaucracy model. It is notable that the cornerstone of any organization that enables it achieves its goals and objectives are the people. This means that power and authority focus on enhancing relations among people. This concept is further exemplified by the argument, which states that loyalty in an organization is directed towards a position and not personalities. This culminates in the impersonality of relations thus focusing on objectives and roles. An additional argument indicates that exercising power and authority in reference to Weber’s principles means that rules, directives, and discretion are applied uniformly (Daft, 2007). This is concerning definite situations in organizational settings. In the end, this positively influences organizational practices thus facilitating growth.
Secondly, power and authority is instrumental in enhancing communication within an organization (Daft, 2007). This is concerning communication theories within organizations, which highlights that top leaders usually surround themselves with loyal executives. This is to stay in touch with events taking place within organizations. It is further acknowledged that authority makes it simple to issue directives to this effect. Furthermore, authority and power makes it simple to build alliances since it enhances unity in direction.
Consider the following hypothesis; a management team that supports a leader’s decisions and policies contribute to the alliance building within an organization. This ideology works in a reverse direction since lower-level managers can exercise greater authority. This enhances building alliances especially when they relate positively with their superiors. Empowerment is a theory explored within the organizational setting that differs significantly from Weber’s ideologies; however, technocrats argue that it exemplifies bureaucracy in light of the changing organizational environment. It entails pushing power and authority down the organization to enable the lower-level managers to achieve their target. This eventually contributes to the attainment of organizational goals and objectives (Daft, 2007).
Power and authority in this scenario aids in the sharing of responsibilities and delegation of roles. In order to attain significant empowerment levels in an organization, it is crucial that, employees receive information concerning the performance of an organization. Secondly, employees need to draw sufficient power to make decisions (Daft, 2007). Thirdly, employees need to have abilities and skills to make use of the power accorded to them.
Resource dependence as a theory exemplified during the 1970’s exemplifies the role of power and authority in an organization (Clegg, Kornberger & Pitsis, 2008). It states that these aspects define the organizational structure by highlighting organizational considerations. This theory departs from the traditional explanations that expound the formal structure. It is noted that this status is achieved when power and authority are utilized to maintain organizational autonomy. This eventually makes an organization stand out, upon comparison to other entities in the society. Power and authority necessitates a shift from productivity and efficiency as the sole determinants of the success of an organization. It exemplifies the fact that efficiency can only be attained when relevant entities exercise power so as to achieve control and command. It is thus reinstated that power and authority exemplifies an organization’s structure making it distinct. This makes it stand out in the market, a factor that contributes to success and proper positioning.
It has been fronted within organizational settings that Fayol’s theory with regard to management functions can only be attained when power and authority are exercised with reference to bureaucracy. It is necessary to mention the management functions which include planning and control; furthermore, organizing and leading are equally crucial. These functions can only be attained when a leader, executive or related personnel within an organization can exercise authority consequently wielding substantive power.
The strengths of organizations that are aligned to bureaucracy are best illustrated by the specialization of tasks. Literature indicates that this enables employees to gather skills on a particular activity within an organization consequently doing it well, upon comparison to job rotation which culminates in diminished specialization levels. It is thus noted that this model augments the efficiency with which tasks are handled in an organization. It is necessary to illustrate the Japanese theory of management, which advocates for job rotation and its effects on an organization (Grey and Willmott, 2005). This can be summarized as lack of specialization such that tasks are accomplished by persons who lack refined knowledge. It is further noted that Weber’s ideologies on specialization can be equated to Fayol’s administrative theory.
The second strength of bureaucracy is exemplified by the principle of a well-defined career structure. This means that promotion to a senior level or position within a hierarchy is attained on the basis of seniority or attaining the relevant qualifications. It is affirmed that this accords legitimacy to the authority and power wielded by positions within an organization (Grey and Willmott, 2005). Thirdly, bureaucracy allows for the incorporation rules and procedures that guide the actions of employees within an organization. These rules equally stipulate the rights of such employees. This ultimately reduces the need for supervision by observing employees and deducing changes in their performance and attitude. Literature analyzed from organizations such as the UPS, in US indicates that formalization thus initiation of rules and procedures positively influences other processes (Daft, 2007). These processes include specialization and standardization; furthermore, discipline in an organization is wholly dependent on the ability to focus on formalization.
Finally, bureaucracy propagates hierarchy consequently contributing to respect and adherence to the concepts of scalar chain as exemplified by Fayol. However, Weber failed to forecast a circumstance when a junior person within the hierarchy may need to contact a higher authority, upon notification of his or her immediate boss. This means that scalar chain as exemplified by Weber draws its foundation from hierarchy (Castells, 1996). The benefits of the hierarchy are illustrated exercising power and authority.
The weaknesses associated with the bureaucratic model are numerous; however, the most significant entails focusing on the rational and instrumental aspects of human beings. It thus forgets that emotions and societal aspects also affect an organization. This model fails to address moral personality as a determinant of the success of an organization. It is worth mentioning that such a weakness is addressed later in history by Elton Mayo, as exemplified by the human relations theory. This deduces that an organization needs to exist as a technical, social, and economic entity consequently addressing the needs that come with such a position.
Secondly, bureaucracy poses a challenge when it comes to the ethical comportment of an organization (Du Gay, 2000). Weber illustrates that this model is a manifestation of ethics since personal capacities are exemplified. However, counter arguments indicate that focusing on leaders and managers consequently forgetting the tactical level amounts to unethical practice. Thirdly, bureaucracy is associated with difficulty in making decisions and executing strategies. This is in light of competitive pressure from an organization’s external environment and quality management. Furthermore, increase in the knowledge based roles indicates that decisions need to be made swiftly. This calls for decentralization with the aim of empowering teams and groups so that they can engage in decision-making processes.
Consider the following argument that exemplifies the concept mentioned above. Swift decision-making, managing eminence at the point of production and provision of services at the location of customers means that decisions must be made at the lower-levels of an organization (Clegg, Kornberger & Pitsis, 2008). These ideologies depart from the principles highlighted by Weber thus highlighting a weakness. Lastly, bureaucracy is cumbersome when poorly executed. Consider General Motors bureaucracy, which is faulted for its inefficiency and diminished productivity. The regional managers indicate that it is impossible to run their branches when directives come from headquarters. These managers have to wait for a long time to receive authorization thus influencing the process (Daft, 2007). Weber visualized an efficient organization that is capable of meeting its objectives through adhering to the concepts of bureaucracy.
In conclusion, Weber’s ideologies focused on a structure of authority that enhances order within an organization. He thus indicates that the model values accountability, precision, reliability and productivity. However, bureaucracy is currently mistaken for officialdom and circumstances associated with red tape. It is noted that organizations currently employing bureaucratic strategies are embroiled in organizational inefficiencies. This is partly attributed to the fusion of this model with unrelated practices. The success of this model is dependent on the effectiveness with which power and authority are exercised in diverse organizational circumstances.
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