MAX WEBER’S THEORY OF BUREAUCRATIC MANAGEMENT
The Max Weber theory of bureaucracy is a part of classical management theory. It originated around the time when F.H….
December 23, 2021 | 7 mins read
The Max Weber theory of bureaucracy is a part of classical management theory. It originated around the time when F.H. Taylor gave his theory of scientific management. Apart from him, Max Weber and Henri Fayol were some of the most influential theorists in the field of management. Weber defined bureaucratic management and proposed theories of effective management that are still used in the corporate industry.
Born in 1864, Max Weber was a German sociologist and the author of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905). He took a keen interest in industrial capitalism and was curious to know why it worked in certain countries and didn’t in others. Industrial capitalism is a type of economic system in which industry is controlled by private organizations and the main objective is to earn profit.
Weber traveled to the US in 1904 and studied the nation’s economy. There, he got the opportunity to witness capitalism in full flow. He observed that in the US, capitalism was characterized by innovation and competition. His experiences in the country eventually led to the origination of the Max Weber theory of bureaucracy.
Comparing the capitalist spirit of the US with that of Germany, he noted that in the US, businesses were operated by professional managers and they shared economic relationships. On the other hand, in Germany, small groups of people with power were the true rulers of the economy. Germany valued tradition and the economy controllers were usually the people with high social status and businesses were connected through family and social relationships.
He didn’t like the idea that in Germany, authority was not a result of experience and ability but gained through social standing. Also, business resources were used for the benefit of the owners and managers rather than for the growth and development of the organization.
Max Weber, of course, the author of Weber’s theory of bureaucracy, which details the concept of bureaucratic management. He coined the term ‘bureaucracy’ and defined it as well.
After studying the capitalist industries of Germany and the US, Weber concluded that a rational organization is the best way to set up an organization. He named this ‘rational organization’ as bureaucracy. This Weberian bureaucracy is an improved version of the traditional structures of an organization. In bureaucratic management, all members of the organization are treated equally and division of labor is clearly defined.
Max Weber’s theory of bureaucracy also states that the Weberian model of bureaucracy will be governed by top-quality people with high competency and skills and not by people with high social standing.
The definition of Weberian bureaucracy as provided by Max Weber is: ‘Bureaucracy is an organizational structure that is characterized by many rules, standardized processes, procedures and requirements, number of desks, the meticulous division of labor and responsibility, clear hierarchies and professional, almost impersonal interactions between employees.’
According to Max Weber’s bureaucratic management theory, Weberian bureaucracy is a structure that must be implemented in all big organizations. He proposed this to ensure the structural operation of all tasks by a huge number of employees. Furthermore, in Max Weber’s bureaucracy, qualifications and competence are the only basis for hiring and promotion of workers.
There are specific features of Max Weber’s bureaucracy, which are also known as Max Weber’s six principles of bureaucracy.
Here are the six major Max Weber characteristics of bureaucracy:
Let’s look at these in detail.
The Max Weber Theory of Bureaucracy proposes that all business tasks must be divided among the employees. The basis for the division of tasks should be competencies and functional specializations. In this way, the workers will be well aware of their role and worth in the organization and what is expected of them.
The theory states that division of labor based on expertise and skills is immensely beneficial for any business. This also ensures that each department has specific tasks and workers to oversee those tasks.
The tasks are carried out smoothly and easily in this manner because managers know who is working on exactly what. The accountability of each task and each department is transparent. In Max Weber’s bureaucracy, each employee is clearly aware of their responsibilities and going beyond your specialty or helping your colleagues is not allowed.
Hiring and onboarding of employees in the bureaucracy are done exclusively according to the specialties and technical skills of the candidates. These skills may have been acquired by the candidates through education, training and experience.
After onboarding, workers must be compensated for their services, which depends on their position in the organization. Their contract must be designed according to the rules and regulations of the organization and the employee can’t hold any ownership interest in the organization.
Another principle of the bureaucratic theory is that the relationships among employees and between managers and employees must be impersonal. They should only be of a professional nature and, thereby, distant. Weber included this principle in his theory because he felt it would eliminate nepotism, politics and outsider involvement.
The impersonal relationships are a prominent feature of Max Weber’s bureaucracy. Employees are not allowed to interfere with the affairs of other employees, managers and the organization. Communication among the employees should not involve emotions, personal sharing and feelings. The decision-making process must only involve rationality instead of emotions.
In bureaucratic management, the managerial structure is organized into hierarchical layers. Each layer of management has a team of employees under them. These managers are responsible for the performance of their team.
These hierarchical positions in bureaucratic organizations are essentially the trademark and foundation of Max Weber’s bureaucracy. In this hierarchy of authority, positions are ranked in order of precedence and the highest position in the ladder generally has the highest authority in the organization. The bottom hierarchical layers are generally the positions that are supervised by higher layers.
Such hierarchy in a bureaucracy reflects the degree of delegation and gives a clear picture of the division of authority and responsibilities.
Max Weber’s theory of bureaucracy clearly lays out that every ‘rational organization’ must have a set of rules and regulations. These rules and regulations must be followed without any fault. This ensures uniformity in the business and the staff members know what is expected of them.
Strict rules allow better coordination of employee performance and efforts. Administrative processes should also be clearly defined in the official rule book or reports. When new rules are introduced in the organization, the senior management must be notified. They will then pass on the information to their respective departments.
The Weberian model of bureaucracy selects employees on the basis of technical skills, which helps optimize human capital. According to Max Weber, selecting candidates according to their competency and skills ensures that the right people are in the right jobs.
Consequently, Max Weber’s management theory states that through the formation of a bureaucracy, people can build a career upon their expertise and competency. A bureaucracy offers lifetime employment and the right division of labor lets employees improve their expertise in a given field.
Max Weber’s contribution to management is highly noteworthy, but his bureaucratic management theory has faced several criticisms over the years. Here are some of the major ones in modern times:
The bureaucratic management theory of Max Weber is practiced widely in government organizations today. However, it can’t work in corporate business environments due to its various shortcomings and so, private organizations usually do not implement Max Weber’s management theory.
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