Post Bureaucracy And Network Society

Organisations around the world have changed their structures, the ‘internal’ managerial strategies in order to survive within a competitive market and hence evolved to best suit the ‘external’ environment they operate in. Every organisation in today’s time has to be profitable in order to be in business and therefore it must organise its structure, (Grahame .F. Thompson 2003 Oxford University Press). In the 21st century a revolution of globalisation, Information technology and cultural change has made corporate organisations to re-think and re-structure themselves to better suit the needs of workers, employers, consumers and the future of the company as a whole. There has been a social change in the division of labour and concepts of Post Fordism and flexible specialisation has come up in the last quarter of a century, (Tony J. Watson 2003 Routledge). In this essay we will see the shift from factory type bureaucracy towards a network society and the emergence of post bureaucratic organisations in today’s economy which is based on knowledge and innovation. But this leaves us with an argument that is a post bureaucratic organisational form predominant in the network society/knowledge based economy? In the latter part of this essay we see some evidence of bureaucracy and its elements still present in Network Organisations. To understand this and come to a reasonable conclusion we must know what are bureaucratic organisation, post bureaucratic organisations and network organisations.

As we know that bureaucracy is a highly structured system of administration it was seen in the late 1920’s as being highly successful in the era of capitalist and mass production and administrative complexity. Thus, due to its nature of being machine like it ignored moral, ethical and emotional values and was efficient. “The control and co-ordination of work task through a hierarchy of appropriately qualified office holders, whose authority derives from their expertise and who rationally, devise a system of rules and procedures are calculated to provide the most appropriate means of achieving specified ends.” (Tony J. Watson, 2003, Routledge, sociology, work and industry fourth edition, pg-86). Bureaucracy had a hierarchy and decision making which flowed from top level managers to low level skilled and unskilled workers. In Weber ideal model Weber argued that without a proper filing system the bureaucratic organisation would fail and many organisations followed that and had highly secretive filing systems. Managers and workers were allocated task according to technical expertise. There was a framework of rules to be followed for the production and functions to be carried out. Decisions made were not affected by emotions or personal preferences but defined by system of rules and under the official jurisdictional area. But the ideal form is for us to understand that it is unachievable but through which reality can be compared. (Tony J. Watson, 2003, Routledge). Bureaucracy is a concept of sociology and political science and can be seen in many government agencies, large manufacturing firms, hospitals, and many academic institutions, (Reference). As the government of states grew larger during the modern period, modern bureaucracies arose and especially following the Industrial Revolution, (Osborne David and Gaebler Ted, 1993, Plume). The major changes which gave rise to the factory system was that the workforce of labour shifted from hand production such as working in the fields to a power driven machinery system. This revolution made division of labour more complicated, hierarchy gave managers more control, superior supervision and coercive authority, enabled capitalist to take greater reward, moral machinery was introduced to break the resistance from employees, and reduction of skill on which workers relied caused a reduced labour cost, (Paul Thompson and David McHugh, 2009, Palgrave Macmillan). (Give Examples of British companies as well as worldwide)

Bureaucracy was at its height with the rise of the factory system. It was transforming organisations into technically superior system of administration and production. Coordination between man and the machine and with the introduction of the assembly line everything changed. Organised and detailed planning were the key features of Technical superiority. Rationality helped large firms achieve more out of the workers by allowing them to do simplified work in a formalised manner to achieve efficiency and limit the decision making power to the top down hierarchy. Limiting workers decision making and increasing efficiency by ground rules clearly defined without personal prejudice and emotional values. Control was achieved by reducing and restricting vital information and knowledge lead to more direct control from the management. Organisations used bureaucratic structures not only to retain the most earning but many of its features benefited the workers, there was job security, grievances procedures and demarcation, etc. This wave caused the workers something to look forward to and see the organisation in a positive manner, (Paul Thompson and David McHugh, 2009, Palgrave Macmillan).

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Taylorism and Fordism

Taylor’s principles were based on bureaucracy and the phenomena were called ‘scientific management’. This was a typical example where an organisation was successful at the time when bureaucracy was at its heights. This was not an ideal type Weber’s model but it saw social aspects of the organisation where employees were also benefited but the big chunk of profit was taken by organisation. Employees were given specialised routine tasks and which being mechanised with proper coordination of human work effort led to ‘Scientific management’. It had a success with organised labour; in which manager had a concept of ‘soldiering’ on the employee because Taylor thought that it is a tendency for men to take it easy without proper supervision. He had one best way of organising work. In counties like France and Britain experiments on Taylors scientific management started taking place, his ideas of time study and piece rate working gave rise to Taylorism, (Thompson and McHugh, 2009, Palgrave Macmillan). One of the models of Taylorism states that an official can work his way up the career hierarchy within a few years from being a simple worker to a middle level manager and even in some cases as high as the top management. This was the ‘minimum interaction model’ describe by littler (1982), (Tony J. Watson, 2003, Routledge). In many parts of Britain and Europe ‘Bedeaux system’ came through and Sweden and Germany followed districting paths but were influenced by Taylorism, (Thompson and McHugh, 2009, Palgrave Macmillan).

Henry ford was Fordism became popular after the assembly line was introduced in factory working which increased efficiency many folds. This was the era of mass production were the employees were consumers and part of the market. What made the car factories a success were his detailed supervision, planning management strategies and close supervision. Ford gave his employees something to look forward to in terms of material benefits such as incentives, high wages, and could have a ford car of their own in a number of years. This made them loyal and a sense of trust emerged, (Tony J. Watson, 2003, Routledge).

Post Bureaucracy and Network Society

Post Bureaucratic organisations emerged when organisations found it difficult to cope up with strict rules and defined boundaries of the bureaucratic structure. With the introduction of advance technology being used in the modern age the organisational structure has changed in many large-scale industries. The age of mass production seemed to be over and highly specialised customer need analysis had to be done. During the time of Henry ford cars were produced in bulk which was standard in its appearance, style and technology. Nowadays we have entered the 21st century where cars are customised according to the needs of a specific customer. We have shifted from a factory type mass production to a customer oriented knowledge based economy where many authors believe bureaucracy is of the past. The ideal type of post bureaucratic structure has more of a dialog based and discussion rather than commands given where individual expertise is given credit. Here we see flat hierarchy which was needed in network society to work efficiently on project based process and group tasks, (Heckscher .C, Donnellon .A, 1994, Sage Publications). The changes that are prominent in the network form of organisation are that there are workers and groups with flat hierarchy who take decisions based on their knowledge and expertise. There are team based group doing projects and working together either from the office or from other sites. “Networks have proved a useful alternative conception in analysing how a range social activity is organised and governed at a number of levels”, (Graham .F. Thompson, 2003, Oxford university press). In modern organisations the concept of flat organisational structure has been introduced and work has been divided into many groups and teams of professional workers, where a set of employees take decisions at various levels of the work process. This also contributes to the innovation where employees have the freedom to make decisions and exercise their expertise. Most of the employees are treated with ‘formal equality’ and ‘joint membership’ in the network organisation, (Graham .F. Thompson, 2003, Oxford university press). Basically what the author is trying to say is that network organisations gave more freedom to work and a sense of equality amongst the workers and employees. This can be seen in highly value added services, like education, medicine, law firms etc. The Network organisations are based on a high trust culture; it has low level of formal division of labour.

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Networks developed as business shifted from bureaucratic system to a more flexible system because organisations had to survive in the age of technology, innovation and globalisation. The rise of post bureaucratic structure was thought to be due to three major factors such as globalisation, information technology and cultural change. Globalisation caused high degree of competition as the markets to expand and overstretch national boundaries. Many organisations opened branches in other countries and corporate culture was born. This was the era of professionals where knowledge and networking were given importance. Because bureaucratic structures could not cope up with change and adaptability Post bureaucratic organisations had more flexible control process and were more proactive towards its environment. Making connections and providing service was part of almost every organisation regardless of its size and nature. Another major change that gave rise to Post bureaucracy was the change of technology and innovation. Information technology is required for an organisation to stay in business without communication and innovation a business cannot survive in long term. Some people suggest that culture also influenced Post bureaucratic rise in the network organisation. Consumers are given importance in the network society is based on consumerism, relativism and individualism, unlike in the bureaucratic structure, (Manuel Castells, 2000, Blackwell Publishers).

Evidence of Post Bureaucratic Forms in Network Organizations (Castells, Journals)

Many authors such as Castells suggest that post bureaucratic systems are the only way of the future of the knowledge based economy. This is a very hardcore and too optimistic approach yet we see that a pure bureaucratic organisational structure has failed to adapt into a network society. We know that due to change in administration in knowledge based economy bureaucracy has been replaced by a more flexible and adaptable organisational structure. Social, technological and economic change, multi-tasking work and the need for analysing data at different levels has shifted network society to engage the workers with ‘high trust’, ’empowerment’, ‘de-centralised’ decision making in knowledge economy, (Give Examples).Many organisations stared ‘de-bureaucratizing ‘ because Weber’s concept of control was seen as ‘ an exercise of control on the basis of knowledge’ but in network organisations there had to a freedom to exercise indirect control where employees would practise self discipline and very less supervision was needed. They had to exchange information and knowledge to be innovative which meant being proactive towards the environment for a long-term survival for the organisation. The concept of disagree to agree is used as friendly constructive discussion for decision making. We know that through empowerment high performance work systems are possible which has shifted from a factory type system where one could not act out of the official jurisdiction of their job description. In many value added organisations empowerment given to employees can lead to success of the firm/company (give example). (Paul Du Gay, 2005, Oxford University Press). Total quality management and customer satisfaction are relatively new methods of the Post-Bureaucratic structure which are used by organisations in the network society and knowledge based service industry. The famous legend in automobile industry Henry Ford ideas of mass production have shifted to some extent to a customised vehicle for a specific customer. An article by John Ovretiveit showed that TQM was applied to many hospitals and clinics across Europe became widespread since the 1990’s. This method helps organisations deliver better quality control and customer satisfaction essential in knowledge based economy, (John Ovretiveit, 13/2 [200] 74-79, International Journal of health care quality assurance). TQM has been seen as a useful tool but many experts believe that it is difficult to evaluate and is difficult to implement. Whereas we see that in bureaucracy implementation and supervision were regarded highly and Taylor’s scientific management made it easy for firms to implement policies and evaluate them according to tasks specified to workers according to their official jurisdiction. As Richard Sennett says that there are three deficits of structural change are loyalty, informal trust and adaptive information faced by firms trying to de-bureaucratise, (Richard Sennett, 2004, Yale University Press).

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Evidence of Bureaucratic elements still present in Network Organizations (Reed M, Journals)

Many Organisations have started to “re-bureaucratize” because there is a problem with the high trust, empowerment, shared responsibility and personal treatment. The concept of “re-bureaucratizing” has been discussed by many authors that instead of organisations shifting from bureaucracy they simply clean up the bureaucracy in their organisation (Heckscher .C, Donnellon .A, 1994, Sage Publications). Weber’s Ideal model of bureaucracy can be re-theorized to include any “non-contradictory attributes. “His ideal type thus cannot yield a clear distinction between bureaucratic and “post”-bureaucratic organizations, unless “bureaucracy” is flattened into “hierarchy”, and “post”-bureaucratic into “non-hierarchical”. But hierarchy cannot be eliminated from complex organizations, and bureaucracy can be re-theorized to include any non-contradictory attributes.” (Harro M. Hoopfl, Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 19 No. 1, 2006, 8-21, Emerald Group Publishing Limited).

Charles Heckscher, the author of ‘The Post-Bureaucratic Organisation’ talks about the theory of ‘contingency’, which is clearly not bureaucratic in nature. The best form of organisational structure should be that which suits the environmental complexities and uncertainty when organisations shift to knowledge based economy. If organisations work under the highly bureaucratised system they would not be able to work effectively, but it is argued that bureaucratic forms have a greater capacity mobilising human energy and cooperation. The author of Lost in translation Simon Norton suggests that Anglo-American approaches of new public management may not be suitable and elements of bureaucracy are still present in public sectors in Japan. The finding of the research is that such systems are popular and work for countries like USA and UK. The findings also suggest that Japanese organisations give priority to the long term survival of firms and its group rather than thinking for individual performance and benefit, for example “through reward mechanisms for innovation and demonstration of personal initiative, are at odds with the Japanese tradition of amae and Confucianism; instead, reformers should evolve reform policy around the concept of groupism (Koh, 1989).” (Simon Norton, 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited). This research shows us that Although Japan being technologically advance it still values its culture and traditions indicates elements of bureaucracy which means that even after entering a knowledge based environment ‘flat hierarchy’ may not be so suitable as perceived by many authors. In some organisations in network society direct control is being observed in which employees are monitored and supervised. Another finding by Rachel Parker and Lisa Bradley suggests that bureaucratic values within public sector organisations are prominent although there is an evidence of changing economic trend and new public management is emerging. The control and hierarchy in public sectors show a reverse of what post bureaucratic values impose in an organisation. The employees viewed the monitoring and quality management systems as bureaucratic. “Public sector organisations have been motivated less by financial considerations than by political considerations, including the public interest, (Perry & Rainey 1988).” (Rachel Parker and Lisa Bradley, The Asia Pacific Journal of Public Administration, Vol 26, No 2 (December, 2004) 197-215).

The transition towards a post-bureaucratic society is evident but the process is slow and cannot leave behind elements of bureaucracy as we have not entered a fully knowledge based economy. This is not a claim by me but, in my opinion it is like two sides of the same coin where elements of both bureaucracy and post bureaucracy are present in the modern knowledge based economy and a hybrid form emerges.


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