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Organization Theory, Bureaucracy, and Public Management in a Time of Major Transformational Changes

Free «Organization Theory, Bureaucracy, and Public Management in a Time of Major Transformational Changes» Essay Sample

Management of public organizations has raised discussions among various parties, ranging from scholars, researchers, public officials, and managers to heads of various public institutions. Public management is directed towards public sector organizations which are multi-functional and follow a leadership style that is political in nature. Moreover, most organizations in the field do not operate in an external market. Therefore, management of public sector organizations is fundamentally unique. Public management, which is anchored on the fields of public administration and management, has become more significant following the rapid changes that take place in public organizations that are overseeing the transformation of these organizations. In understanding the current public management approach, assessing the various organizational theories that guide their management is crucial. Bureaucracy, which is one of the main organizational theories that has been associated with public organizations, has structured itself in a manner that demands understanding its role in the management of public organizations. The thesis for the work is that public management in a time of major transformational changes is essential for public organizations as it fosters the process of determining how these organizations will manage change. Knowledge in organization theory, such as bureaucracy that is most commonly utilized in public sector, will be critical for successful change implementation.


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Organization Theory

In-depth knowledge in organization theory can facilitate understanding the working process of public organizations and their productivity among other benefits. Waldo (1961) presents an interesting perception of organization theory. The scholar explains this theoretical domain using the parable of an elephant and three blind men in which each man describes the elephant depending on the part of the animal he is holding. In Waldo’s (1961) view, organization theory is an elephantine problem whereas organization is a complex idea. For this reason, it is not possible for any observer to comprehend it thoroughly. Overall, Waldo’s (1961) argument does not necessarily mean that authors of organization theory approach the phenomenon in a wrong way, but rather their understanding of the theory is not complete since they only understand its single aspect. All in all, organization theory has been developed through the research findings of various scholars and researchers over the years. Putting together these authors and researchers’ ideas is essential in assembling the ‘elephant’ into becoming a whole thereby making everyone’s perception of organization theory holistic. Some of the key organizational theories considered significant in management of public organizations are discussed below.

Elite Theory of Organization

The elite theory of organization represents a neglected area of organization theory. To be more precise, theorists have overlooked discussions of a strategic position of elites who are responsible for setting long-term directions for organizations. Further, theorists have in equal measure avoided placing a focus on such issues as power, control, and politics in administration of organizational operations. Thus, developing the elite theory is essential in multidimensional research of modern organization and administration that is significant in filling the gap in the present literature on the topic (Farazmand, 1999).

According to Farazmand (1999), elite theory of organization has some implications on organization theory at large. This assumption facilitates the normative aspects of organizational theory which have been disregarded. The actual situation of organizations is that they do not operate in vacuum but under elites. These elites are a small group of people whose decisions impact organizations and the individuals around their environment. Another implication of this theory is that it allows for discussion of normative aspects of organizations which is critical and necessary since political factors are instrumental in determining organizational goals, operations, and processes. Therefore, understanding elites and their roles in organizations is vital in understanding the working environment of organizations.

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Chaos and Transformation Theories

Chaos and transformational theories have emerged to be new currencies in management as asserted by Farazmand (2003). Despite this fact, the relevance of these hypotheses to organizational theory is yet to be determined because they are still in the process of  developement. Nonetheless, chaos and transformational theories can be used to understand organization theory since they continue to have significant implications on governance and administration within an organization (Farazmand, 2003).

The implications of chaos and transformational theories no organizational theory are as follows. Firstly, the chaos theories presents a perception that organizations as open systems have an ability to produce within themselves through their internal components which are forces of dissipative structures with self-organizing capabilities. Secondly, organization theory has over time evolved from a classical closed system that existed in the early twentieth century in a form of bureaucracy, structural, and formal designs to new forms of organizational change that are characterized by instability, systems breakdown, and chaotic changes which are making organizations dynamic. Another aspect of the analyzed theory is that it involves systems theory. Chaos and transformation theories depart from systems theory in that they thrive on none-equlibrium and chaotic events, while systems theory suppresses forces of chaos, disturbing system equiblibria as opined by Farazmand (2003). Chaos and transformation theories also have an implication on understanding public organizations. In this regard, they can be used to explain current chaotic changes and trends persistent in the management of public organizations. In general, chaos and transformtional theories are significant in keeping organizations healthy, alert, and adaptive by enabling them to anticipate chaotic changes. Thus, they make complex organizations manageable and dynamic simultaneously.


According to Farazmand (2002), bureaucracy is an old approach to governance and administration which has survived millennia of political and social changes emanating from the dawn of civilization as a difficult governance concept. Farazmand (2010) affirms that the survival and persistence of bucreaucracy has been tested over time and in each instance, this phenomenon has emerged strong and unwavering in its role in governace. Some of the circumstances, through which bureaucracy has emerged steadfast, include changes and upheaveals, disater and crisis, as well as instability and disorder in organizations. In explaining the meaning of bureacracy, Marx (1967) perceives this concept as a web of practical illusions or the illusions of the state. the theorist explains this assumption further by making the claim of the spirit of bureacracy which  is jesuitical and theological in nature. Thus according to Marx (1967), bureacracy is the priest’s republic, while bureacucrats are the state’s jesuits and theologians.

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Understanding how bureaucracy works entails understanding its nature. This notion is characterized by hierarchy which follows a chain of command. In this regard, the management approach entails selection of a few people who are placed at the top of the hierarchy and tasked with running the organization. Therefore, the chain of command trickles downwards that results in a number of sub-levels each run by several individuals. Marx (1967) reiterates this perspective of bureaucracy when he affirms that the hierarchy of bureaucracy is a hierarchy of information. Based on this rationale, the top entrusts lower circles with an insight in details while the lower circles entrust the higher circles with insight into what is universal. Peters (2010) explains that, in enforcement of bureaucracy, people who work under a few placed at the top of the hierarchy usually have no say in the working processes of an organization, such as policies. Thus, decisions are made by several individuals at the top of hierarchy, and then, passed down the sub-levels for implementation. Hence, in today’s public organizations and management, bureaucracy works through coordination of work processes which have been broken down into fragments, namely departments. Further on, bureaucracy also is practiced by breaking down work into repetitive tasks in a bid to make them simple.


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Over recent years, bureaucracy has gained a negative reputation in its role in organization of public governance and administration. These are the times when bureaucracy has completely failed and no longer worked for organizations. One such situations is when this framework has caused organizations to spend more time on paper work instead of focusing on actual work. According to Waldo (1992), bureaucracy tends to insist on the documentation of organizational procures. For this reason, it reduces efficiency of the entire organization as the low level employees use up time in doing paper work. Moreover, this theoretical assumption is associated with red tape which slows down work since permission has to be sought for everything that an employee does in the process of accomplishing their tasks. Thus, bureaucracy has come to have a negative impact on motivation and meaningfulness of work in organizations.

Additionally, the nature of bureaucracy has been slowly changing, especially in public organizations. One change that has been taking place in bureaucracy is decentralization of decision making as a basic principle of an organization. This transformation has been accomplished through delegation of central authority of public services to autonomous agencies. Following Peters (2010), centralization of power in bureaucracy refers to concentration of power among a few elites at the top of an organization’s structure as a way to reduce the layers of bureaucracy. Another significant change that is taking place in bureaucracy is decrease of number of rules and standard operating procedures. In this way, management  attempt to reduce the level of red tape that bureaucracy brings in order to increase efficiency in public organizations. What is more, relative efficacy of bureaucratic personnel systems that constitutes task specialization and sequential processing are also changing. Human resource management practices These processes have  superseded these processes in many organizations, such as self-management, control-based job design, and reduced distinctions in status and barriers in various organizational levels.

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Public Management in a Time of Major Transformational Changes

Rainey (2014) opines that major transformational changes have been taking place in public organizations. One significant transformational change that has taken place in public organizations, and thus, influenced their management is restructuring the organizational structure. This procedure has been implemented through reduction of layers in organization’s structure. As a result, organizations have become flatter and smaller as they are now organized more on value-creating processes. Organizational reconfiguration is yet another relevant transformational change in public management. In this respect, most public organizations are making changes to their leadership structure by reconfiguring their structure of command. Thus, most public organizations have become decentralized in nature with power expanded to many sectors and people in the organization. Process improvement is one more transformational change that has enabled organizations to identify, analyze, and improve their existing organizational processes for the sake of optimization and meeting new standards of quality. This transition has been practiced through benchmarking. This reform has allowed organizations to focus on different areas of improvement and use different methods to achieve favorable results.

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Most of these changes have been working as evidenced by the positive impact they have had on public organizations. For instance, organizational learning and innovation  as well as flexibility in these organizations have improved. To illustrate, restructuring the  organizations and reducing layers has been essential in making communication  and  accomplishment of tasks easier. The changes have also resulted in improved productivity. For example, process improvement has been effective in automating some of the processes of organizations, thus fostering the enhancement of productivity. This circumstance has further resulted in customer satisfaction and loyalty since increased productivity leads to better service delivery.

However, the impact of these transformational changes has not always been positive. Some of the changes have caused problems for the public organizations. One such problem is employee resistance. Some of the changes have proven to be too rapid for employees of many of these organizations. As a consequence, despite the changes taking place, numerous staff members resist in their adaptation. Another problem in this context is increased confusion as a consequence of the hasty nature of changes. This factor has prevented many of the affected parties from preparing for a change and further prevented dissemination of information and sufficient training that would have helped to easier transition. Moreover, one more relevant problem is loss of jobs and a resulting impact on the economy. While organizations are busy reconfiguring and restructuring, they cause decrease in some positions in organizations. For this reason, these processes cause redundancy which is likely to lead to loss of  jobs to many people in spite of the overall efficiency it brings to the organization.

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Therefore, these problems instigated by reforms taking place in public administration require specified solutions. This issue is significant  in restoring effectiveness in public organizations which has been undermined in a sufficient manner. First and foremost, the problem of employee resistance can be overcome by including them in the process of developing and implementing a change. Making staff members feel a notable part of the process is effective and entices them to accept the change. On the other hand, the problem of increased level of confusion should be handled by carrying out training with regard to adapting to the ongoing changes. Moreover, organizations need to spread awareness about the change by providing sufficient information to the parties affected by the process. The issue of job loss can be managed by organizations through filling the vacancies of employees who are likely to lose their jobs, and changing nature of work by allowing job sharing among other options.


Organization theory is essential in comprehending how organizations function. For proper understanding of organization theory, it is vital to combine all information on the issue. This step should be undertaken in order to prevent people thinking that the knowledge they have of organization theory may result in limiting them on opportunities offered by organizations. Bureaucracy is an example of an organizational theory that is fundamental to running public organizations. This approach is characterized by a hierarchy of chain of command which facilities centralization of performance. The framework has not too effective in some instances because of its negative impact in a form of red tape which slows down work progress and too much paper work which has a similar effect. The current nature of bureaucracy is changing with power becoming decentralized and reduced chain of command. In addition, public management is critical for transformational changes taking place in public organizations. Although the process is never smooth due to problems occurring as a consequence of some of the changes, seeking effective solutions to these problems is vital for organizations.


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