Max Weber

How Does Weber’s Bureaucratic Traits Track in your Municipal Government?

Weber’s Bureaucracy1
1.Weber’s description of a bureaucracy presents itself as a hierarchical structure, a unity of command. This indicates that there is no conflict in the flow of authority and consequently with the lack of conflict, there is unity. For each position in the hierarchy there is only one supervisor providing a clear line of authority with responsibilities allocated to subordinates in clear unambiguous terms.
2.Specialization of labour is also essential according to Weber. As a person specializes, skills are more nearly perfected and output is more efficient.
3.Employment and promotion is based on merit. This removes the partisan and fovouritism tendencies in choosing staff. The best person for the job is chosen.
4.Full-time employment ensures willingness, dedication and ability to abide by organizational regulations in carrying out duties.
5.Decisions based on impersonal rules toward the public ensures fairness to the public. Also, internal decisions based on impersonal rules protect fairness in the workplace. Impersonal rules also engender rigidity and immobility.
6.Written files are kept of decisions made under established rules and guidelines. This ensures an obedience to established rules over obedience to a superior. A superior does not have the power to arbitrarily change rules and procedures.

How does this work in practice? February 10, 1994 I interviewed Joanne Potter, the personnel assistant for the City of St. Catharines, Ontario at City Hall. I ased her the following indirect interview questions to reveal possible Weberian traits.

Trait 1: Hierarchical Structure
Are there flows of communication and reporting in the workplace which the organizational chart overlooks?
Do workers report their work to more than one individual?
Do several copies of reports go to various departments?
What is the role of the personnel department of hiring, firing and disciplining? Is it advisory?
Do managers have a say in who is hired, fired, and disciplined? Is the responsibility divided?

Trait 2: Specialization of Labour
Is there a job description for every job?
Are there certain departments which have a diverse range of activities for each worker, perhaps in a coordinating capacity?
Are some of the workers rotated on the job periodically?

Trait 3: Employment and Promotion based on Merit
How do you advertise to fill vacancies?
What do you look for when you interview?
How do you make hiring decisions?

Trait 4: Full-time Employment
Are there part-time staff? Is the majority full time?
If so, where are the part-time staff on the organizational chart?
Is there a higher turnover rate in part time staff than with the full time staff?

Trait 5: Decisions based on Impersonal Rules
Is there some mobility with the various departments to meet people’s special needs that may have been previously unanticipated in the guidelines?
Is there an operating manual or a book of procedures for departments? Is it exhaustive or general in nature?
Are these procedures communicated down to staff and to new people on staff?
Do new staff receive an orientation and initial training?
What is the chain of events to implement new rulings passed by city hall?

Trait 6: Written Records
When people make decisions, how are they communicated to other people in the department and to other departments? For example, how does engineering communicate a decision to the planning department?
Is there a reliance upon word of mouth or memos in the bulk of the day to day communication?

There is an interrelationship between the questions and you may find when you ask your administrative assistant these and other questions that some of these later questions will have been answered when responding to earlier questions.

What other questions can you think of upon reflection of previous blogs posted here? Enquire about their advice on improving the organizational model. Do they want more input and respect concerning their expertise regarding policy development? Have there been trust issues in the past between administration and city councillors? If so, what was done to mend the breach? You get the idea.

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