Bureaucracy as a Management Philosophy

Subject: Management Theories
Pages: 8
Words: 2221
Reading time:
8 min
Study level: PhD

Overview of Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy is a philosophy of management that was developed by Max Weber. This principle or philosophy of management is argued to be a form of management in old forms of organizational management by scholars of modern management. However, it is evident that bureaucratic principles are still embraced in organizational management within formal organizations even today. In a general sense, bureaucracy denotes a management structure within an organization that has a strong basis on logic, order, and the use of formal authority. The aim of this form of management is to achieve objectivity, orderliness, and proficiency in organizations. Bureaucratic management has a number of basic principles. These principles include functional specialization or division of labor, a well-designed structure of authority, and systematized rules governing the roles of employees. Other principles are a systematized protocol of resolving work situations, impersonalized relations between employees, and the selection or promotion that is competence-based.

This philosophy of management has strongholds, as well as shortfalls as exposed by management experts. This paper will explore this philosophy through a comparison of five different journal articles. Each of these articles discusses the subject of bureaucracy as a philosophy in organizational management by referring to certain researches and case studies. Each of these articles either supports bureaucratic principles in managing or negates the integration of bureaucracy by referring to given examples in research contexts used.

Analysis of the Articles

O’Toole & Meier (2010) in their article titled “In Defense of Bureaucracy: Public, managerial capacity, slack and the dampening of environmental shocks”, are supportive of the aspect of bureaucracy in management. Through research, the authors noted the importance of using bureaucratic management principles in enhancing public performance. The advantage of bureaucracy in public management is significantly evident in times of crises or environmental shocks. The bureaucratic system of public management is highly organized and thus proper channels or records can easily be traced to help avert the environmental shocks. Environmental shocks or rather the disruptions originating from outside the management systems require a highly organized structure. Such structures are often prevalent in the bureaucratized system of public administration. Managerial quality is bettered in the bureaucratic form of public management because of the smooth flow of instructions within an organization or a management system (O’Toole & Meier, 2010).

While it is easy to achieve managerial quality in the bureaucratic management of public institutions, bureaucratic management has one major challenge, and this is the killing of innovation. In this way, managerial resources that must accompany managerial quality for a smooth or functional organization become scarce. Innovation, which will help mobilize organizational management resources, is killed. Workers are not allowed to go the extra mile to come up with means of raising resources for the organization. Environmental shocks often take a positive trend because of the inadequacy of resources to mitigate the shocks (O’Toole & Meier, 2010).

Environmental shocks require creativity and extra activities by organizational staff. However, organizational staff in bureaucratic public sectors are restricted to certain codes of working that limit their level of response. This explains why public institutions, which often use bureaucratized systems, fail in responding to external challenges. However, in ordinary situations, public organizations achieve high performance because of the management quality that is enhanced by systematized authority a clear definition of duties. The skills of managers are critical in bureaucratic administration. While these skills are important in central functions, they kill the spirit of diversification required in a complex managerial environment like the management of education (O’Toole & Meier, 2010).

Chen, Hsieh, and Mao (2009) in their research titled “The relationship between bureaucracy and workplace friendship” explore whether workplace relations are enhanced by bureaucracy or not. They interviewed a total of 408 workers from different sectors including banking, education, government, and medical sectors. They deduced that bureaucratic management has a negative effect on workplace friendship. Workplace relations are critical in organizations because they enhance positive functions within the organization such as support and sharing of information. Workplace friendship creates positive job attitudes, and this brings about job satisfaction and enhances job performance. In general, workplace friendship has been found to boost organizational commitment and hence organizational performance (Chen, Hsieh & Mao, 2009).

While bureaucracy is argued to inhibit organizational friendship, there are a number of bureaucratic management characteristics that can be sources of workplace friendship. These characteristics are formal procedures and rules, impersonality, and hierarchy. However, this is dependent on how the characteristics are applied in the organization. Hierarchy and supervision in organizations limit the aspect of employee autonomy and thus tame the pursuance of individualized goals by the employees when at work. However, the hierarchy and supervision aspect and decreased autonomy are common aspects in bureaucratic organizations that result in employee boredom. This makes the employees engage in other activities. Such activities include informal conversations that end up promoting friendship. This research derived its final sample from different organizations to determine the level at which bureaucracy is still practiced in organizations. From the research, it was discovered that bureaucracy is still practiced in many organizations or organizational sectors. However, there were variations in the degree to which this aspect was being practiced. Friendship in bureaucratic organizations is derived from negative feelings arising from the impacts of the application of bureaucratic principles of management (Chen, Hsieh & Mao, 2009).

Another article used in this paper is titled “Seeking regenerative work in the post-bureaucratic transition” which was authored by Kira and Forslin in 2008. These researchers explored management by focusing on the aspects of post-bureaucracy. Personal development and coping capacities of employees are the major issues being assessed in the research. The research reveals that most organizations have been attempting to move from bureaucracy to post-bureaucratic management. However, post-bureaucracy is marked by weaknesses making organizations maintain most aspects of bureaucratic management. The weakness comes from its unbalanced nature. Organizations are still based on bureaucratic principles in management that include impersonality, hierarchy, and pre-planning of activities. Bureaucracy still remains to be deeply rooted in organizations and post-bureaucratic principles are only extrapolated from organizational bureaucracy (Kira and Forslin, 2008).

Organizations are working on achieving operations that are more efficient in tough and challenging environments. Demand for quality of service provisions in organizations has been on the increase. This necessitates management change within organizations. One of the means through which change can be managed in organizations is through the shifting of management from dependency on the bureaucratic culture of management. The bureaucratic mentality of management is being distorted by competition, industry deregulation, new or emergent technologies, and workforce diversity. Post bureaucratic principles emphasize personal principles as opposed to impersonality which is rooted in bureaucratic management (Kira and Forslin, 2008).

Nee & Opper, (2009) in their research titled “Bureaucracy and Financial Markets” sought to explain the relevance of the bureaucratic form of management as applied to certain sectors. The article emphasizes the need for bureaucratic management in sensitive sectors handling public resources like the financial markets. Bureaucratic and methodological procedures and performance enhance capital accounting in financial markets. Bureaucracy minimizes the risks that are considered inherent in un-bureaucratic management. The institutional environment in the financial industry is bettered through continued monitoring of the capital and bureaucratic management by the government. This encourages public trust in the financial institutions which help in improving their customer base (Nee & Opper, 2009).

Bureaucratic management leads to corporate development in organizations. Bureaucratic management has principles that favor the development of modern corporations. Bureaucratic management is structured in relation to offices and the status system where authority and obligations are specified and are only constrained by formal rules. Administrative duties are well divided in bureaucratic management. Technical qualifications guide the recruitment and appraisal of workers or rather bureaucrats. Bureaucracy focuses on long-term goals and not on fragmented goals. Bureaucracy ensures fair treatment of all organizational actors that enhance the market economy in which most institutions or organizations thrive (Nee & Opper, 2009).

The last article is entitled “Managing, managerial control and managerial identity in the post-bureaucratic world” by McKenna, Garcia-Lorenzo, and Bridgman that was published in 2010. This article sought to give an overview of issues that are inherent in managerial identity and managerial control within organizations that use post-bureaucratic forms of management. In the article, it has been discovered that organizations are making efforts to shift from pure bureaucracy and are now using what is referred to as re-bureaucratization. There exists a tension in modern or emerging organizations where the bonds between organizational members are becoming significantly informal. This means the relations or bonds are being de-bureaucratized (McKenna, Garcia-Lorenzo & Bridgman, 2010).

In an effort to move away from total bureaucracy in management, new forms of bureaucracy are being developed. The traditional bureaucratic form of management, which was more evident in the developed nations of the west, is being abandoned. However, bureaucracy remains favored in situations where the operations are highly standardized. Nonetheless, such operations are being minimized with many organizations being forced to adopt market-oriented operations. This is expected to minimize procedure so as to ease access to the service. Rules in post-bureaucratic management are being replaced by consensus or collective agreements made by organizational members. Responsibilities are assigned to people who can best handle them and not on the basis of hierarchy as is in ideal bureaucracy. Also, organizational members are treated as individuals (McKenna, Garcia-Lorenzo & Bridgman, 2010).

The impersonality concept is eliminated. Organizational boundaries are opened and become accessible. Organizational communication is enhanced because considerable informal channels of communication are allowed. However, other scholars remain pessimistic by arguing that bureaucracy is still the commonly practiced form of management that is used in most organizations. They argue that what is being referred to as post-bureaucracy is the adaptation of organizations to bureaucracy. What organizations are doing to move away from bureaucracy has been referred to as the hybridization of bureaucracy by the pessimistic scholars of bureaucratic management. This is notable in the hybridized organizations that fall under re-bureaucratization–those new forms of management (McKenna, Garcia-Lorenzo & Bridgman, 2010).

Comparison of the articles

All the articles explained denote research or case studies discussing bureaucracy as a philosophy of management. All the articles point to the positive and negative aspects of bureaucratic management in reference to certain cases of management that are being surveyed. The comparison of the articles can be best brought out as depicted in the table below:

Article by author and date Points in support of the philosophy of bureaucracy in management
Points in support of bureaucracy Points against bureaucracy
O’Toole & Meier (2010). Bureaucracy is best suited for management and enhances public performance.
Bureaucracy enhances order thus best suited in modern public management because of the inherent environmental shocks.
Managerial quality is easily bettered in bureaucratic administration due to the systematized flow of information and instructions
Bureaucratic management kills innovation in public institutions because it does not support the mobilization of resources by organizations.
Environmental shocks require organizational resources that are not easily raised in bureaucratic-managed institutions.
Chen, Hsieh & Mao (2009). Workplace friendship in bureaucratic administration is negatively generated.
It is generated out of the efforts of employees to beat the tight rules and procedures of bureaucratic administration.
Bureaucratic management kills workplace friendship.
The covertly generated workplace friendship can be lethal to the organization.
(Kira and Forslin (2008). Post-bureaucracy has inherent weaknesses and sticks to most of the principles of bureaucratic management.
Impersonality, hierarchy, and pre-planning as aspects of bureaucracy are still prevalent in post-bureaucratic management.
Most organizations are making efforts of moving away from bureaucratic management by adopting post-bureaucratic management practices. Bureaucracy is not best suited in the competitive business world that embraces organizational change through technology and diversity in the organizational workforce.
Personal principles, which are critical in organizational learning and change, are suppressed in bureaucracy. Therefore, there is the need for post-bureaucratic management practices.
Nee & Opper (2009) Bureaucratic management is favored in the administration of a number of sensitive sectors like the financial markets.
Bureaucratic management utilizes methodological procedures that enhance capital accounting in financial markets.
The risks inherent in non-procedural tendencies are minimized in bureaucratic management.
Public trust in the sensitive sectors is boosted by the prevailing level of bureaucracy within the financial institutions. Corporate development is enhanced through bureaucratic management. Financial security brought about by bureaucracy boosts investment.
Bureaucracy ensures fair treatment of all organizational actors.
Bureaucracy only focuses on long-term goals in organizational procedures.
It is not favorable in fragmented managerial practices which are common in modern management practices such as project management.
Bureaucracy is not favored in the current economy that is market-oriented.
McKenna,Garcia-Lorenzo & Bridgman (2010) Most aspects of de-bureaucratization are only improvements of the principles of bureaucracy to the shifting role of management.
Bureaucracy remains to be the central pillar in management even in the modern management era that seeks to improve management to adapt to modern challenges.
Organizations are seeking to move away from the bureaucratic tendencies in management. Bureaucracy does not support organizational bonds.
These bonds result from informal relations that are discouraged in bureaucratic administration. Bureaucracy has highly centralized operations which are discouraged in modern management.
The operations in modern management are being decentralized to encourage efficiency and effectiveness.
The aspect of bureaucracy discourages dialogue and consensus-building within organizations.
In bureaucratic management, responsibilities are only assigned on the basis of hierarchy and notability.
Bureaucracy closes down the diverse channels of communication in organizations thus minimizing the work output level of organizations.


Chen, C., Hsieh, T. & Mao, H. (2009). The relationship between bureaucracy and workplace friendship. Social Behavior and Personality, 37(2): 255-266.

Kira, M. and Forslin, J. (2008). Seeking regenerative work in the post-bureaucratic transition. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 21(1): 76 – 91.

McKenna, S., Garcia-Lorenzo, L. & Bridgman, T. (2010). Managing, managerial control and managerial identity in the post-bureaucratic world. Journal of Management Development, 29(2): 128 – 136.

Nee, V. & Opper, S. (2009). Bureaucracy and Financial Markets. Kyklos, 62(2): 293-315.

O’Toole, J. L & Meier, J. K. (2010). In Defense of Bureaucracy. Public Management Review, 12(3): 341-361.