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Managerial Solutions part 1: Scientific Management and the Bureaucratic Organization

The industrial revolution that started in the late eighteenth century, lead to the demise of small local craft workshops in villages and to the growth of large centralized factories in towns. These 'new forms of working' created immense challenges for the ways in which work was organized and managed.

Many of our current organizational practices stem from two ideas first proposed during that period: Weber's ideal bureaucracy and Taylor's scientific management. Both use the concept of the compartmentalisation and division of labour in an attempt to make the organization be as efficient as possible. However, as Crozier's Theory of Bureaucratic Dysfunction makes clear, this is not always the case in practice.

This approach is consistent with Cell 3 in our model

Scientific Management - Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856 - 1915)

Taylor was one of the first to attempt to analyse human behaviour at work systematically. In his book " The Principles of Scientific Management " he attempted to do to for the factory what the engineers of the time had done for machines: improve efficiency and reliability whilst simultaneously reducing unit costs. In this 'machine model' of organizations, the 'human elements' of production are treated as if they were parts in a machine: the aim is to make them cheap and interchangeable; with the manager cast into the role of an 'industrial engineer'.

Many of Taylor's ideas stemmed from the observation that, workers in repetitive jobs would work at the slowest rate they could: he called this 'soldiering'. He argued that the root cause of soldiering was ignorance and poor job design, and that if the 'one best method' for performing a particular task could be found, and, if it were explained properly to the workers, productivity would go up to the benefit of both the workers and the company.

His approach consisted of breaking down each job into its component parts in order to find the 'one best way' to do it. He looked at interaction between human characteristics, physical and social environment, type of task, together with factors such as speed and cost with the goal of removing the element of human variability. He measured and timed each activity in a process that became known as a 'time and motion study'. After the job had been analysed in this way, it would be taught to the worker to make sure that only those actions essential to the task were performed.

The results were profound. Productivity increased dramatically; products became simultaneously more complex and more standardized while overall quality also improved. Within the factory, there was a growth in a layer of middle management as planning was separated from execution. New departments such as industrial engineering, personnel and quality control were created while scientific rules replaced 'rule of thumb' and management as a whole became more formalized.

The Ideal Bureaucracy - Max Weber (1864 - 1920)

Bureaucracy is the division of labour applied to administration. 'Bureau', is a French word meaning desk, or by extension, an office; thus, 'Bureaucracy' is rule through a desk or office, that is, a form of organization built on the preparation and dispatch of written documents. In contrast to the commonly held view of bureaucracies, they do not 'rule' in their own right but are the means by which a monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, or other form of authority, rules.

Observing the changes that were taking place during the industrial revolution, Weber saw Capitalism as 'rational' way to organize activities: rational in the sense that all decisions could based on the calculation of their likely return to the enterprise. Weber's Ideal bureaucracy was therefore devoted to the principle of efficiency: maximizing output whilst minimizing inputs.

By studying the organizational innovations in Germany at the turn of the 20th century, Weber identified the core elements of this new form of organization in " The Theory of Social and Economic Organization ". For Weber, the ideal bureaucracy was characterized by impersonality, efficiency and rationality. The key feature of the organization was that the authority of officials was subject to published rules and codes of practice; all rules, decisions and actions were recorded in writing.

The structure of the organization is a continuous hierarchy where each level is subject to control by the level above it. Each position in the hierarchy exists in its own right and job holders have no rights to a particular position. Responsibilities within each level are clearly delineated and each level has its own sphere of competence. An appointment to an office, and the levels of authority that go with it, are based solely on the grounds of technical competence.

Weber believed that, due to their efficiency and stability, bureaucracies would become the most prevalent form of organization in society. However, he was also concerned that bureaucracies shared so many common structures it could mean that all organizations would become very much alike, which in turn could lead to the development of a new class of worker, the professional bureaucrat.

A Theory of Bureaucratic Dysfunction - Michel Crozier (1964)

In " The Bureaucratic Phenomenon " the French Sociologist, Michel Crozier set out to re-examine Weber's concept of the efficient ideal bureaucracy in the light of the way that bureaucratic organizations had actually developed and constructed a theory of bureaucratic dysfunction based on an analysis of case studies.

The core of his theory stems from the observation that in situations where almost every outcome has been decided in advance, the only way for people to gain control over their lives is to exploit any remaining 'zones of uncertainty'. He argues that organizational relations become little more than strategic games that attempt to exploit such zones, either for their own ends, or to prevent others from gaining an advantage. The result is that the organization becomes locked into a series of inward looking power struggles - so called 'vicious circles' - that prevent it learning from its errors.

Thus, in order to be rational and egalitarian, bureaucracies attempt to come up with a set of impersonal rules to cover every event. The first result of this is that, because the outcome of such decisions are predetermined, hierarchical relationships become less important and the senior levels loose the power to govern.

Secondly, in order to maintain the impersonal nature of decision making, decisions cannot must be made by the people who who might be affected. The result of this is that most problems are resolved by people who have no direct knowledge of them.

Thirdly, the elimination of opportunities for bargaining and negotiation creates an organization consisting of a series of isolated strata. The result is peer group pressure to conform to the norms of the strata regardless of individual beliefs or the wider goals of the organization.

Finally, individuals or groups that gain control the zones of uncertainty weild disproportionate power in an otherwise regulated and egalitarian organization. This leads to the creation of parallel power structures, which in turn results in decisions being made based on factors unrelated to those of the organization as a whole.






Scientific Management and Taylor Bureaucracy and Weber

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