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.

Moving on to our last section of this essay… public management. Public Management plays a vital role in society, especially in a time of major transition. Public Management consists of everything we just disclosed from modern organizations, organization theories/practices, and bureaucracy…to anything involving public administration within governmental, private/public, and nonprofit sectors. Since public management is a broad topic, I plan to break down this topic by comparing the public, private, and nonprofit/for-profit sectors with differences and similarities… and conclude with the comparison from the past to the present.

From a personal aspect, working in the nonprofit sector for the past six years, most not-for-profit organizations are most impactful…when the government fails to provide resources that are either needed in the midst of a crisis/catastrophe… and or it’s needed to a society/environment that lacks common well-being resources, such as water, healthcare, etc. With that being said, the duties of nonprofit organizations are rewarding jobs because those tasks are helping citizens in need who can’t help themselves. Management is conducted differently in the nonprofit sector because… majority of the time, sales of actual physical products aren’t the goal but fundraising, donations, community outreach, and public/community services are the goals. According to Rawls and Nelson, a study conducted by graduate students found out that “students entering the non-profit sector had a stronger motivation to dominate, were less rigid, and had a higher need for status and lower needs for wealth than students entering the for-profit sector” (Farazmand, 2002, p. 4). To relate, most nonprofit employees and employers don’t do what they do for the wealth… yet they do it for the mission and the impact. Some may read from within the quote above “higher need for status” as in a social status for fame but I deciphered it as a status of creating awareness to the mission/cause the organization is attempting to accomplish. This leads to the similarity of how administrators are satisfied in the public sector. According to Falcone, a research study has supported the notion that “public administrators gain considerably higher levels of satisfaction from a “sense of being able to make a difference in what gets done in their organizations” than do private managers” (Farazmand, 2002, p. 5).

Even though some may have a negative view of the public sector because it deals with politics and economics, it could also consist of rewarding jobs and duties since the public sector services the public through objectives such as public education, public transits, public law enforcement, public health care…etc.

When it comes to decision making in public management, the term “conflict” plays a part. A research conducted by Schwenk (1990), resulted that “the for-profit executives were more likely to believe that conflict resulted in decisions of poorer quality, whereas not-for-profit executives thought just the opposite—that conflict defined issues more sharply and therefore produced better decisions” (Farazmand, 2002, p. 7). Usually, the founders and or CEOs of a nonprofit organization, start the organization to solve a problem or per se a conflict… so I can see why not-for-profit executives lean towards conflict to produce better decisions.

When it comes to managing any organization, no matter what sector, the right personnel is a key aspect. Management within the public sector, similar to the nonprofit sector, usually strives to put in place the appropriate personnel to serve the community, society, and environment… to the best of its ability… pertaining to the resources needed at the time. Management within the private sector usually is in the (what I like to call) competitive business or field, in which they may strive to put in place appropriate personnel to produce effective sales and or services to a more targeted audience and or to bring wealth to the organization… while being the best in their career field. According to Farazmand, studies show that “public executives spend considerably more time in contact with outside groups than do top administrators” and “the style of interaction that the public manager has with external interested groups is far more formal, as well as more frequent, than the style of private sector managers” (Farazmand, 2002, p. 8). In result of that management per sector, Farazmand states studies show that, according to Baldwin, “public employees value qualities associated with sensitivity, empathy, broad mindedness, good interpersonal relations, forgiveness, politeness, helpfulness—more than or equal to private employees” (Farazmand, 2002, p. 8). The comparisons between all the sectors are many, but each sector is fairly unique for their perspective to public management.

So, to conclude, let’s discuss what has changed or hasn’t changed from the past and now. Starting off with organization theory, most organizations, regardless of sector, here in the United States still apply the basis of the classical/formal theories of organization. In the 21st century, the “Administrative Management School” (2015) principles are used commonly throughout primary/secondary school districts, local/state/federal government, hospitals, and many more. Taylorism or Scientific management principles are used more so in warehouses, factories, and most industrial organizations or any organization that emphasizes their business structure on supply and demand. The structural-functional (Farazmand, 2002) or rational-legal (Rainey, 2015) theory of organization principles are used still today in the governmental sector mostly but other sectors as well.

Even though the formal/classical theory principles are used til this day, there have been changes through times. For example, some scholars critiqued organizations that used Taylorism and scientific management principles… cultivated a “growing labor opposition” to theory… in which led to “numerous worker strikes” (Farazmand, 2002, p. 26). Strikes were actually common in the late 1800s and early/ mid-1900s due to the burnout of the employees which led to communist and socialistic groups fighting for civil rights, human rights, and etc. The fight for civil and human rights are and will always be an ongoing battle, but the difference is, strikes back in the 1800s and early/ mid-1900s actually use to shut down the whole company or organization, whereas in the late 1900s and early 2000s…employees don’t ALL come together to go on strike… it would just be a few…in which barely puts an effect on the organization. The organization/company may get a bad rep or news article… but usually still push forward being a successful organization. The reason for that, and this is seemingly my opinion, I believe the United States is more divided than ever…which plays a vital role in all sectors.

Overall, and to conclude, changes in all three topics cover within this essay will be ongoing forever. Certain solutions, such as the various theories and forms of bureaucracies and public management, may be the solution to some like the ruling class but problems to others like the nonelites. As for a pure definitive solution from my perspective, regardless in my opinion stated earlier, I do find hope with the generation Y and Z or the millennials/centennials to make a change of the status quo. The youth growing today in this transformative era (21st century) are entrepreneurs cultivating various new business structures, marketing, and management… especially with the help of the advanced technology, internet, and social media. Though young business owners and few government officials at the present time (whether in public or private sectors) are probably referencing to traditional public management, modern organizational theories, and bureaucratical characteristics…they critique historical practices more than ever and are always striving to create a simplified and efficient way to accomplish objectives. According to Farazmand, and I agreeably quote, “organizations change either because the people in them perceive that change is needed or because the environment objectively induces change” (Farazmand, 2002, p.10). The future of public administration and all organizations within will be a battle between those who want the change…against those who have the most power… but there is power in numbers…so the battle can go either way.


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