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Essential Characteristics of a Bureaucracy

The three essential characteristics of a Bureaucracy which could yield positive implications for organizations are:

  • Hierarchy

Bureaucracies had a central structural system of administration based on hierarchy, which facilitated the clear demarcation of roles and responsibilities to be executed in clear and precise manners. The system promoted the clear reporting to senior administrators and officials which enabled the transfer of knowledge and information from top to the bottom and facilitated feedback from the bottom to the top. Additionally, decisions could be taken by the administrators and respective officials without having to engage in endless arguments thereby promoting rapid and enhanced operational ability to the organisation. Weber was among the first to note that the bureaucratic structure would be highly apposite to modern industrialised societies, with the clear demarcations of labour in accordance with the distinct roles and responsibilities of officials, administrators and bureaucrats. The primary benefit of the bureaucratic structure was the providence of stability and security to the society within which it was executed and followed.

  • Depersonalization

The next important influential feature of bureaucracy is the distinction of the official position of the bureaucrat from the individual personality, which steadily resulted in a modern system of impersonal administrative structure. This impersonal bureaucratic form was a stark contrast to the dynastic and inheritance based administrations which were common during the medieval times in the era of kingdoms. Bureaucracy initiated a decentralized form of administration in which the government officials were appointed on the basis of the requirement of the posts and not on the basis of their personal relationships to the higher authorities who held supreme positions. Obviously, this form of centralized and impersonal government has numerous benefits especially with regard to the essential decision which are made for the general good of the organization and not to benefit one single entity or individual. Officials are appointed and promoted to higher positions on the basis of their merits and not due to their relationships with commanding officials in senior positions. This implies that the bureaucrat who holds a particular position of power or office does not own or posses it, rather serves the position to benefit the institution. 

  • Bureaucratic Rules

Modern bureaucracy is distinct due to the formulation of strict rules and laws and the adherence to these regulations by the officials and administrators who serve these organizations, which directly advanced the implementation of impersonal bureaucracy which is an essential aspect of democratic nations on the modern world.  The occurrence of regulations and rules for directing an organization reduce personal judgment to benefit the personal self, rather than the organization in total. Rigid laws and rules ensure that power and control of the law, thereby reducing the risks of personal whims and fancies of the bureaucrat in position. The occurrence of regulations and laws protect the general clients and citizens who can be assured of just treatment on the basis of common constitutional rules, and not on the whims and fancies of officials and authorities who hold positions of power and supremacy in institutions. Citizens and customers do not have to face unpredictability and unfairness due to prejudices and moods of commanding officers and sellers, and can be assured of equality and fairness in all transactions and processes. The occurrence of sets of rules and laws obligates service to society and people without wielding power and control in an unpredictable and whimsical manner, thereby safeguarding the rights of the people. With clearly defined rules and laws, organizations can function systematically in a systematic manner without subjectivity and unfairness by officials and administrators in high positions of power and authority.             

There is incessant debate regarding the “death struggle” of bureaucracy due to its undesirability and non-feasibility as a form and structure of administration which is incompatible with the modern societies of today which are composite, autonomous and forceful (Klagge, 1997). Research indicates that there has been a typical shift in the classical model of Weber’s bureaucracy to the networked organizations of the modern world. This paper aims to analyse and assess the benefits as well as the limitations of bureaucracy and its usefulness in today’s modern organizations, especially public and government organizations.
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