Busting Bureaucracymajor benefits of the bureaucratic form


The major benefits promised by the
bureaucratic form

Hierarchical authority promises control and

According to organizational design theory, a major benefit promised by the bureaucratic form is that the top executive would have control over the entire organization, and the outside world would know who to hold responsible. "The captain of the ship is responsible for whatever happens on or to the ship."

Remember, in the 1920s and 1930s when bureaucracy was beginning to flower, the world of business and government was very different than today. Today’s industrialized nations were switching from agrarian societies to industrial societies. Prior to industrialization, organizations tended to be smaller, education and experience had not been so available or important, and management skills were seldom required, except at the very top.

So, in an organization in which the senior people were educated—and the workers were less so—it seemed vital to concentrate on control.

Management by rules promises control and consistency

If the entire organization was managed by rules, then top management could be sure that the organization would be controlled by their decisions. And, top management could be sure that no arbitrary "judgment" was introduced into the operation to make things inconsistent. The top executive could decide how things would be done, and forever after they would be done that way.

Consistency seemed desirable because the world prior to the industrial revolution was marked by inconsistency. People were discriminated against because of class, education, race, religion or creed. People were given advantages because of wealth, class or education. In a world where people were treated very differently from one another, consistency must have seemed very desirable.

An up-focused mission promised that governmental agencies would serve the legislative or executive
bodies that formed them.

The idea seemed sound, because it promised that an agency of government wouldn’t end up serving the people who were in the agency, nor would it end up serving people outside of the agency. Instead, theoretically, it would serve the government—hence, all the people.

In corporations, an up-focused mission promised that the organization would serve the stockholders, represented by the board of directors, rather than the people within the organization.

Specialization of sub-units promised accountability, control and expertise.

If specialists were in charge of each function of the organization, then top management could be certain that an educated or trained person was responsible for that function. In addition, top management could be reasonably certain that the people handling that function were expert in that function. Both of these benefits promised more certain control and effectiveness.

Prior to the twentieth century, people were given responsibility for managing most often because of their wealth, class or family–not necessarily because they were trained or skilled. So, having specialists handle functions seemed like a big improvement over having people manage things because they were the boss’s son, or the family had contacts.

Being impersonal promises objectivity, consistency and equality.

The theory suggests that if you wipe out the human elements of the business transaction, and focus only on the "business" side, that you could be sure that no customer or citizen was treated better or worse than another. If you treat everyone identically, as though they had no individual differences, then you could ensure fairness through equal treatment. You could also ensure consistency.

This was highly valued in those days because many people felt they didn’t get treated equally with those of wealth, power or position. In the various European and North American cultures of the early twentieth century, customers were not always treated equally by businesses, and citizens were not treated equally by government. Bureaucracy promised fairness and equality.

Employment based on technical qualifications promises equal opportunity, and protection from
arbitrary dismissal promises job security to those who can pass a test and follow the rules.

Equal opportunity meant that a middle class educated person had the same opportunity of entry into government as an upper class or wealthy person. That was highly valued in an era when government tended to be controlled or dominated by those with money, power or position.

Job security was little known in the early twentieth century, but highly valued and highly prized. Bureaucracy promised protection against arbitrary dismissal. People with wealth, power or position exerted powerful control over businesses and government. Workers were subject to arbitrary dismissal if they offended the wrong people.

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