Compliments of Harald Groven via Flickr

In the 1930s Weber defined bureaucracy as a controlled, neatly sorted environment that flowed from the chain of command. He specified that:

  • there be a hierarchy of offices;
  • the hierarchy entail a systematic division of labor based on specialized training and expertise; and
  • the performance of duties be governed by written rules. 

Despite the management innovations and fads of recent decades, 95 percent of all organizations still operate as bureaucracies (Youngblood, 2000). Perrow accuses bureaucratic managers of being authoritarian, dictatorial, rigid, of making snap judgments that they refuse to reconsider, of implementing on-the-spot decisions without consulting their subordinates, and of generally stifling any independence of creativity at subordinate levels. 

He states:  “…the bulk of people in the lower and middle levels are prevented from really giving their all for goal achievement; they turn, instead, into infantile, fearful robots…The hierarchy promotes rigidity and timidity” (Perrow, 1986). The elements that guide behavior in bureaucracy are submission to authority, denial of self-expression, and sacrifice for unnamed future rewards (Adizes, 1979). 

Adizes provides some characteristics of the career bureaucrat:

        Exclusive role:  implementer, administrator

        How he excels:  putting and keeping things in order

        Predominant behavior:  controlling, implementing

        Focus of attention:  how work is being done

Most distinctive personality traits:  meticulously organized, slow and careful, thoughtful, conservative

Typical complaint:  someone violated a rule or procedure

Decision making:  follows existing decisions.  If he has free time he will think of new forms and controls.  The bureaucrat does work “by the book,” preferring to do things right rather than to do the right things.

He prefers to surround himself with:  the conforming yes-yes clerk or people like himself

Subordinates are promoted:  if they appear organized and violate no rules

What subordinates get promoted for:  process, with little notice taken of results

Attitude toward conflict:  ignores it or fights it, depending on whether it threatens control

Attitude towards change:  resists it because he fears losing control

Who talks at staff meetings:  mostly top down, some questions are asked about how to get the job done; details are fully discussed.

A bureaucrat who has become corporate property will attempt to gain admission into multiple policy making committees. The quintessential bureaucrat has his or her hand in everything, ever watchful and ever vigilant of corporate sanctity. Bureaucrats are terrific paper pushers, organizers, and fact finders, but they are unbelievably inadequate when it comes to developing the essence of that which comprises the finished product. 

They are terrible at making employees feel whole, and at providing avenues at work for their development and their expression. A human object as task personified can be easily traded or discarded. Employees are regarded as passive units of production (Zohar, 1997) in a collection of beings who don’t much care about one another. A taskmaster is very different from a collaborator in arms, or from a spiritual equal who helps to channel creativity into one’s daily activities.



Adizes, I.  (1979).  How to solve the mismanagement crisis:  Diagnosis and treatment of management problems.  New York, NY:  Irvington Publishers. 

Perrow, C. (1986). Complex organizations:  A critical essay (p. 29).  New York, NY:  Random House. 

Youngblood, M. D.  (2000)  Life at the edge of chaos:  Creating the quantum organization. Dallas, TX:  Perceval Publishing.

 Zohar, D. (1997). Rewiring the corporate brain:  Using the new science to rethink how we structure and lead organiztions. San Francisco, CA:  Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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One Response
  1. coolblog.cheers for posting.

  2. Tyra Kahele on August 12th, 2011 at 4:32 am