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Modern organisations have continuously come to exert and diffuse through human life. Therefore, these organisations need to be flexible and contemporary in order to satisfy the needs of human being. However, some organisations are far behind flexibility and most of them tend to be bureaucratic in nature. If these modern organisations manage to achieve flexibility as one of their main preoccupation, the idea of bureaucracy to certain extent is not applicable. This journal will explain the bureaucracy concept and its limitations, if any, the primary objective of organisations whether to achieve flexibility or not and assess whether this theory is applicable or not.
Nature of modern organisations and their bureaucratic nature
Probably, Max Weber's most prominent work of all time is his theory of bureaucracy. Modern administration and organisation in some degree are increasingly and inevitably - bureaucratic according to him. "This is true not only in the sphere of state, but in all domains of social life" (R. Brubaker, 1984, p20). Well, what is bureaucracy at first place? Bureaucracy means the rule of officials based on rational logic (Giddens, 1997, p286). The expansion of bureaucracy is inevitable in modern societies, therefore bureaucratic authority is the only way of fulfilling the administrative requirements of large - scale social systems. In fact, bureaucracy is not only a rational type of human organizations; it has the potential to provide the setting both for constructive human relationships and for individual creative expression and satisfaction (Jaques, 1976). There is an ideal type of bureaucracy as described by Weber (1978):
There is a clear cut hierarchy of authority in an organisation which means, power tends to be concentrated on top of the hierarchical structure. Each member has a clear view what exactly they have to do, and there is job specialisation within the organisations.
There is formalism - which the organisation has a formally articulated and differentiated structure and rules are set in order to manage and regulate the whole organisation.
The tasks of an official within the organisations and the life outside must be separated.
No members own and have any access to material resources, in the other words; members do not own the means of production.
Modern bureaucracy is very effective in organizing and managing large number of people. It can be implemented through the process of continuity and consistency within the members of organisation. Moreover, there is career progression opportunities based on skills and credentials of individual and rewards are based on individual's performance. These skills are the primary factor of the social mobility within the organisation.
Universities, political parties, economic enterprises, government agencies, hospitals, armies, are all subject to the inexorable advance of bureaucratization. There is a hierarchical structure on every university, for example. The power of Dean is concentrated on top of this structure. As a matter a fact, there is specialisation of work in which every member from the lecturers, students and even the staffs have their own role to play. Students cannot simply become a lecturer. It also consists of rules and sanctioned systems of procedures. Students must oblige rules set by the university or else, actions will be taken against them. Furthermore, each member do not own the material resources for example, students do not own the lecture notes and books.
Government organisations - hospitals for example are also bureaucratic in nature. Hospitals can be regarded as one of the most influential institution in human life. They are the one who deliver us in this world, mark our progress through it and see us out of it when we die (Rowbottom, 1973). Hospitals like universities have their own, unique structure of organisation. Hospitals are large organisation which needs to be managed properly and carefully. Theory of bureaucracy was empirically tested by Hall (1968) in a study of 6 general hospitals in the Netherlands. A preliminary investigation of Hall's scales for the dimensions of bureaucracy revealed that there is a hierarchy of authority, presence of rules, procedural specifications, and personnel standards of technical competence (Pool, 1982) which makes up the bureaucratic nature.
Just imagine, the world organisations are run without bureaucratic principles? - Chaos! People will not be rewarded or promoted based on their performance or skills. All the works done are worthless and the syndrome of nepotism will grow like a riot. Apart from that, most organisations will lack of accountability and integrity as one of the world's greatest nemesis - bribery will be practiced among all members of organisations. People will do whatever it takes to get a better job, pay or even working condition and bribery is one of them. In fact, people do not have clarity of their job on what they suppose to do and as a result of this, level of turnover and absenteeism will arise. This brings negative impacts not only to the organisation itself, but to the economic growth as well. However these impacts are arguable by some of the sociologists who critique the work of Weber and often exaggerated.
The limits of bureaucracy
As far as how great bureaucracy is concerned, there are still limitations to it and its rationality. Bureaucracy sometimes regard as a tedious and ridiculous process by most sociologists (Meyer, 1985). There are too many paperwork or often described as red tape within organisations and therefore, a simple problem or issues can sometimes take ages to solve it. This is because, one need to follow certain formal procedures set by the organisation. Not only that, overtly bureaucratic organisations can lead to internal failures of functioning due to rigidity, inflexibility and uninvolving nature (Giddens, 1997). In fact, there will be an iron cage phenomenon where workers are dehumanized, alienated and impersonated (Mitzman, 1971). This is because they do not have any access to the material resources and means of production. They cannot throw any ideas or suggestions to the higher authority and their opinions are usually neglected. Furthermore, bureaucracy does not encourage any extra initiative, innovation and creativity as certain people only specialised in certain type of tasks. As a result of this, numerous organisations are overhauling themselves to become less, rather than more hierarchical and move towards a new approach of organisational design (Lawrence, 1958).
Organisations are more flexible
Modern industrial societies demand a more contemporary and flexible approach of organising a company rather than traditional, rigid approach. Flexibility here means there is room for advancement and improvement with a more fluid and mobile approach. Flexibility according to Atkinson (1984) can be divided into three types. The first one is the functional flexibility, where employees are assigned to different roles required by the market demand, not only one specific role described by Weber. Second one is the numerical flexibility which is the use of flexible contracts to allow staff fluidity responding to market needs. The last one is the financial flexibility where resourcing systems are used to allow cash flow flexibility. These three features are essential for contemporary organisations in order to satisfy the needs of their employers and employees.
Organisations in modern society heavily depend on specialisation of knowledge and transmitting of information. Business corporations for example rely on these principles in order to compete with one another in a global marketplace (Caplow, 1964). There is always need for every large corporations to achieve flexibility because of the positive implications for workers in that particular corporations. There will in - depth of job design and higher degree of specialisation can be learned by the workers. In fact, there will be clarity of goals, room for promotions and higher degree of accountability. There is also a room for creativity and empowerment which one can unleash their own potential and ideas. There will be a massive improvement in communication and interaction patterns between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat - managers and lower class workers. Lower class' opinions and ideas are important to the company as managers maintain close relationship towards them.
As modern times required development of technology and information, people are now demanding more free time and flexibility in their life and therefore organisations must work to achieve that. Evidence shows that all successful companies are leading towards flexibility and without bureaucracy features at all. Google and Microsoft for example are two big, successful companies which influence human life a lot. Google is one of the largest search engines on the internet and Microsoft dominates the market from computer software to video games. So, what make them so successful? Flexibility of course! Their policies are very simple. People and workers have flexible working hours which they can choose from. Not only that, they can even work from their house due to development of technology. This is called as home office. People tend to spend more time at home working rather than have to follow all the bureaucracy principles like going to the office and attend a meeting. This is because; they can have a meeting through a technology called teleconferencing and skype - video call from one person to another (Tilly, 2008). There are no certain rules to follow and managers can approve a certain contract or proposal through e - mail. Their salaries are paid based on work basis. As long as the workers manage to accomplish a task and do their work, they will get paid which is fair enough to the modern world. This shows that without bureaucracy, organisations can become successful when they achieved flexibility.
Anthony Giddens (1997) and Lyotard (1985) come out with an idea of Japanese model - a model on how to run a business in modern world. Japanese companies such as Toyota, Mitsubishi, Honda, Sony and Canon are rapidly growing and become some of the largest companies in the world with a short span of time. These companies diverge from the Weber's theory in several ways. For example, they practice bottom - up decision - making. They do not form any type of authority as Weber portrayed but, workers are consulted about policies and top management regularly meet with them. Secondly, there is less specialization of job but increasingly rotation and diversification of job. One person can actually acquire the skills of another and this can increase the productivity level of the company, thus minimizing social silos. Thirdly, there is job security which means that pay and responsibility are geared to seniority rather than competitive struggle for promotion. This will provide fairness and equity to the workers. Not only that, there is group oriented production rather than individual positions and this can challenge the iron law of oligarchy. By merging the work with private lives, management can provide for many of their employees' needs and in return is their loyalty to the firm.
Based on this particular evidence, the theory of bureaucracy is no longer applicable as organisations stray away towards flexibility, they become more independent, successful and less conflict arise within the organisation.
Bureaucracy and flexibility need each other
Giddens quote 'are networks involving a large amount of bottom - up decision making, the path to the future, taking people completely away from Weber's more pessimistic vision?' (Giddens, 1997, p301). Well, such view needs to be revised again. Bureaucratic system nowadays in fact, is more fluid and less hierarchical forms of organisation. According to Foucalt, big organisations today are nowhere. This is because; some corporations remain strongly bureaucratic and centred in certain country. So, there is a milestone way to achieve flexibility and therefore the idea of bureaucracy is still applicable to certain extent.
Most presumably the ideal type of organisation is when organisation managed to achieve flexibility and at the same time maintains some of the bureaucratic features. For example the 'Horizontal Organisation' which is introduced by Ostroff (1999). In this model of organising, there is a bureaucratic role incorporated in specific value - adding process. For example, job rotation and specification. Workers need to master certain skill for certain period of time before moving to other types of work. There is reward on the basis of performance without competition within age groups. Everybody has equal chance to get promoted.
In contrast with that, Morgan (1998), in his idea of 'Contingency Theory' stated that there is no optimal way to organize an organisation. But the best course of action is through contingent and dependent upon the internal and external situation. In fact the appropriate form of organizing depends on the type of task or environment one is dealing with.
Well, as mentioned earlier, it is wrong to say that bureaucracy is now diminished through the modern world. Bureaucracy is now more fluid and becoming more applicable to modern sciences. Only few large corporations manage to achieve flexibility and become successful. There is still no evidence on what will happen to them in the next 10 - 20 years. As a conclusion, even though few organisations manage to achieve flexibility like Google, it is still uncertain how long they can maintain their prestige and success. Only if flexibility is achieved, the ideas of bureaucracy maybe rejected to certain extent because if the idea is rejected completely, the organisations will not run completely and smoothly as they would have been because, somehow, they still need the bureaucratic features in the management and corporations.