Bureaucratic Organizations

A systematic approach developed in Europe that looked at the organization as a whole is the bureaucratic organizations approach, subfield within the classical perspective. Max Weber (1864 – 1920) German theorist introduced most of the concept on bureaucratic organizations.

During the late 1800s many European organizations were managed on a personal family like basis. Employees were loyal to a single individual rather than to the organization or its mission. The dysfunctional consequences of this management practice was that resources were used to realize individual desires rather than organizational goals. Employees in effect owned the organization and used resources for their own gain rather than to serve customers. Weber envisioned organizations that would be managed on an impersonal, rational basis. This form of organization was called bureaucracy.

Weber believed that an organizations based on rational authority would be more efficient and adaptable to change because continuity is related to formal structure and positions rather than to a particular person, who may leave or die. To Weber rationality in organizations meant employee selection and advancement based not on whom you know, but rather on competence and technical qualifications, which are assessed by examination or according to training and experience. The organization relies on rules and written records for continuity. In addition rules and procedures are impersonal and applied uniformly to all employees. There is a clear division of labor and clear definitions of authority and responsibility, legitimized as official duties. Positions are organized in a hierarchy with each position under the authority of a higher one. The manager depends not on his or her personality for successfully giving orders but on the legal power invested in the managerial position.

The term bureaucracy has taken on a negative meaning in today’s organizations and is associated with endless rules and red tape . We have all been frustrated by waiting in long lines or following seemingly silly procedures however, rules and other bureaucratic procedures provide a standard way of dealing with employees . Everyone gets equal treatment and everyone knows what the rules are. This has enabled many organizations to become extremely efficient. Consider United Parcel Service (UPS) sometimes called Big Brown.

UPS took on the US Postal Service at its own game – and won. UPS specializes in the delivery of small packages delivering more than 13 million every business day. In addition UPS is gaining market share in air service, logistics and information services. Television commercials asking what can Brown do for you today. Signify the company’s expanding global information services. Why has Big Brown been so successful? One important factor is the concept of bureaucracy. UPS is bound up in rules and regulations. It teaches drivers an astounding 340 steps on how to correctly deliver a package – such as how to load the truck, how to fasten their seats belts, how to walk and how to carry their keys. There are safety rules for drivers loaders, clerks, and managers. Strict dress code is enforced – clean uniforms (called browns) everyday black or brown polished shoes with slip sols, no beards, no hair below the collar and so on. Supervisors conduct three minute inspections of drivers each day. The company also has rules specifying cleanliness standards for building trucks, and other properties. No eating or drinking is permitted at employees’ desks. Every manager is given bound copies of policy books and is expected to use them regularly.

UPS has a well defined division of labor. Each plant consists of specialized drivers, loaders, clerks, washers, sorters and maintenance personnel. UPS thrives on written records and has been a leader in using new technology to enhance reliability and efficiency. Drivers use a computerized clipboard to track everything from miles per gallon to data on parcel delivery. All drivers have daily worksheets that specify performance goals and work output.

Technical qualification is the criterion for hiring and promotion. The UPS policy book says the leader is expected to have the knowledge and capacity to justify the position of leadership. Favoritism is forbidden. The bureaucratic model works just fine at UPS the tightest ship in the shipping business.

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  • This is an interesting article. Bureaucracy is not a bad thing; if it is properly organized…..

    Kind Regards


  • danang

    will the bureaucratic model work with the creative minded industry?

  • Vishnu

    There are various schools of thought. It may also be successful in a creative related industry. The output expected from an employee is based on the individuals creativity. However, the work execution in the designing and development of the creative idea/ product can be using this model. In fact all successful innovative businesses like Yahoo! (TM), Google, etc. have strong rule based processes but the people who are involved in the designing and other creative areas are not troubled. This delination is important and necessary. A typical ‘process orientation’ which can be loosely termed as ‘rule-bound’ or ‘bureaucratic model’ is complementary and not an hindrance. Just to give you an example, all creative people are not succesful till their products are properly marketed. Marketinng is supposed to be rule based while not the creator. Hope this answers your doubt/query.

  • husain

    in reply to your answer danang well it depends on the creativity of the manger, supervisor who is handling what type of work & how creative is he/she…………

  • morgan ramayanan

    The bureaucratic model which was adopted in most government organisation such as the army is good but why so much issues of favouritism take place .

  • Bruncha

    Efficiency and bureaucracy are not linked in my mind.

    Systems and procedures provide structure, but when the rules and regulations do not allow for critical thinking and decision – making in the fact of a novel or unplanned for event, then the ” ship” can be placed in jeopardy.

  • Hari Mehar

    Following bureaucracy concept can be really good if its aims for growth of both the Organization and also the Employees in terms of developing leadership skills, critical analysis and decision making skills. This will certainly add value to goodwill and wealth of both Organization and Employees.