Does Managing An Organizations Culture Replace Bureaucracy Management Essay

Bureaucracy is concerned with the imposition of rules and the attitude that ‘management knows the best’. There is a strong hierarchy, and no involvement of lower level employees; work-to-rule principle, there is division of labour and impersonality (see Fincham and Rhodes,2005). Weber argued it to be the absolute necessity in modern times since it is the most technically efficient model “the decisive reason for the advancement of bureaucratic organizations has been purely its technical superiority over any other forms of organizations” (Weber:1964). Therefore, the question arises as to which is the best way to achieve the coordination and control of an organization, Weber’s claimed technically efficient model bureaucracy, culture management using Peter and Waterman claims for Human Relations or post bureaucratic approaches and so on , which will be argued upon in this essay, and giving a conclusion in the end.

Bureaucratic organizations develop a culture of ‘the master knows all and is always right’. This was facilitated by unskilled work requirements and hence, managers were able to keep important information to themselves, with no discussion with those down the hierarchy. Due to low skill levels, employees were easily replaceable, obedience to rules was fairly easy to achieve, and employees themselves were reluctant to participate due to lack of knowledge. Such a system is easily maintainable in a situation of unskilled workers, who are just required to work along the machinery pace, controlled by top management (see Charlie Chaplin- Modern times). However, employees are now more educated than ever before, they want to be appreciated for the higher level efforts they place and the greater knowledge they posses. Peter and Waterman in their book ‘In search for excellence’ argue that the workers have more to give and managers have more to gain if they are willing to listen and understand employee’s feelings. This point is further justified by the issue of job security. Managers deliberately restricted individual autonomy since they feared the loss of their own positions if workers know more. They deliberately used technology to deskill work as they feared their seats being at risk. Lane(1988) argues that higher education has made managers less insecure and more willing to delegate work to those below them.

The Japanese success (Clarke and Newman:1993) featuring introduction of new cost effective means of production, teamworking, and continuous production (Kaizen): someone who work daily on an issue understands the problem more than those who have virtually no practical experience about it, and small contributions by every worker leads to continuous improvement in productivity, whereas technology gives only a one off improvement, accelerated the establishment of formal culture in which employee contributions could be formally encouraged. Teamworking was giving boost to the productivity in Japan, with American firms losing out, led to the culture establishment using Mayo’s claim for human relations theory, and away from Weber’s ideal bureaucratic model. A movement from standardized mass market products to niche marketing; concentration on each individual market segment requiring flexible specialization(Piore and Sabel: 1984), increased globalization and competition(Lash and Urry:1987) and emergence of complicated technology giving power to people who possessed knowledge about it, trade unions pushing for more employment rights and shift towards demand driven economies(Moody:1987) emphasizing the inflexibility of large scale organizations, led to the emergence of Post bureaucratic Organizations(PBO), reinforcing that bureaucracy is not perfect. However, more power to those down the line may lead to chaos as everyone will be pushing forward their own ideas, PBO no longer remain stable since more worker autonomy may lead to confusion, as Willmott places it “Autonomy is slavery, Bureaucracy is freedom”(Willmott:1993). This may also lead to jealousy and rivalry amongst employees, and groups will be concerned about their own productivity rather than moving towards the corporate goal. Issue of inequality may arise if views of a certain person or group are given more importance than others, leading to conflicts, and deviation from the corporate mission.

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Decentralized culture would mean that there is a quick response to market changes, in competitive environment decentralization will help the business to keep its competitive edge and avoid time wasting in decision making. However, what will happen in situations that put the corporate image at risk? In this case, decentralization might lead to chaos and conflict only; bureaucratic organizations which are centralized maybe preferred more. Network firm arise as organization grows complex and global rather than a hierarchy: a set line of accountability and authority, free from confusion. Again, stability is at risk, as control and command in a bureaucracy are taken over by employee empowerment and participation; chaos and conflicts are inevitable(see Thompson and McHugh: 2002). Therefore, I believe managing a culture based on Post-bureaucracy doesnot completely undermine the need for bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy Dysfunctions and work definition

Peter and Waterman argue that bureaucratic organizations: deskilling of work, strict division of labour and strong hierarchy, may lead to monotonous, fatigue and skill rottening, which leads to workers losing interest and adverse productivity. The solution to this was provided by Dickson and Roethlisberger in their human relations theory in which they argued that management should develop a culture which is concerned towards workers needs, soul, believes, and values. Work, as defined by Watson “certain effort and commitment offered by the employee to the employer in return for monetary and other rewards”(Watson: 2006): these other rewards are clearly the autonomy and empowerment, being appreciated for a work well done and so on, as recognized by Mayo also. Therefore a change in the work definition from Weber’s work-to-rule, to Watson’s commitment and effort require the establishment of a more understanding culture. Burawoy(1980) argue that workers have a moral commitment to work ; work provides identity, as opposed to Foucault who believes that the instrument of discipline and punishment should be used; where a normal behaviour is described and there is control depending upon the power of individual. Keeping the issue of fatigue and interest in mind, I believe that managers should concentrate on selecting the right person for the right job (see Blau and Schoenherr:1971). Whether a bureaucratic culture is preferred or a lose control one, the right employee type should be chosen to fit in.

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Perhaps the greatest argument made in favour of bureaucracy is by Weber that it creates an ‘iron cage of rationality’; all decisions made are free from sentiments, emotional bias and error, and every action is carried to amplify business success. The question arises, whether it is practical or just an ideology? To be rational one must possess knowledge and understanding of all the relevant information, but no one’s knowledge is perfect, so can a rational decision be taken. Simon addressed this as ‘bounded rationality’.

Bauman(1989) argued that too much concentration on cost effectiveness is dangerous as it may undo value (ethical) judgments. Merton(1949) argued that it might be the case that rules become more important than result, which may lead to inefficiency, as thought by Blau(1955), who feared that trade unions may set up an agreement of work to rule only. Ritzer(2000) argued that bureaucracy has dehumanizing effect (see The McDonaldization of Society), which is unethical. However, all of these arguments are ignored by Du Gay(2000) who says that bureaucracy protects against unfairness. Although bureaucratic organizations may set up strict obedience to rule and formal communication channels but Whyte(1943) argues who can stop informal channels from existing? These grapevines are disruptive and may cause revolts against management.

Weber argues that trust is installed in bureaucratic organizations since everything is known, where as in case of Post bureaucracies a sudden change of attitude maybe seen with suspicion contradicting Morgan and Sayers’ views(1988), who believe in the opposite.

Management attitude and relevance to Taylorism

McGregor argued that how culture is managed depends to a large extend on what is expected of the employees: management perceptions about their employees. If managers believe that workers are loyal, see work as natural and use their own initiative(Theory Y), then he might set a loose culture with more autonomy. If however, managers believe workers are lazy and need to be urged and pushed to work then a work to rule(Theory X) atmosphere may be preferred. Child(1984) thought bureaucratic organizations have close relevance to Taylorism: dehumanizing work, economic man and master knows all, but, the important point to note is that it was only successful in old less competitive times. With the emergence of flexible firms (Atkinson: 1984) and networks this becomes more of an ideology.

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New management styles and normative control

Peter and Waterman in their literature argue that managers should move from being bureaucrats to more creative and flexible. Clarke and Newman (see Clarke, John and Newman: 1993) further suggest that managers should :

Have a visionary quality : inspiration for staff

Be peoples centered: encourage employee contributions

Be customer centered: dynamic to adapt to market changes

Manage culture: not by creating rule focused/bureaucratic organizations that inhibit flexibility but creating ‘loose tight’ organizations, giving way to centralization and decentralization as argued by Peter: “an essential factor in leadership ….is to influence and organize meaning for the members of organization”(Bennis and Nanus:1985).

Kunda ‘High Technologies’ studies and Etzioni’s work argues about ‘normative control’, where employee’s character should be taken over rather than his work; “shape behaviour in purposive way”( Lammers :1981). Creation of a family culture will encourage worker to give his every effort for the success of the work; “culture fosters success”(Deal and Kennedy:1982). By creating a playful environment, managers can control the personal life of employees and mold their actions to obtain desired work behaviour. However there are sinister and aggressive sides of normative control: marriage failures and poor health may drag down the productivity and image of the company (see culture control and culture management: 2000).


Bureaucracy has certain advantages interms of stability, rationality and planning, and so does the development of a strong formal culture based on worker autonomy and entrepreneurship. Fletcher Byrom argued “make sure you generate a reasonable number of mistakes”, which is considered to very important by Peter and Waterman, who argue that successful companies need to innovate , carry out research and develop loose tight properties. I believe that much depends on the type and size of business: a large firm comprising of several thousands of employees, it would be time consuming and disruptive to give autonomy and might cause rivalry and conflict: preferring bureaucracy. Incase of delayered globalised firms like multinationals, networks and flexible firms, culture management and empowerment is required. Furthermore, due to variation in human nature who can be sure which factor is a motivator? Whether autonomy and establishment of a strong culture actually facilitates motivation or causes disparity between formal and informal culture as in Disney. Whether employees take pride in empowerment, as thought by Berggen or are too shy, afraid and lazy to take responsibility? Some argue that PBO is not a new concept but merely a redefinition of old bureaucracy: it has driven out of bureaucracy. As Smiricich argues ‘organization is a culture’, I believe that bureaucracy and culture management are not the alternatives for each other, but, should be used simultaneously and interchangeably to boost progress, depending upon the situation; Peter and waterman’s claim for simultaneous loose-tight properties.

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