Busting BureaucracyMax Weber's six principles of bureaucracy


Bureaucratic Form According to Max Weber — His Six Major Principles

Note from the author's wife: Some time ago my husband Ken decided to offer his book "Busting Bureaucracy" for download — at no charge – to anyone who wanted it. As a result, the traffic to this website comes from over 90 countries around the world. He was curious about how readers got here, and what was their interest in bureaucracy; he used to love the email feedback. I wish I could help you with questions, but I'm afraid Ken's wisdom is no longer available. He passed away in August 2013. Shannon Johnston

Before covering Weber's Six Major Principles, I want to describe the various multiple meanings of the word "bureaucracy."

1. A group of workers (for example, civil service employees of the U. S. government), is referred to as "the bureaucracy." An example: "The threat of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings cuts has the bureaucracy in Washington deeply concerned."

2. Bureaucracy is the name of an organizational form used by sociologists and organizational design professionals.

3. Bureaucracy has an informal usage, as in "there's too much bureaucracy where I work." This informal usage describes a set of characteristics or attributes such as "red tape" or "inflexibility" that frustrate people who deal with or who work for organizations they perceive as "bureaucratic."

As you read about the bureaucratic form, note whether your organization matches the description. The more of these concepts that exist in your organization, the more likely you will have some or all of the negative by-products described in the book "Busting Bureaucracy."

In the 1930s Max Weber, a German sociologist, wrote a rationale that described the bureaucratic form as being the ideal way of organizing government agencies.

Max Weber's principles spread throughout both public and private sectors. Even though Weber's writings have been widely discredited, the bureaucratic form lives on.

Weber noted six major principles.

1. A formal hierarchical structure

Each level controls the level below and is controlled by the level above. A formal hierarchy is the basis of central planning and centralized decision making.

2. Management by rules

Controlling by rules allows decisions made at high levels to be executed consistently by all lower levels.

3. Organization by functional specialty

Work is to be done by specialists, and people are organized into units based on the type of work they do or skills they have.

4. An "up-focused" or "in-focused" mission

If the mission is described as "up-focused," then the organization's purpose is to serve the stockholders, the board, or whatever agency empowered it. If the mission is to serve the organization itself, and those within it, e.g., to produce high profits, to gain market share, or to produce a cash stream, then the mission is described as "in-focused."

5. Purposely impersonal

The idea is to treat all employees equally and customers equally, and not be influenced by individual differences.

6. Employment based on technical qualifications

(There may also be protection from arbitrary dismissal.)

The bureaucratic form, according to Parkinson, has another attribute.

7. Predisposition to grow in staff "above the line."

Weber failed to notice this, but C. Northcote Parkinson found it so common that he made it the basis of his humorous "Parkinson's law." Parkinson demonstrated that the management and professional staff tends to grow at predictable rates, almost without regard to what the line organization is doing.

The bureaucratic form is so common that most people accept it as the normal way of organizing almost any endeavor. People in bureaucratic organizations generally blame the ugly side effects of bureaucracy on management, or the founders, or the owners, without awareness that the real cause is the organizing form.

To read more about "what is bureaucracy" and how to keep the good parts and get rid of the bad stuff click here to go to The Bureaucracy Busting Book.

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