The ideas and concepts of management thought as conceptualized by Max Weber crystallized to what came to be known as a bureaucratic system.Discuss Weber’s propositions and discuss their applicability in today’s organizations

Max Weber was a German Sociologist who reacted to the abuses of power by people in management. To reduce the arbitrary use of power, he recommended an organizational system that would be run by rules and regulation commonly known as Bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy is a prototype form of organization that emphasizes order, system, rationality, uniformity and consistency. From his study, Weber distilled a set of characteristics representing an ideal way to structure an organization.

Weber’s Propositions and their applicability today.
The basic principles of bureaucratic organizations are:

  • Division of labour by functional specialization. Here job responsibilities and levels of authority are clearly defined for each employee. Authority is commensurate with the level of job responsibility and there is no overlap of responsibility between jobs.

Today division of labour by functional specialization does exist in many firms. But in more complex organizations authority and division of work tend to overlap e.g. matrix and project structures. Specialization has led to large increases in productivity and employees have become experts in certain fields. However, work tends to be monotonous and boring.

  •  A formal hierarchy of authority.
    In bureaucracy, each position in an organization is controlled by and reports to a single position one level up in the hierarchy. This ensures that overall goals of the organization take precedence over individual employee goals.

Even though most job descriptions define the person to whom an employee reports, most firms today avoid the formal top-down hierarchy of authority. With open door policy becoming popular, success in business how requires that formality be overlooked at certain times. Hierarchy is a major obstacle to adaptability. Structure and hierarchy have provided a logical relationship of activities as the duties of each person are described.

  •  A system of impersonal rules and procedures.
    To ensure impersonality in organizational transactions, written rules and regulations exist for each position. This also allows activities to be performed in a predictable and routine manner.

Of course every organization has rules and procedures that employees are expected to follow. The existence of formal rules means there is insufficient discretion in the power of employees to amend their behaviour towards colleagues or members of the public. Rules are fine for achieving consistency and fairness in routine situations, but they are frequently ineffective in dealing with new needs and demands. Rules have provided predictability and stability n the organization. However, they make the organization rigid and it may be difficult to work in today’s dynamic environment.

  •  Employment decisions based on merit.
    Selection into and promotion within an organization are based solely on qualifications, ability and performance. Employment decisions are not based on family relationships, friendships or politics.

The above is an ideal that management would like to advocate. However, attaining employment today is very competitive and some managers employ with traces of nepotism and bias. Even the public sector displays a trend of employment with political considerations. This has led to rationality in the firms and therefore favourism is avoided.

  •  Job and job holder remain separate / autonomous

Employees must not use the rights and privileges of their jobs to enrich themselves. They are paid enough salary to eliminate the need or temptation to accept bribes of graft.

The above principle of Max Weber is facing a lot of challenges in the current economic set up where for a long time position have been used as a means of enriching oneself. Besides due to several factors in the environment in which firms are operation, salaries are very low and the temptation to get extra through bribes is a reality. Many firms and the government are now doing a lot to change the situation. Separation of ownership has brought many problems as aforementioned and corporate governance has been introduced to cope with the ills. Owners however are able to concentrate on other activities and to utilize the expertise of managers to manage their business.

  •  Maintenance of written records, communication and rules.
    A written record of organizational activities keeps rules and regulations visible to all participants. It also allows evaluation of past decisions and activities and adds to the organizational memory. This gives an organization continuity over time.

Management today still believes in written records for all official communication. This has however brought about many concerns such as security and confidentiality.

Although Weber contributed greatly to the understanding and practice of management, his theory has faced the following criticism:-
a) It looks at man as a rational being and ignores the psychological aspects. Man is therefore seen as being motivated purely by economic incentives and nothing else.
b) There is too much emphasis on structure and attainment of goals. People and their needs are ignored.
c) Psychosocial aspects of the organization and group dynamics receive very little attention.

Weber’s principles represent an ideal that he believed should be the goal of every organization. This ideal state (organization) would be a good place to work and should provide efficient services to customers.

But today, there are several complaints about the ineffectiveness of bureaucratic organizations. To some extent, adherence to Weber’s principles by institutions such as the government and military has enabled both to provide a vast array of services to large numbers of people.

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