Busting Bureaucracywhat is bureaucracy: the bureaucratic form


The bureaucratic form is the basic organizing form for public sector organizations and for most private sector organizations as well. There are basic principles of the form and some advantages offered by the form.

I’ll use the following conventions when discussing the form:

1. When I’m talking about a group of people, I’ll always use "the bureaucracy," or "bureaucrats."

2. When I’m talking about the organizational form, I’ll always link the word form with the word bureaucratic or bureaucracy. (No matter how clumsy that becomes.)

3. Therefore, when you see the word bureaucracy or bureaucratic—by itself—then it describes the negative attributes–the "stupidity," the "nonsense" that you and I mean when we talk about having "too much bureaucracy."

The "bureaucratic form..."

As you read about the bureaucratic form, note whether your organization matches the description. The more of these concepts that exist in your organization, the more likely you will have some or all of the negative by-products described in the "Effects of Bureaucracy."

Max Weber, a German sociologist, wrote in the 1930s a rationale that described the bureaucratic form as being the ideal way of organizing government agencies.

The bureaucratic form and its use spread throughout both public and the private sectors. Even though Weber’s writings have been widely discredited, the bureaucratic form lives on.

The bureaucratic form has six major

1. A formal hierarchical structure

Each level controls the level below and is controlled by the level above. A formal hierarchy is the basis of central planning and centralized decision making.

2. Management by rules

Controlling by rules allows decisions made at high levels to be executed consistently by all lower levels.

3. Organization by functional specialty

Work is to be done by specialists, and people are organized into units based on the type of work they do or skills they have.

4. An "up-focused" or "in-focused" mission

If the mission is described as "up-focused," then the organization’s purpose is to serve the stockholders, the board, or whatever agency empowered it. If the mission is to serve the organization itself, and those within it, e.g., to produce high profits, to gain market share, or to produce a cash stream, then the mission is described as "in-focused."

5. Purposely impersonal

The idea is to treat all employees equally and customers equally, and not be influenced by individual differences.

6. Employment based on technical qualifications

(There may also be protection from arbitrary dismissal.)

The bureaucratic form according to
Parkinson has another attribute.

7. Predisposition to grow in staff "above the line."

Weber failed to notice this, but C. Northcote Parkinson found it so common that he made it the basis of his humorous "Parkinson’s law." Parkinson demonstrated that the management and professional staff tends to grow at predictable rates, almost without regard to what the line organization is doing.

The bureaucratic form is so common that most people accept it as the normal way of organizing almost any endeavor. People in bureaucratic organizations generally blame the ugly side effects of bureaucracy on management, or the founders, or the owners, without awareness that the real cause is organizing based on the bureaucratic form. After all, the bureaucratic form has been so common because it promises some major benefits.

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