Organization Theory, Bureaucracy, and Public Management in a Time of Transformational Changes

Updated: Jul 31, 2019

By Alvin Codner:

Organizational theory, bureaucracy, and public management are topics with various perspectives throughout history. All three topics have their fair share of impact within the private and public sector. This essay will depict key dominant theories (from the past and present), display what bureaucracy does in organizations and society, explore whether bureaucracy works and or doesn’t work in the past (as well as the present day) and elaborate why. Within this essay, we shall also discover what changes have been taken place in the past 30 sum odd years in reference to whether changes have been working, what are the causing problems, and what are the suggested solutions in moving forward in the future.

Starting off with Organization Theories, the topic alone is broad enough to write a whole book on, but within this essay, light shall be shed on theories that issued the most impact on society back then and (in the present day) now. For a brief overview, organizations… in specific, modern organizations… have and had a vital role in society and environment throughout history. From my perspective, functions of organizations structure the way citizens involuntarily maneuver throughout their daily lives. Organizations are used in multiple ways, such as human facilitators, spiritual institutions, political institutions, change agents, tools of policy implementation, destructive forces, tools of development, instruments of domination, instruments of globalization, and many more (Farazmand, 2002). Even though we may not cover all the functions throughout this essay, the divergent functions of organizations stated above are examined within various organization theories created throughout history.

The more popular organization theories are the main classical or formal theories which will be discussed in this essay. The origination of organization theory, or more specifically, the cultivation of various forms of critical and organizational theories was developed by the works of various philosophers and theorists such as Karl Marx, Max Weber, and several more. This brings us to one of the most relevant and prominent organization theory, the Marxist/Neo Marxist Theory.

In agreeance to Ali Farazmand, Karl Marx’s works and perspective of organization theory has made a vital impact on the way administration and society are viewed today. According to Farazmand, the Marxist Theory is based on three principles, which are… “the mutual interpretation (struggle or unity) of opposites, the negation of the negation, and the transformation of quantity into quality” (Morgan, 1986, p. 258). To define these principles as a collective group, Farazmand states “the constant changing nature of organizations as a result of continuous tensions and contradictions between opposites and as a consequence of developmental changes rejecting changes leads to a transformation of quantitative changes to qualitative changes in society and its systems of governance as well as its economic and social relations” (Farazmand, 2002, p. 21). Another focus of Marx’s analysis of organization theory is capitalism. From his perspective, this form of capitalism of modern organization impacts the working class the most… or more so known as the middle class. Farazmand states the following:

“There is a system of domination of labor—whether blue collar or white collar middle class—by capital, which own the means of production. The modern organization of capitalism promotes hierarchy and domination, for it is capitalist who hold the authority and power and, therefore, dominate the rest of society… modern organizations are instruments of exploitation, domination, control, and repression of the working and middle class who are dependent on the capitalist ruling class” (Farazmand, 2002, p. 22).

To summarize, from my perspective, the Marxist Theory is a theory that views modern organizations as a dominating, chain of command type, need for power from the top… to control the bottom instrument for the “ruling class” and or the elite class.

Moving on to next group of key dominant theories, which are the classical/formal theories of organization. This group consist of Frederick W. Taylor’s scientific management theory…or as most know the common term Taylorism, “The Administrative Management School” (Rainey, 2014, p. 15), and Max Weber’s rational-legal theory or ideal-type bureaucracy theory which I will speak on in the bureaucracy portion of this essay. According to Hal G. Rainey, “…classic theories implied a ‘one best way’ to organize and a ‘closed-system’ view of organizations and the people in them” (Rainey, 2014, p. 15). To add on, Farazmand states that the main focus of these classical/formal theorist is on “the internal efficiency and control that these modern organizations bring about; their external environment is a given” (Farazmand, 2002, p. 25).

Frederick W. Taylor was actually an American inventor, who was an expert in mechanical engineering, who wanted to bring improvement upon industrial efficiency… and successfully did (Mee, 2018). That drive to improve on industrial efficiency was the beginning of the cultivation of his scientific management theory and a movement back in his time. According to Rainey, Taylor advocated for systematic analysis of organizations (Rainey, 2014). Time-motion studies were used commonly in the late 19th century and early 20th century… but is also used in organizations now in the 21st century. From Taylor’s perspective, according to Farazmand, by using time-motion studies, managers should be able to figure out…one best approach on who, what, when, where, and how to get jobs done within their organization (Farazmand, 2002). As the two terms (time and motion) usually are discussed together… both studies were developed separately. According to Steven Harper and Fariss-Terry Mousa, time study was developed by Frederick W. Taylor, who back at that time (the 1880s) was focusing on the wage-rate setting for employees within the industry… by cultivating a range of “procedures for determining the amount of time required, under certain standard conditions of measurement, for task involving some human activity” (Harper & Mousa, 2013, para. 1). The motion study was developed by Frank B. Gilbreth, who was also an engineer like Taylor, and Lillian M. Gilbreth, who was a psychologist and industrial engineer. Harper and Mousa state that the focus of motion study consisted of a range of “procedures for the description, systematic analysis, and means of improving work methods” (Harper & Mousa, 2013, para 1). Thus, the two studies combining together creating the term Time-motion study, along with the scientific management theory, has been applied by organizations such as “factories, hospitals, department stores, housework, banks, cafeteria work, libraries, music, and…other human activities” (Harper & Mousa, 2013, para 1). To add on to Taylor’s scientific management theory, he believed that employees should get rewarded by the employer when they accomplish work duties or production in a sufficient manner for the organization. To compliment, Rainey stated, Taylor argued that if management were to “reward workers with fair pay for efficient production… workers can increase their well-being through productivity” (Rainey, 2014, p. 15). From Taylor’s perspective, in order to effectively accomplish duties of an organization, “the only motivator managers can and should use in achieving these goals is material rewards offered to workers” (Farazmand, 2002, p. 26).

As for the Administrative Management School, this is actually two classical/formal theories in one. One half of the theory is Luther Gulick and L. Urwick’s principles of administration and the other half is Henri Fayol’s principle of management. Gulick and Urwick’s theory is based on an acronym that describes the Administrative Management School in an overall general sense. This acronym is “POSDCORB, which stands for planning, organizing, staffing, directing, coordinating, reporting, and budgeting” (Farazmand, 2002, p. 27). With the administrative management theory, it emphasizes on dividing up the various task an organization has to accomplish…and setting a specific amount of people to manage and facilitate those tasks. Rainey states, the principles of this theory “emphasize specialization and control” (Rainey, 2014, p. 15). In brief, Rainey discloses the Administrative Management School consist of Division of Work, Coordination of Work, Span of Control, One Master, Technical Efficiency, and the Scalar Principle (Rainey, 2014). This is a theory that we see in a lot organizations today with them having positions such as CEO, COO, Directors, Managers, Assistant Managers, and Supervisors. Each one of those in upper/middle management stated above, are in control of a certain aspect within the organization, in which creates the means of efficient work by the lower level employees who are subordinates to them.

There are many more dominant theories such as informal theories of organizations, emergent theories of organization, and elite theories but… the process of breakings those theories down would take up to much of this essay.

On to the second portion of the essay, which will shed light on the topic…bureaucracy. Bureaucracy has always been a controversial topic due to all the different aspects it has…as well as all the people it effects. When it comes to what bureaucracy stands for and the key theories of it, the results draw from various theorist and scholars.

If you are hearing it from the perspective of Karl Marx, he believes that the term ‘bureaucracy’ has a double meaning. Those two meanings are a real meaning and a bureaucratic meaning. He correlates bureaucracy to a web of “practical illusions or the illusion of the state”(Easton & Guddat, 1967, p. 185). In “The Spirit of Bureaucracy”, Karl Marx breaks down the two meanings through the perspective of an individual bureaucrat. Karl Marx states the following:

“For the individual bureaucrat the state’s purpose becomes his private purpose of hunting for higher positions and making a career for himself. In one respect he views actual life as something material, for the spirit of this life has its separate existence in bureaucracy. Bureaucracy, therefore must aim to make life as material as possible. In another respect, life insofar as it becomes the object of bureaucratic treatment is material for him, for his spirit is not his own, his purpose lies outside, his particular existence is the existence of the bureau.”

(Easton & Guddat, 1967, p. 185-187)

There is a Weberian ideal-type of bureaucracy cultivated by Max Weber, which is also a classical/formal theory as stated earlier. According to Weber, “the ideal-type bureaucracy is superior to traditional and charismatic types of authority structures, because the former is based on legal and charismatic types of authority structures, because the former is based on legal and rational decisions, actions, and leadership; it is based on rational knowledge and expertise” (Farazmand, 2010, p. 246). Waldo states bureaucracy is descriptive-analytical and bureaucratic means “large-scale, formal, complex, administered” – “using the terms most often used in the organizational behavior literature, to bound or characterize the object of focus of attention” (Waldo, 1980, p. 88). As you can see, there are several definitions for bureaucracy and much more from scholars who I didn’t recite.

As you can tell from the various definitions of bureaucracy stated above, there is also different types and many forms of bureaucracy. One form is “client-centered bureaucracy” in which “the administration in view was predominantly…the ‘human’ programs then prominent, largely Great Society programs aimed at forwarding equality, racial and other, and ‘revitalizing’ the urban centers” (Waldo, 1980, p. 95). In short, it involved less “bureaucracy” and greater sensitivity but more client participation. Client-centered bureaucracy is also referred street-level bureaucracy. According to Guy Peters, “street bureaucrats are in daily contact with their clients and often attempt to feed the information they collect from those interactions into the political process” (Peters, 2010, p. 216). Another form of bureaucracy is Representative Bureaucracy. According to Waldo, the idea of this form was that “representation of the citizenry is not achieved only, nor even best, through the regular electoral process; it is achieved also by ‘reflecting’ the citizenry in the bureaucracy, in terms of geography, class, ethnic origins, and so forth” (Waldo, 1980, p. 96).

Some social scientist said, “bureaucracy is the most efficient organizational mode for the achievement of those objectives for the achievement of which bureaucracy is the most efficient organizational mode” (Waldo, 1980, p. 92). Others may have the bureaucracy perspective of Karl Marx with his theory of alienation. Marx’s theory emphasizes on both “self and work alienation”, in which he views organizations characterized by bureaucratic traits… “alienates workers and employees who…cannot identify themselves with the outcome of their labor has profound impacts on modern social and philosophical thoughts” (Farazmand, 2002, p. 23). To relate, bureaucracy makes nonelites feel robotic and dehumanizes the aspect of work life, as well as social life, to the point where it affects the employee and their family in a negative way.

To conclude, from my perspective, bureaucracy works for certain people and for others it doesn’t. The reason why I state that is because the fact that there are different forms of bureaucracy, which all may be definitively true depending on where someone resides, certain citizens such as the lower class and or the middle/working class may not agree with how positive an impact bureaucracy has on them… opposed to the “power elites” (see Farazmand, 2002: 108) who don’t per se feel the effects of bureaucracy… for the simple fact, they are the ones with the uppermost power/control and usually the ones who created a bureaucracy in the first place.