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What are bureaucratic controls? In what ways have bureaucratic controls changed with the development of modern management techniques? Essay Example

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Organizational control is without a doubt one of the most significant components within managerial function. Driving an organization’s operations, output and performance, managerial control ensures that the strategic goals of an organization are realized such that any deviations from the standards receive appropriate correction for the realization of better performance outcomes. Actually, Griffin (2011) describes management control as the systematic effort for setting the performance standards with the planning objectives and designing feedback systems. As highlighted by Griffin (2011), management control determines if there exists any deviation while also comparing the actual performance/output with predetermined standards and taking appropriate actions.

Regardless of the fact that an organization has option to focus the control on the inputs, its production, or the outputs, it is compelled to decide on a suitable control-implementation approach between market control, clan control and the currently transforming bureaucratic control. To managers, however, control and the associated approaches are often a tough balancing act. On one hand a close monitoring is required to ensure minimum levels of ineffective processes, on the other hand some level/degree of autonomy is needed for positive response (Boucher, 2013). Due to this, the latter management approach has of recent been questioned widely regarding its effectiveness in managing modern organizations where contemporary management techniques have taken root. To a greater extent this management approach has received significant changes and a consequent new outlook. So as to fully examine bureaucratic control in light of the various changes experienced, it is imperative to conduct an in-depth analysis of the modern management techniques. This particular paper, while giving a detailed account of bureaucratic control, examines the various changes experienced within bureaucratic control.

Bureaucratic control

To many people, the term bureaucratic control creates a somewhat vivid picture of several employees deeply engaged in paper work while equally subjected to stringent rules. In Daft’s book, bureaucratic control is regarded as controlling through establishing comprehensive policies, rules, and procedures aimed at directing the actions and behaviours of the various divisions, individuals or functions (Daft, 2008). According to Daft, bureaucratic controls entail rules, procedures, standardization of the organizational activities and budgets. On the other hand, Mourdoukoutas (2006) defines bureaucratic control as the control achieved with use of standard procedures of operation and a comprehensive system of set rules that shape and define behaviour of individuals, divisions and functions. More over, Esarey (2008) and Mourdoukoutas (2006) describe rules and the standard procedures of operation as directing the employee on what is to be done, standard procedures as making the outcome predictable, and output control as significant in correcting mistakes. The two authors thus emphasize that bureaucratic control involves the application or use of particular policies, written documents/documentation, hierarchies of authority, reward systems as well as a number of formal mechanisms with the ultimate goal of influencing employee behaviour, and addressing performance issues. With this, it can thus be argued that bureaucratic control is the use of particular verification procedures as well as standardized rules to control not only individuals within the organization but also the very organization itself for the efficient running of the organization.

Ways that bureaucratic controls have changed with the development of modern management techniques

For decades, bureaucratic control has been widely used in most organizations owing to its appropriateness in several management situations. Despite this, bureaucratic control has exhibited major drawbacks relating to factors such as its expensive nature and its applicability in modern organizations, as Daft (2008) highlights. With the environmental turbulence abounding, technological developments and employees being expected to react accordingly to the unforeseen events, the modern organization has seen increased demands for flexible responses as well as dynamic thinking, not a standardized behaviour. Thus, with the dawn of modernity, this trend has significantly changed to a point where a significant number of contemporary organizations have turned their back on the former single most dominant control approach. This is attributed to various factors including developing trends, the fact that it translates to “red tape” and that firms often turn out to be too standardized thereby discouraging flexibility.

The recent developments, especially developments associated with information technology, have significantly transformed the bureaucratic controls thereby contributing significantly to the development and use of modern management techniques. In fact, IT enabled change has played a significant role in spurring the development of another paradigm beyond the common bureaucratic control, post-bureaucracy. According to Tang (2000), the actual panoptic visibility that has been provided by the new technology has enabled the management to successfully decentralize power without fully losing control.

Bureaucratic controls have turned to be the actual focus of popular/common dislike to a large number of modern organizations riding in the wave of modern management techniques. The upsurge of modern management techniques has indeed massively impacted on the relevance of bureaucratic control and hence transformed its tenets significantly. To this end, modern management techniques have overtaken the traditional bureaucratic control to a point that changes within bureaucratic control have become inevitable. According to Alvesson & Willmot (2002), post bureaucracy has indeed emerged owing to the fact that bureaucratic controls have been insufficiently responsive while also insufficiently adaptable to the intensified competitive pressures. Grey& Garsen (2001) are however more sceptical about the last line by Alvesson & Willmot (2002), considering the post-bureaucratic discourse to be dependent upon the ‘capitalist story’, a modern dogma relating to competition, unprecedented changes, new technology and globalization.

As Williams (2006) states, there have been significant transformations within bureaucratic control. Williams (2006) states that close supervision of activities as well as the monitoring of organizational activities have come to be replaced not only with empowerment, but also discretion. This actually implies that, as parts of a traditional management technique, close supervision and monitoring have gradually and surely been transformed to empowerment and discretion, to fit with the ‘current economies’. In a similar manner, the common tight rules often dominating bureaucratic control have witnessed a significant shift to loose rules, where employee autonomy has become a significant concern in a large number of organizations. While rules are easily mad but proving difficult to eradicate in a bureaucratic control system, a particular current thought is reflected in the strong emphasis by modern organization to relinquish their rules annually while retaining only the meaningful ones.

This has indeed extended towards procedures and has been reflected in the way modern organizations emphasize and focus on flexible procedures contrary to the traditional bureaucratic control organizations that utilized highly-prescribed procedures. Hodgson(2004), for instance, makes those control strategy transformations central to the manner in which he describes post bureaucracy as conscious, intended post-modern strategy used to increase flexibility of the social structures while also making such amenable to the indirect, internalized control. Bureaucratic control has mostly been based on centralized structure which is currently not the case as decentralization has been the centre of focus in modern organizations. While bureaucratic control was synonymous with a low commitment culture, the upsurge of modernity within organizational management overtook thereby forging a high commitment culture. The dawn of contemporary organizational management ushered in a high-trust culture as well as a culture of mutual interest from the bureaucratic control’s low trust and adversary culture. Indeed, it could be argued that modernity in organizational management has seen the turning of stringent bureaucratic tenets to loose bureaucratic ones.

Actually, whatever happens within modern organizations is striking a balance between particular characteristics of bureaucratic control and the developing techniques. Thus, in the modern management techniques, it is irrefutably insufficient to exclusively highlight benefits of a formal working arrangement. As highlighted by Williams (2006), modern organizations have recognized the need for complementing the various deterrents with suitable incentives in order for employees’ endeavours to be transferred into legitimate realms. More over, in terms of eliciting the required behaviour change, modern management technique values and considers positively reinforcing a good behaviour as quite effective as compared to negatively reinforcing bad behaviour .the modern management policy emphasis in the actual sphere on the rewarding of good behaviour contrary to punishment of bad behaviour is thus not surprising (Williams, 2006). This is especially in consideration of the clear evidence pointing towards positive reinforcement (rewarding individuals for their good deeds) as actually more effective than negative reinforcement (punishing individuals for their wrongs) in realizing behavioural changes. As a matter of fact, there is currently a much research concerning this, including ways of motivating employees and providing effective leadership within organizations. It is actually considerable harder to encounter individuals being punished as a way of encouraging behaviour change. On the contrary, most people are rewarded. As such, in realizing behavioural change, modern management techniques consider the benefits of formal working in combined with various incentives. Even with this kind of positive reinforcement, modern management still views the very positive reinforcement as insufficient. In many modern managements therefore, this is just but a part of the larger project of winning and endearing commitment, as argued by (Mourdoukoutas, 2006). In fact, Instead of striving to control behaviour using direct controls, the most common approach among the modern organizations is using indirect controls by aiming at winning the heart and mind of the individuals so as to engender the needed self policed compliance.

Commonly referred to as post bureaucratic management or the high commitment management, this particular approach used in the modern management is often confined to firms or organizations. Despite being regarded by many as a reserve of business organizations, the approach has been taken seriously and widely adopted in several other fields. Management studies have currently shifted their interest in the direction of the fascinating transition trend, from bureaucratic to post bureaucratic management style and control. The post-bureaucratic side actually charges managers with the responsibility of combining the subjective as well as the emotional aspirations of the workforce with the organization’s strategic goal. According to Grey & Garsten (2001), the shift is characterized by movement from the behavioural compliance right to the employee commitment thereby resulting in an enhanced performance through the various culture change programs. The shift indicates the direct control from the external control (compliance) to the internal control (commitment). As such, within the modern management models, there is that shift from the externalized control to the internalized control that relies heavily on value acceptance along with peer reinforcement as opposed to rule following.

Whereas compliance was traditionally looked for hence maintained by the externally-imposed bureaucratic systems that generated reactive behaviours contrary to the much needed proactive behaviours, the very intention and focus of modern management has been the search for commitment mainly through the internalized believes and generation of constructive proactivity from the employees. As highlighted by Daft (2008), in order for modern management to accomplish the goals and fully capture the heart, the mind, and the soul of the workers, modern management technique subjects the workers to the properly and purposely designed brand values, the vision statements and the mission statements.

While surveillance still retains its role as a useful tool in exercising control, the managerial practices no longer recognize coercive controls that were so common in the 19th century and the bureaucratic controls experienced in the twentieth century. The current post bureaucratic control is more focused on the instilling of values, worldviews and emotions in accordance with an organization’s interest in a manner that generates the required internal control from individuals as well as teams surrounding them. As highlighted by Boucher (2013), reward is among the most significant tools used in modern management to generate such an internal control


According to the above analysis, it is apparently clear that bureaucratic controls have been under serious questions regarding the techniques used in the management of organizations. Bureaucratic controls have been widely discussed in terms of their relevance in the modern era. Actually, the fact that the traditional policies have been questioned has only served to create a significant dissatisfaction with the bureaucratic controls. As highlighted, the only choice that has seemed to offer the modern management teams what they desire is more of a combination of bureaucratic control and other preferred alternatives to some of its questioned principles with regards to this, the emergence of post bureaucratic control, otherwise commonly termed as high commitment management, was in evitable. With the unveiling trends of management in the modern times, it is without a doubt that bureaucratic controls will soon loose a larger part of their share in the management of organizations.


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