Up Sucker Creek

Up Sucker Creek
Photo Courtesy of the Lake Oswego Library

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Controling the growth of bureaucracy

City governments may start out small and lean, but over time, bureaucracy takes over and takes on  a life of its own, apart from the communities they serve.

What are the incentives at work that encourage the growth of government bureaucracy?  You will recognize the truth of the theories discussed below.  What can be done to control and limit government bureaucracy to meet our community's needs?

The Mathematics of Bureaucracy
By jfontelera, January 20, 2009

Although he saw many advantages for this arrangement, Weber (German sociologist Max 
Weber, 1947) also believed that in practice, it (bureaucracy) could become an "iron cage" for employees who are bogged down with excessive controls. He also lamented that bureaucracies will become an end in and of itself and will ultimately cease serving society, the IEEE Computer Society paper states.

Weber's criticism of bureaucracy is probably closer to how many people see it today. John Pourdehnad, management consultant and educator, agrees with Weber's criticism, writing on his blog that a bureaucracy "takes steps to preserve itself: It makes work and introduces red tape, and it imposes nonfunctional requirements on others, which 'justify' the made work."

Pourdehnad also adds that because people are being promoted based on seniority rather than merit, the bureaucratic organization continues to grow uncontrollably. "Since performance is not critical for survival, size is. ...Therefore, growth becomes an objective because it is an efficient way to secure survival," he argues.

Parkinson's Law, theorized by C. Northcote Parkinson, a British Royal Navy historian and author, explains this phenomenon by stating that "work expands to fill the time available for its completion" and in bureaucratic organizations, the number of people required to do the work will continually rise whether the actual volume of work stays the same, increases, decreases or disappears. (Source: New Scientist)

According to Parkinson, this occurs because workers want to multiply subordinates, not rivals, and make work for each other. For example, an overworked employee wants to diminish the amount of work he has to do. He can either: 1) resign, 2) halve the work with a colleague of equal standing in the company or 3) hire two junior employees to work under him.

The first option leaves him jobless, and the second brings a potential rival for a promotion. The third option is the only one that allows him to keep his standing in the company while allowing him to do less. It is also important to note that he requires two subordinates, because if only one were hired, he'd potentially end up with a rival again.

Inevitably, says Parkinson, the two subordinates will feel overworked and will want to hire people (two for each) to work below them. Now the organization has seven people doing the work that one person used to do — not exactly the model of efficiency Weber hoped for. In mathematical form, Parkinson's Law follows the formula:

x = 2km + p

Note: The article also discusses what the maximum number of committee members is before a committee becomes disorganized and disfunctional.   

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