The Ideas Of Webers Bureaucracy No Longer Apply

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Contemporary organizations refer to the present organizations which take various forms, empires, nations, public services, university administrations, successful business and so forth. Organization is associated with the "basis of systems theory which suggests the idea of a functioning body with interlinking parts (subsystems) that has a purpose or common goal, and performs some task" ( Fincham and Rhodes, 2005, pg 469) . In this essay, contemporary organization is restricted to the context of business organization. Each member, managers, workers, shareholders, Board of Directors committed to improve the performance of a company.

Business organizations main preoccupation is susceptible to the market mechanism and the state of economy. In an upturn, where consumer confidence is high, contemporary organization may aim to sell as much good as possible, pursuing the aim of profit maximizing output whereas in a downturn, the market is very sensitive and uncertain. In this case, firms have to alter their main aim because it is no longer a feasible one. "Contemporary organizations which deem to attain competitive advantage must take into account a new paradigm, that of flexibility" (Sommer ,2003 cited in Verdu and Gomez-Gras, 2009, pg 668).

Hence, flexibility seems to be much sought after aim in the new organizations of the twenty-first century. Flexibility is defined as "a firm's ability to quickly reconfigure resources and activities in response to environmental demands" (Wright and Snell, 1998, pg 758). In general, flexibility reflects the competency of contemporary organizations to adjust swiftly to the turbulent environment.

Nevertheless, due to rules, policies, organization manuals, job descriptions and other types of formalization, organizations main preoccupation to attain flexibility may be hampered. In practice, Weber's Theory of bureaucracy still plays an essential role in contemporary organizations. There is clear division of power shown in the organizational chart in most of business organizations, each worker is given some form of written manual of their work, position and reward based on worker's level of competency and managers are equipped with set of rules and regulations on how to manage their workers effectively. When more rules are developed, the firm has a higher degree of bureaucracy and formalization which results in conflicting interest between bureaucracy and flexibility. This essay will explain reasons why organizations choose to attain flexibility in tandem with comparisons between them. Next, it will highlight why flexibility may not necessarily be the main preoccupation causing Max Weber's theory of bureaucracy to become completely obsolete. At the end, suggestion regarding ways to resolve the conflicting interest would be put forward.

Types of labour flexibility

The taxonomy of labour flexibility has appeared to be much of discussions among great scholars and the understanding of types of flexibility is imperative to lay out reasons why organizations choose to attain flexibility and at the same time list the argument for supporting the view that both flexibility and bureaucracy is mutually exclusive; no intersection; one could not pursue flexibility without forgoing the other.

The best-known model of the types of work flexibility is proposed by Atkinson (1984) cited in Valverde, Tregaskis and Brewster (2000). Based on Atkinson, firms search for three types of flexibility which are functional, numerical and financial. Functional flexibility is when workers are equipped with various skills to carry out different tasks. Numerical flexibility is achieved by firms' ability to adjust numbers of workers in the short term and financial flexibility through adjustment in wages and labour costs based on the performance of workers and company.

Beneficiaries of labour flexibility

A closer insight to the beneficiaries of flexibility would provide reasons on why contemporary organizations favour flexibility and may regard flexibility as its main preoccupation. Employers gain when they are able to match resources in accordance to demand. Numerical flexibility is also categorized by Blyton (1992) , whereby managers are able to fine tune their labour costs and numbers of workers depending on the output produced. In this current volatile market, firms practiced Flexible Working Arrangement (FWA's) such as part-time work, weekend work, job sharing to reduce overall labour costs. Yet it is bound for jobs which require less skill and could easily be trained. On the contrary, Weber's bureaucracy system could be executed for all types of jobs and positions.

Contemporary organizations which focus on labour flexibility may acknowledge the fact that it attracts more workers and would be able to retain many of its staff. The flexibility given to workers in terms of time, place, contract and tasks seem to path a new revolution in the nature of the employment relationship moving away from the traditional full-time, permanent job ( Valverde, Tregaskis and Brewster , 2000 ). The practice of labour flexibility could also be regarded as a win-win situation for both employers and workers. Functional flexibility assists employees with skills to undertake various jobs suitable with the prevailing working pressure. O'Reilly (1992) cited in Kelliher and Riley (2003, pg 382) depicts "the use of functional flexibility in a banking environment where VDU staff were sent to help encoders on busy days, if it looked like the deadline for exchange of cheques at the central clearing house would not be met."

For employees, functional flexibility is an answer for their monotonous and repetitive work. Workers appreciate their work and deliberately improve the quality of working life. Friedrich et al (1998) cited in Kelliher and and Riley (2003, pg 102) remark that "it is usually assumed that functional flexibility will lead to a humanization of work for employees as a result of increased job security along with interesting and varied work."

Employers could gain substantially in terms of savings in the labour cost. Clearly, in a contemporary organization with rigid rules and procedures, functional flexibility would not be a viable option as each worker is specialized in doing one specific task.

Flexibility and its relation with innovation

The practice of functional flexibility in a contemporary organization could result in a reduction of some hierarchical levels (Albizu, 1997 cited in Valverde, Tregaskis and Brewster , 2000). Coordination between workers would take place promptly and firms could adjust their production in response to consumers' preference ahead from other business competitors. The impetus for leaner organization has led to widespread implementation of labour flexibility, downsizing and outsourcing whilst rewards have been more inclined to performance orientated (Richbell, 2001). This is usually the case for contemporary organizations in high technology and very dynamic markets as flexibility capabilities stimulate innovation which is later translated to the development of new products.

One might argue that in a contemporary organization which practices the bureaucracy system, innovation and adjustment would still take place. However, there is often time lag in its implementation. The recent case of General Motors, Chrysler and Ford captures the situation vividly. The Detroit Three produces vehicles that lag behind their Japanese counterpart, Toyota in terms of technology, quality and fuel efficiency (Cleveland, 2009).

Toyota Production System (TPS) has two central approaches; Just-in-time (JIT) and respect for human system. Both approaches focus on functional flexibility as JIT is achieved through Kanban practices, short setup times, multi-skilled workers while the latter implies "all workers physical movement should add value to the product, otherwise they are considered waste." (Thun, Druke, Grubner, 2010, pg 7090). Contemporary organization such as Ford is adopting similar methodology with the announcement of its planned to invest $550 million to retool its Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Mich., 'into a lean, green and flexible manufacturing complex'.

The move towards lean management which underpins the importance of labour flexibility shows a positive correlation for organizations to adopt flexibility instead of bureaucracy management.

Mirror image of flexibility

Labour flexibility encourages open debate and constructive criticism. Management in this type of contemporary organization deals with employees using Mc Gregor's Theory Y, a positive view of people. Cultivating from this environment would lead to workers continuously and consistently committed to acquire new skills and improve their working method. Theory X focuses on its rigidity whereby Theory Y entails adaptability to be applied at different situations ( Carbone, 1981). Hence, there is certainly a friction between bureaucracy and flexibility as managements have to embrace disparate ways to control workers.

In the above section, reasons for contemporary organization to attain flexibility are discernibly discussed to comprehend the move towards a more flexible firm at the expense of bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy and its relevant

Burns and Stalker (1961) identified two extreme structures, mechanistic and organic structure. The former is referred to organizations which fashion bureaucracy system in its management while the latter is for organizations which practice flexibility. Based on this, firms may be urged to decide which structure to set about and their main preoccupation may not necessarily to achieve flexibility and consequently choosing an 'organic structure'. Some firms value rules and procedures over flexibility to ascertain good produced is highly standardized.

This is often the argument for manufacturing industry which produces goods that could be stipulated as 100% uniform in size and quality. In an environment which is relatively stable and certain, organizations tended to be mechanistic (Robert and Corbett, 2009). Firms producing sugar and salt illustrate the above situation clearly; these organizations emphasis on strict rules and job division exhibiting a mechanistic structure. These contemporary organizations may not attempt to change its structure due to the effectiveness of policies being implemented and surely flexibility would not be their main preoccupation.

Bureaucratisation of services

Whilst contemporary organizations are strongly associated with flexibility and Weber's ideal type of bureaucracy may be considered out of date, many businesses operating in the current market have a contrary belief. Mc Donaldization (Ritzer, 1963) is an evidence of the bureaucratization of services. The fundamental reasons behind this mean would be efficiency, predictability and control. Assuming that Mc Donald adopts flexibility instead, myriads numbers of issues and problems would have risen and the franchising over Mc Donald restaurants all across the globe would not take place.

Bureaucracy; From iron cage to iron shield

Criticism for bureaucracy take place due to overemphasize on insignificant conformity that limits individual growth (Wood et al, 2006).Workers employed may be described as in an iron cage reflected by strict rules compliance which impede their creativity. Stemming out from this, contemporary organization shifts the paradigm to a more flexible firm. However, when flexibility is being carried out to replace bureaucracy, workers would also be put on strain as their roles remain unclear.

Professional service workers have to face the unpredictable client demands and client-to-worker specificity due to the policy of flexibility (Briscoe, 2007).Without rules and standard procedure, these workers are in strife to complete the task given. Only by placing guidelines, workers could reason what is anticipated from them and would continuously move towards achieving it. Henceforth, to focus on practicing flexibility and completely disregard bureaucracy may not be a worthwhile strategy for structural reorganization.

In theory, a common feature to describe flexibility is that the principles are the opposite of Weber's bureaucracy. "The hierarchic, centralized and formalized bureaucratic organization is replaced by a flat, decentralized organization, emphasizing flexibility rather than rule-following" ( Maravelias , 2002 cited in Bolin and Harenstam 2008 , pg 542 ).


These two can be argued as a distinct break with one another. No organization can triumphantly set order as its overriding aim, nor can any place flexibility alone as its prime concern (Stewart, 1970). Contemporary organizations behave disparately according to the nature of business, type of operation performed, and the degree of certainty and stability of the environment. It is prerequisite to comprehend that all organizations require both flexibility and bureaucracy approach in its management. To consider that when firms adopt mechanistic structure, the prospect of implementing Weber's bureaucracy may no longer be an achievable one and would not be the case anymore.

The conflicting interest between flexibility and Weber's bureaucracy approach may be resolved by striking the right balance between both of them. Certain activities conducted in an organization should be loose, that is they should be left up for individuals and groups to judge what they should be doing to meet the pressing conditions whereby others should be tight, that is they are urged to comply with rules and procedures which should be contentiously monitored (Stewart, 1970). In the beginning of this essay, the term organization is clearly defined as groups and individuals who constitute the system with a common goal. Henceforth, each contemporary organization duty is to accomplish the common goal instead of concentrating too much on which structure to sustain.

A contingency theory proposed by Burns and Stalker (1961) suggest that there is no one best way to organize; each system behaves differently based on the external environment.

Due to this, contemporary organizations main preoccupation may change its course depending on the situation which takes place and the employment of both flexibility and bureaucracy at the same time may be deemed desirable for the management in the twenty-first century.