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Public Organization and the Problem of Change. This analysis argues that fundamental change in most organizations most of the time is not possible. This means that popular words like restructuring and reform are empty, signifying much ado about nothing.

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This analysis argues that fundamental change in most organizations most of the time is not possible.

This means that popular words like restructuring and reform are empty, signifying much ado about nothing.

The analysis applies to all public organization; schools, colleges and welfare agencies. But in all likelihood, it is equally applicable to private sector organizations as well.

schools are organized in the form of two species of bureaucracy
Schools are organized in the form of two species of bureaucracy
    • the machine bureaucracy
    • the professional bureaucracy
  • The difference between the two is in the type of work they do and the mechanisms available to control or coordinate the work
Machine bureaucracies do simple work- - work that can be
    • rationalized or broken down into a series of precise, routine tasks
    • that can be fully determined in advance of their execution.
Coordination of simple work is accomplished by building it into the work through the standardization of work processes.
  • Control of work and workers is achieved primarily through formalization
    • job specifications,
    • detailed instructions and
    • rules and regulations.
Professional bureaucracies do complex work - - work that cannot be rationalized.
  • Complex work requires the application of general principles to particular cases and thus involves uncertainty and ambiguity.
  • Complex work cannot be specified in advance completely.
  • Organizations configure themselves as professional bureaucracies when the work is too complex to be rationalized and too uncertain to be formalized.
Complex work requires that coordination be built into the worker through the standardization of skills which is accomplished through professionalization
    • training
    • indoctrination in professional schools
  • Simple work is coordinated through formalization.
  • Complex work is coordinated through professionalization
The type of coordination used determines the nature of interdependency among workers.
  • The nature of interdependency in turn influences the nature of change in organizations
Teachers and other client-oriented professionals work autonomously with their clients and only loosely with their peers
    • which shapes the nature of relationships.
  • Interdependence among teachers is an example of "pooled" or ”loose" coupling.
    • they share common facilities and resources but work alone with their clients.
  • In a machine bureaucracy, coupling is sequential where each worker (like links in a chain) is highly dependent on other workers.
Schools as public organizations get their legitimacy from the public ...
    • their survival depends on what the public wants them to be, which is an organization that conforms to the image of the machine bureaucracy.
  • Schools are forced to adopt all the trappings of the machine bureaucracy even though these do not fit the technical requirements of doing complex work in a professional environment.
  • Schools are managed with the wrong model in mind.
By design the machine bureaucracy seals off its operations by placing a barrier between the worker and client
    • - - i.e., through formalization.
  • The professional bureaucracy removes this barrier to permit a personal relationship.
Decoupling is a safety valve that permits schools to get out from under formalization.
  • The formal structure that schools are forced to adopt is disconnected from or has little to do with the work that is actually done.
  • The machine bureaucracy of schools is a facade that is created and maintained through symbols and ceremonies for internal comfort and public consumption.
  • The great irony is, the participants don’t even know it.
incompatibility of the typologies
Incompatibility of the typologies
  • The two structures are incompatible because formalization and professionalization use incompatible control mechanisms.
  • The two forms coexist by decoupling and buffering their work from one another.

Standardization built into the work


Standardization built into the worker

  • Both are bureaucracies because they use standardization to produce standard products or services.
  • Because they use standardization they require stable environments.
  • Both are performance organizations
    • they design themselves to do one thing well under stable conditions.
This means that the machine bureaucracy and the professional bureaucracy are non-adaptable structures in two respects.

Type 1 non-adaptability is related to

standardization as a coordination mechanism.

  • Teachers come equipped with a repertoire of standard programs that are applied to predetermined contingencies (categorization of student needs or goals and application of the program - pigeonholing).
  • This makes it possible to move through work without making continuous decisions every moment.
Students whose goals or needs fall at the margin or in the cracks between standard programs tend to get forced artificially into one category or another or pushed out of the system altogether.
  • Under these circumstances, the system screens out heterogeneity and uncertainty by trying to fit deviance into a standard program.
  • Needing help is not enough; the help needed must be of the kind the professional bureaucracy has been standardized to provide.
  • The professional confuses the needs of the client with the skills he has to offer.
Type 2 non-adaptability also comes from standardization.
  • As long as the environment is stable, the standardized program is sufficient or roughly acceptable.
  • When environments become dynamic
      • that is, when expectations are that something other than the standardized program be run
    • - organizations are potentially devastated.
Stability and dynamism impose two kinds of change; Fundamental change and incidental change.
  • A fundamental change requires that schools change the basic operations for which they have been standardized. Incidental change does not require a fundamental change.

Fundamental change requires that teachers do something different. Incidental change requires that schools do something additional.


As professional bureaucracies, schools cannot change fundamentally, only incidentally.

Schools are well suited for incidental change because they are performance organizations, not problem solving organizations.

Because schools are required to change but cannot change, they do the only thing they can do; they create the illusion that they have changed while remaining the same.
  • Schools relieve pressure by signaling the environment that change has occurred, thus maintaining legitimacy and public support.
  • This is possible because the signals of change are built into the machine structure which is decoupled from the actual work where change was meant to be focused.