The Ideas of the Classical Theorists, Particularly Those of Bureaucracy and Scientific Management, Are Generally Considered as Rather Old Fashion and Out of Date, and of Little Relevance to Work and Organization Today. Is This Really the Case?

Topics: Max Weber, Management, Bureaucracy Pages: 8 (2652 words) Published: November 27, 2012
The ideas of the classical theorists, particularly those of bureaucracy and scientific management, are generally considered as rather old fashion and out of date, and of little relevance to work and organization today. Is this really the case?

The classical theory is the earliest form of management that perceived that a set of universal principles would apply to all the organizations in all situations to achieve efficiency and organization's goals. Scientific management and bureaucratic theory were one of the several components of the classical school of organization. Important pioneers among them are Frederick Taylor and Max Weber. The classical theories have been contested of little relevance to work and organization today simply because today’s organizations have moved from industrial revolution to the information age due to the fast-paced change in technology (Toffler, 1984). Although bureaucracy has been synonymous to red tape and has negatives effects such as “rigidity, alienation and low commitment” (Adler, 1999, p.37) and dehumanizing people (Grey, 2009), the characteristics of bureaucracy such as specialization, hierarchy of authority, system of rules and impersonality (Stewart, 1986) as well as evidence of ongoing existence of this management method, bureaucracy is proved to remain noteworthy. This essay will examine the situation presented in organization today, and determine whether bureaucracy and scientific management can be considered as old fashioned, out of date and of little relevance to work and organization today.

With the broad set of powerful economic, social and technological changes – greater competition, globalization of production, rising demand for innovation, new forms of information technology and wide change in customer preferences have concluded that the days of stable structures of bureaucratic models are over. According to Warren, he concluded that there was no longer the stable business environment which bureaucracy exists, resulting in the rigid and formal rules of bureaucracy to be obsolete (Knights and Willmott, 2006). “Like dinosaurs, mechanistic organizations are doomed and the days of post-bureaucracies have arrived” (Du Gay, 2005). With an increasing growth in knowledge-intensive sectors, for example consultancy companies, law and accounting firms, advertising agencies, research-and-development and IT companies, the need for flexibility and capacities for creative action has become more important than narrow efficiency (Karreman, Sveningsson and Alvesson, 2002). These knowledge-intensive firms are performing tasks that are more complex than before, making it more challenging to convert them into standardized work procedures and regulations, which make bureaucracy model become less relevant to work today. Supported by Mr Paul, who was the Vice-Chairman of Wipro from 1999 to 200, “IT service companies need a fundamental redesign. The bureaucracy is killing customer satisfaction” (Narasimhan, 2011). At the same time, it suggests employees demand for more flexibility and autonomy, rather than simply following orders and rules.

However, studies show that knowledge-intensive companies are becoming more bureaucratic in their operations. In the case of Beta Consulting Company, “authority is seen practiced through hierarchy, work methodology is standardized and work procedures are fine-tuned towards predictability of outputs” (Karreman, Sveningsson and Alvesson, 2002).

Since the 1970s, there is also an alleged shift from “industrial” to “post industrial” era, from mass production of standard products to short products for the niche markets. For example, the Apple IPhone demonstrates a shorter production run such as a new version of the IPhone is released every year (Smith, 2011). Post-bureaucracy is proposed as a new organizational model which is more appropriate to today’s business environment in a sense that it is based on trust, empowerment, personal treatment...


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Brooks, Ian (2009) Organisational Behaviour. 4th ed. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.
du Gay, Paul (2005) The Values of Bureaucracy. New York: Oxford University Press Inc.
Grey, Chris (2009) A very short, fairly interesting and reasonably cheap book about studying organizations. 2nd ed. London: Sage Publications Ltd.
Jozzo1000 (2007) McDonald’s Big Mac making [video online]. Available at: <http://www.youtube.com/user/jozzo1000#p/a/u/1/eUvI2wE2YZk> [Accessed 28 November 2011].
Karreman, Dan., Sveningsson, Stefan and Alvesson, Mats (2002) The Return of the Machine Bureaucracy? International Studies of Management & Organisation, 32(2), pp.70-92.
Kast, Fremont Ellsworth and Rosenzweig, James Erwin (1979) Organisation and Management. 2nd ed. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill.
Knights, David and Willmott, Hugh (2006) Introducing Organizational Behaviour & Management. London: Thomas Learning.
McDonald’s Corporation (2011) 2010/2011 Prospectus. [online] Available at: <http://www.mcdonalds.co.uk/people/meet-our-people/meet-our-people.shtml> [Accessed 01 December 2011].
Stewart, Rosemary (1986) The Reality of Management. 2nd ed. London: Pan Books.
Toffler, Alvin (1984) The Third Wave. New York: Bantam Books.
Ritzer, George (2009) McDonaldization: The Reader. 3rd ed. California: Pine Forge Press.
Rosenberg, Nathan (1969) The American system of manufactures. Edinburgh U.P.
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