Author: Paulo Moura, political scientist

Source: Diego Casagrande, 15/10/2007

Nowadays, common sense perception of bureaucracy is consensually synonymous with inefficiency; slowness; procrastination and corruption. It was not always so. Bureaucracy was invented to make the management and functioning of the complex organizations of the nascent urban and industrial society efficient. With the emergence of specialized work on the production lines, the execution of tasks previously done individually; handmade and on a small scale, it started to be performed by several individuals who shared the performance of partial and synchronized tasks; within timed timescales and through standardized and sequential procedures.

The specialization of work fragmented the relations between individuals in the production lines and demanded the articulation between them to guarantee the coordinated and sequential execution of the specialized functions, in order to make their execution feasible. Thus were born the numerous functions and professions linked to the branch of administration. The purpose of bureaucratic structures was to make the production and management of companies and the State efficient.

The image that best represents the structure of organizations in urban-industrial society is that of an organization chart in the shape of an inverted funnel. The brain is at the top and the orders for the base to execute are from it. From the top, the commands flow into the range of subordinate channels towards the bins horizontally aligned at the base of the structure. These are responsible for carrying out what the messages coming from the dome that plans and decides to order, whether they be of production or provision of services.

The leadership domes monopolize the strategic information and pass on commands through ellipsoidal messages, determining the execution of tasks to the lower bins of the organization chart, without the subordinates having global knowledge of the process and of the whole project being executed by the organization as a whole. Access to the organization's knowledge and strategic information or to the global content of the projects in execution is shared unevenly with the lower bins. The information is distributed in a controlled manner. Like the gears of machines or soldiers in an army, the executing official must not evaluate, create or criticize the orders he receives. You must just stick to them.

The knowledge required of “pedestrians” is elementary, limited and scarce. They are only expected to perform repetitive execution, synchronized with their peers and standardized in their operational procedures, in order to make possible the combined articulation, in the form and in time, of the collective tasks that will result in a final product. This pattern shapes both production on the factory floor and service delivery organizations.

Seen as a static diagram, the organization chart is “perfect” and was brought to the state of the art with the Taylorist theory of scientific production. Putting at the service of the intermediation of the relations between the top that thinks and decides and the base that executes without thinking, the theoretical logic took other forms. Rather than producing efficiency, the intermediate structures of the organization chart produced increasingly critical distortions. In the path between the dome that decides and the base that executes, the command messages go through tortuous paths in a complex labyrinth, permeated by apparent irrationalities and supposedly insurmountable obstacles for those who do not know the logic of the web and need agility and efficiency in execution and results .

The rationality implicit in the management of these structures supposes that, due to the attributions of planning, managing, supervising and auditing the organization's operations, the intermediate bureaucratic segments, integrated by more qualified employees, produce efficiency in the processing and execution of their part in the task chain. However, taking advantage of the compartmentalization of the organization chart and the occupation of strategic positions for filtering and mediating information in circulation, and also, the control of the relations between the dome that commands and the base that it does, the bureaucracy acts as a corporation oriented by their own interests in preserving positions and obtaining advantages. There, another logic is introduced, generally in conflict with the requirements of agility and efficiency of the organization as a whole in achieving its goals.

The sectors that exercise the function of mediation and filtering of information then start to fight for the control of the largest possible number of functions; subordinate bins and employees and, as a consequence, the information that leaves the dome towards the base of the organization chart. Conflicts are introduced in the organization's internal relations, as members of the hierarchy dispute power, selecting and redistributing, at their discretion, messages and information related to commands, in order to enhance their positions of power in decision-making structures, even if at a loss of the organization's purposes. The same methods and behaviors are adopted by different bureaucratic corporations in different organizations. The bureaucrat's power is related to the intermediation of decision-making processes, resource allocation and information distribution. Inflating the organization with more subordinate bureaucrats and with structures that consume energy, time and resources is, in general, the solution presented by bureaucrats to the problems caused, precisely, by the excess of bureaucracy.

The result of this process, under the cumulative effect of time, introduces a huge load of irrationality to the functioning of the organization as a whole. The orders of the summit do not translate into results, or, when they are, they generate aberrations that are far from the intention of the emitter of the command. Inefficiency, waste and corruption reproduce on an exponential scale within bureaucratic organizations over time.

Addicted to slowness and the numbing logic of bureaucratic dynamics, employees resist innovations; they see their positions threatened by those with higher than average productivity levels and propose changes to increase efficiency. The internal life of the organization and its activities half become the center of the bureaucrats' concerns, which are inflexible in the face of difficulties that require creativity and solution not foreseen by the usual routines and norms, although not explicitly prohibited by the rules of the organization. Notwithstanding intestinal conflicts, the bureaucracy acts as a faceless corporation in the defense of its interests, establishing a pattern of behavior observed, invariably, in all modern organizations.

Max Weber, the visionary German sociologist who lived the turn of the 4th to the 30th century, a competent critic of Marxism and creator of the concept of patrimonialism, was the one who first researched the phenomenon of bureaucracy, about which he developed the clairvoyant theory synthesized here. Although present in any complex organizations and which depend on specialized leadership, in private companies submitted to competition for profit and the imperative of survival in the market, the existence of an owner allows to control and correct the distortions that are more quickly observed. In the state sector, there is no competition and the owner of the public thing is an abstract entity - the people - and distant from bureaucrats, commanded by managers who change every XNUMX years. In addition, the public and political character of the civil service, as well as the constant proximity of the official to the political manager - who lives by votes - makes the summit that decides permeable to the corporate pressures of the state bureaucracy, aggravating the distortions that, without it, already undermine the efficiency of private organizations. The average income of the population of the Plano Piloto de Brasília is XNUMX% higher than the average income of the rest of the Brazilian population. I wonder why?

The emergence and scale use of new production and communication technologies from the 1980s onwards imposed the need to implement revolutionary innovations on the managers of private organizations. Automation of work and communication through digital networks enabled the reduction; or even the elimination of bureaucratic structures of companies, imposing creativity, intelligence, constant updating of knowledge, initiative and decision-making autonomy, as prerequisites for new workers. Managers and “business owners” were challenged to change their relations with their employees, sharing power, decisions and profits as a way to overcome the challenge of competition from the new system.

And the Brazilian bureaucratic and patrimonialist state, which manages the resources of us stolen in exchange for services due and not delivered, resists change and penalizes the society that supports it with more employees; more bureaucracy, more inefficiency and more taxes.