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In Bureaucracy, Size Matters!


Since its emergence in early 19th century, the term bureaucracy has been typically used in a pejorative way to decry the complicated procedures, narrow outlook, and arrogant manner of autocratic officials.

As we mentioned before, a characteristic of bureaucracy and of the process of bureaucratization is that the management system and its parts are rewarded in a way that is independent of the effectiveness with which they perform their function – where survival is relatively independent of performance. Thus this process takes place most often in management systems that are subsidized, that do not have “to earn a living.”

Since performance is not critical for survival, size is. It is harder to destroy or eliminate a large unit than a small one. Status as well as stability comes to be correlated with size. Therefore, growth becomes an objective because it is an efficient way to secure survival.

When this lack of performance is given as feedback, the bureaucracy resists and fights back to seek stability and minimize risk. It does this by increasing its mass, size, and cost of operation. Growth is essential to increased stability in a changing environment if the concept of stability is static.

The bureaucracy is thus conceived as a relatively permanent, unchanging institution, which provides security and stability to its parts. Therefore, the task structure becomes less effective and even less efficient. Over time, as it becomes increasingly dysfunctional it takes steps to preserve itself: It makes work and introduces red tape, and it imposes nonfunctional requirements on others, which “justify” the made work.

The make-work increases the cost and time required to get things done. Combined to this is the system of promotion either by seniority or for “going by the book” which recognizes the least efficient! This kills intrinsic satisfaction. Employees become more mechanical in their work and acceptance of promotion system.

De-bureaucratization requires a restructuring of the management system in such a way as to give function precedence over structure. Furthermore, de-bureaucratization requires changing the mindset (unlearning) of the bureaucrats.

Unlearning is a challenge because the human tendency to preserve a particular view of the world is very strong and the change to a new paradigm not only requires an ultimate act of learning but also of unlearning.


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