Bureaucracy is supposedly unsuitable to quickly changing and highly demanding features of contemporary organizations as this type of management is synonymous to red tape and it represents dozens of negative effects such as rigidity, alienation, and low commitment (Adler, 1999, pp.37). However, with core characteristics of the bureaucratic form (e.g. formalization, hierarchy and specialization) (Adler & Borys, 1996, p.1) as well as evidence of ongoing existence of this management method, bureaucracy is proved to remain relevant in terms of following facets: it very fits organizations characterized with routine tasks; it comes up with exceptional requirements of some specific organizations; it is very well-suited to ease the tension of interest conflict between members of organization; and an appropriate style of bureaucracy will create and foster trust, commitment and motivation among employees. This paper argues that bureaucracy will keep pace with fast-moving contemporary organizations provided that organization management takes into account cultural features, quality of labor force, and the need of continuous improvement.
Despite the fact that bureaucracy possesses some negative consequences such as rigidity, alienation, and low commitment (Adler, 1999, p.37) or bureaucracy is under criticism for dehumanizing people (Grey, 2005), there is evidence of bureaucracy existence in today world. For example, in America, the democratic government uses the rules of bureaucratic management; and bureaucratic principles are applied in administration of the customs and the foreign service alike (Mises, 1983, p.47). Normally, when bureaucracy is discussed, this management style is usually assimilated to red tape, over-controlling bosses, and apathetic employees (Adler, 1999, p.36); or it is regarded as incompatible to individual liberty, personal accountability and other virtues (Du Gay, 2000, p.67); or it is even regarded as one of the great evils (Adler, 1999 p.46). Nevertheless, this stereotype against bureaucracy is probably shaped by practical adoption of insufficiently bureaucratic form in nontraditional communist countries. According to Pearce (2000, p.151), bureaucracy in these countries is characterized by particularistic organizational practices that are designed to encourage excessively high level of formalization and hierarchy in favor of minority group interest (e.g. workplace authority, leaders). By contrast, universalistic bureaucracy is intended to enhance satisfaction of employees and effectiveness of organization as well (Pearce, 2000, p.150). This paper argues that the relevance of today’s bureaucracy is derived from universalistic practices that involve performance appraisal system, job description, financial accounting systems, and grievance procedures (Heneman at al.1989, cited in Pearce, 2000, p.159). In other words, the transparency and efficiency-oriented goal of this bureaucracy type may be used to explain why almost every organization at least capitalize on some extent of bureaucracy features (Jaffe, p.116).
The current existence of bureaucracy may be primarily attributed to positive influences derived from bureaucracy rules that may be suitable at different extent to organizations regardless its sorts or level of development. Apparently, it is normally agreed that there is inevitable conflict in the interest between members of an organization. For example, the interest of workers and managers not always come hand in hand (Adler, 1999, p.45). According to Jaffe (p.97), this conflict in interest that inevitably cause organization tension, may be neutralized through bureaucratic rules (e.g. procedures, supervision or coordination) so as nonowners find their interest while creating interest for organizational owners. Additionally, (Adler, 1999, p.96) also points out that bureaucratic rules are more easily exercised and enforced if all members of organization have common interest. For example, both managers and workers find their interest in complying with rules and principles of fire or safety prevention practices and as a result, the high level of bureaucracy formalization to have these rules strictly exercised and enforced is voluntarily accepted by all members of organization. Obviously, in this regards, the formalized procedures of the representative bureaucracy are necessary and relevant for any sort of organization.
Max Weber states that bureaucracy is said to be the most rational form of management and it remains relevant today (Adler, 1999, p.37). While agree with this opinion in general, this paper argues that the different extent of bureaucracy application depends on organization form, size as well as organization tasks.
As bureaucracy is characterized with hierarchical structure, formalized procedures, and staff expertise (Adler, 1999, p.37), this management style is thought to remain suitable for large-scale organizations in which timeliness, conformance and orderliness are crucial to get the whole system run smoothly. These requirements, obviously, are especially demanding for success of contemporary organizations that typically come under pressure of increasingly fierce global competition. Furthermore, the application of bureaucracy management style with high level of formalization and standardization is fairly desperate for specific sectors or organizations such as military, hospital or police offices – particular organizations whose performance is thought to be hardly conducted without the high degree of formalization and arbitrary rules. Undoubtedly, the operation of highly-disciplined organizations like police offices is unlikely to be well performed to ensure security or social order in the absence of bureaucratic rules.
Additionally, with respect to organization tasks, bureaucracy is considered to be beneficial for routine tasks that are characterized by repetition; and to be counterproductive for non-routine tasks that are typical of innovative (Adler, 1999, p.37). Accordingly, employees are more motivated in no routine tasks with low level of formalization as well as in routine tasks with high level of formalization. Apparently, in an organization whose tasks are primarily routine, if most employees are satisfied with high level of formalization and control (Jaffe, p.65), bureaucratic form is said to remain relevant. In this view, there is dilemma of efficiency of bureaucracy form for routine tasks and issue of employee’s involvement. As argued by (Adler, 1999, p38), unmotivating and repetitive tasks are typical of involvement of employees with low expectation of work; and as a result, organization may find it hard to get these employees highly involved to catch up with today’s competitive environment. However, on this view of this paper, the satisfaction of employees with high level of formalization or hierarchy that ensure the efficiency in their workplaces is that organization want to achieve for routine tasks. For example, development methodologies at Toshiba’s Fuchu Works software development organization and several of the most successful American electronic corporations are formalized and standardized at high degree without alienating the software developers (Adler, 1999, p.40). Thus, as Gery (2005) states that the modern world is the world of efficiency where particular ends is achieved by means of focus, once efficiency is guaranteed, organizations are said to be able to cope with the competition.
Moreover, bureaucracy is seen as a necessary management style that creates and fosters trust, commitment and motivation of employees (Pearce, 2000, p.151). In this regards, the controversial issue is that whether this function of bureaucracy remains suitable for contemporary organizations in comparison with other styles of management?
With respect to effectiveness in promoting positive attitudes of employees towards their workplaces, there are contradictory views of bureaucracy in comparison with democratic forms. Whereas participative management style if regards as flexible to promote motivation and cooperation of employees (Quang & Vuong, 2002, p.15), bureaucratic segmentation limits employees to their particular job, and consequently, it inhibits the “mobilization of multiple intelligence” (Jaffe, P.121). However, while agree with the former statement, this paper argues that the later opinion do not cover positive features of bureaucracy that also help promote motivation and commitment of employees. Based on opinion of Pearce (2000, P.150), according to which formalized systems that are used by the large organization in the developed world include performance appraisal systems, job descriptions, job posting procedures, this paper asserts that motivation and commitment of employees can not be achieved if organization is unable to create an management scheme that ensure transparent accountability, equity and operating efficiency. Obviously, these criteria of a management system can be found in bureaucracy style. For example, when result-based performance appraisal is applied in performance activities, employees, who are genuinely competent and expect to be assessed on the basic of universal principles such as merit rather than personality or special relation, become more committed to their workplaces. This positive attitude of employees, as suggests by Adler (1999, p.153), will encourage them to improve job performance, and in return, organization performance is improved as well. Furthermore, when employees are more committed to their organization, the tension deprived form conflict in interest between them and managers is likely more easily defused. In other words, the efficiency and productivity of organization, that is especially vital for contemporary organization to be more competitive, is evidently realized under influence of bureaucratic management regime.
Another criticism of bureaucracy is that its inability to be adaptive to today’s fast-changing organization (Pearce, 2000, p.120). That is why there is a suggestion that bureaucracy has become out-of-date to come up with increased international competition, and consequently, bureaucracy is supposedly needed to be replaced by more flexible arrangement such as contracting and alliances (Pearce, 2000, p.159). However, as discussed above, bureaucracy management style with core features (e.g. formalization, hierarchy and staff expertise) is particularly well-suited to specific sorts and sizes of organization. Significantly, in order to keep pace with today’s increasingly competitive environment as well as to ensure efficiency, organizations are required to take into account quality of labor force as well as cultural features and the application of bureaucracy need to be continuously improved to be more adaptive to organizational changes in their practices of this management style.
The efficiency of bureaucracy is largely influenced by how its rules are implemented in relation to quality of organization labor force. According to Pugh (1976, cited in Adler & Borys, 1996, P.62) and Mintzberg (1979, cited in Adler & Borys, 1996 P.62), conformation – in form of written rules, procedures, and instructions, is designed to enable employees to improve their tasks (i.e. enabling formalization), and to coerce effort and conformance from employees (i.e. coercive formalization). While many bureaucratic procedures are considered by both employees and employers as obstacles rather than guidelines to be implemented (Jaffe, p102); and coercive formalization is criticized for not giving employees opportunities to get involved in the process (Adler 1999, P.71), this paper suggests that although it is not always the case, but sometimes strict rules and disciplines are said to be implemented arbitrarily. For example, in an organization where there are incompetent and irresponsible workers, it is not effective to depend on their awareness and voluntary compliance with organization procedures. Under this context, coercive formalization as a type of bureaucracy is thought to operate more effectively than enabling formalization and as Adler & Borys (1996, P.82) consider, sometimes it can be used as a necessary evils although virtual efficiency of bureaucratic method is achieved at expense of creativity and motivation (Adler, 1999, P.38). In contrast, enabling formalization is appropriate if employees are voluntary and competent to contribute to the improvement of organization activities as this type of formalization is designed to encourage committed employees to perform their jobs more effectively and reinforce their commitment (Adler & Borys, 1996, p.83).
Punishment-centered bureaucracy is said to generate the greatest tensions between management and employees (Jaffe, P.96). It means, in order to get employees comply with organization procedures or principles, some kinds of rules are enforceable and imposed by management on the workers. In this regards, the most concern of management is how to achieve this goal in most effective way or the efficiency of bureaucracy is inevitably depends on how organization’s cultural values match the extent of bureaucracy application. For example, whereas the Japanese managers play high values on communication processes, interdepartmental relation, and a paternalistic approach, American counterparts underline supervisory styles, decision making and control mechanism (Culpan and Kucukemiroglu, cited in Quang & Vuong, 2002, P.3). Not surprisingly, the bureaucratization of Japanese employment relation of Japanese employment relations increases employee’s commitment by producing a constitutional order with arbitrary power of authority (Dore, cited in Adler & Borys, 1996, P.84). Meanwhile, the bureaucratization of employment relation in American corporations leads to the establishment of internal labor market in which managers can divide and exploit workers (Edwards, cited in Adler & Borys, 1996, P.84). Furthermore, the concern of today’s organization management in terms of how to apply effectively bureaucratic rules under cultural diversity in workplaces. Obviously, effects of bureaucracy are definitely different from culturally homogeneous organizations to culturally diverse organizations. Thus, the controversial issue for HR managers here is how to conduct bureaucratic management under multicultural-oriented as well as one-cultured-based organizations.
As organizational culture is understood to be under shape of many factors such as the company’s history, present management, the nature of product or service or natural culture (Baird, Compton & Nankervis 2005), today HR managers need to understand that bureaucracy like other management styles are under influence of social cultures in which organizations operate, and management styles may vary in a given culture (Nguyen & Truong, P.3, 2002). That is why it is very crucial to identify a best-suited type of bureaucracy so that the organization can be operated in the most efficient manner , avoiding any unnecessary conflict of benefits between employers and employees with different cultural background, and most importantly, this management style should be in favor of the organization as well as its workforce.
Indeed, alongside continuous movement of organization towards higher degree of efficiency and productivity, bureaucracy is also required to be more flexible in application. It means, formalized procedures or standardized disciplines are needed to be implemented consistently to the characteristics of bureaucracy but they are not necessarily kept unchanged regardless any movement of organization in which they are operating. If bureaucracy is originally designed to assure efficiency of organization (Pearce, 2000, P.150), the rules of bureaucracy are required to constantly to change accordingly to match the change of organization. However, it is noticed that any change or modification in bureaucracy application should not deviate from it core functions of assuring efficiency, conformance, and timeless of organization operation. In other words, the improvement and flexibility of this management style should not to be equated with its abandonment.
In conclusion, bureaucracy as a particular style of management remains relevant and necessary to contemporary organizations, especially to those characterized by large-scale size, routine tasks and to those performance of which is essentially and vitally relies on high degree of hierarchy and formalization of bureaucratic form. Furthermore, despite the quickly changing practices of international business context as well as diverse movement of organization structure, the core features of universal bureaucracy such as formalization, hierarchy and staff expertise in favor of timeless, conformance and clear accountability remain inevitably necessary for contemporary organizations to stay ahead of increasingly intensified competition. Finally, organization management is supposed to take into consideration factors affecting efficiency of bureaucracy application such as quality of labor force, cultural characteristics and most importantly, continuous improvement of this management style to catch up with quick change and high demand of contemporary organizations. Indeed, bureaucracy, like any other styles of management, inherently has both negative and positive effects, the issue for contemporary management is how to take advantages and diminish the disadvantages in the most appropriate application.
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