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The Proverbs of Administration

The Proverbs of Administration

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Published by: Analyn Quibedo Tagayuna on Jun 14, 2011
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A Synthesis-Review: Herbert A. Simon: The Proverbs of Administration Rosamond L.


Herbert Simon’s use of the term proverbs, as applied to administration, is not what it is traditionally and strictly described in almost all books. By traditional and strict definition, proverbs are usually homey, witty, concise and colorful statements of general truth and wisdom, especially of a moral nature, that are often stated in an alliterative or rhymed form and maxims. There is nothing homey, witty or colorful about Simon’s description of the proverbs of administration. However, there are arguably some form of truths and wisdom in his opinion. What Simon means by proverbs is that these are the generally accepted criteria for “good” administration. He termed these as some accepted administrative principles which to him are both plausible and at the same time contradictory in nature, ideally accepted and at the same time much criticized, commonly applied and found to be functional while at the same time creates much difficulty and confusions to most organizations. The bottomline for Simon’s argument on the proverbs of administration is that each of these generally accepted criteria, while desirably applied to administration, creates consequences that are not administratively desirable. The following are the proverbs or criteria which Simon subjected to critical analysis: a) Specialization. This first “principle” or criterion of administration normally carries the belief that this shall improve efficiency. Simon, however, argued that specialization conceals its own fundamental ambiguities. For one, specialization is not a condition of efficient administration but is an inevitable characteristic of all group effort, irregardless of how efficient or inefficient that group effort is. For another, specialization merely means that different persons

then it follows that more people are required to accomplish all things. exercise of judgment and probably even sense of accountability to those who merely follow the commands and are subservient to authorities. Second. there should be a single determinate person whom the subordinate is expected to obey. c) Span of Control. Third. Since. in case two authoritative commands occur and are in conflict. b) Unity of Command. In contrast. creativity. In most cases. unity of command prevails over expertise and/or specialization. then only those types of specialization which are represented in the hierarchy of authority can impress themselves on decisions. According to Simon. the occurrence of multi-authorities within the organization can usually lead to confusions among subordinates. Simon argued that this is in .are doing different things. First. such principle in a bureaucratic structure generates lack of initiative. This is a principle that states that efficiency of administration lies in limiting the number of subordinates under one supervision. by application. However. there is a high probability that two persons are always doing different things. not necessarily at the same place or at the same time nor efficiently as expected. This is manifested whenever disagreement occurs and the members revert to the formal lines of authority. This is because specialization is about making decisions in such a way that this decision is made at a point in the organization where it can be made most expertly. unity of command is about following authority and the decisions of the “higher-ups” which are not necessarily done expertly. and – the sanctions of authority should be applied against the subordinate only to enforce his obedience to one person. the principle of unity of command conflicts with the principle of specialization. unity of command also produces negative consequences. This particular criterion inherently carries an assumption that having organizational arrangement in a determinate hierarchy of authority enhances administrative efficiency.

This is so because simplification of work involves each contact between members being carried upward until a common authority is found for decision making while at the same time going through channels downward for forms and instructions.contradiction to an administrative principle that states: Administrative efficiency is enhanced by keeping at a minimum the number of organizational levels through which a matter must pass before it is acted upon. weakening his control over subordinates. Clientele. creates a dilemma in a large organization with complex interrelations among members where a restricted span of control inevitably creates excessive red tape. Process. After subjecting these four “principles of administration”. Since these four are competing bases. process. This is known as simplification of work. thus. clientele and place are competing bases of organization. d) Organization by Purpose. Place. the advantage of one might be sacrificed to secure the advantage of the other. Some considered purpose and clientele as the two possible bases for organization while others argued that purpose and process are more important. the so-called experts on administration could not agree on guides as to which of these are applicable to any given situation. Moreover. this principle is internally inconsistent as purpose. Simon contends that from the discussion on specialization. which. thus having a cumbersome and time-consuming process. Should this be “corrected” by increasing the number of persons under one supervision so that the pyramid of authority will come more rapidly to the peak with less intervention. The bottomline is: that these four aspects while considered as bases for “good” administration have their own inherent contradictions and competitions. Simon concluded that none of . The bottomline for this is: that the administrative principle of span of control has both positive and negative consequences to the organization. at any given point of division. this would lead to difficulty for an officer with too many to supervise. according to Simon.

In essence. Simon contends that one aspect that has to be given much focus is the role of each member in the organization. This can be done by finding out the limits of the quantity and quality of each member’s outputs. can be done by looking at several alternatives and finding out which among these alternatives would lead to greatest accomplishment with least expenditure of efforts and resources. To diagnose means finding the exact nature of the administrative situations. Moreover. Such limits include his ability to perform and his ability to make correct decisions. For Simon. there is a need to subject the different administrative situations into diagnosis. in diagnosing the administrative situations. over-all efficiency must be the guiding criterion with the mutually incompatible advantages be balanced against each other. Simon hypothesizes that in the design of administrative organizations as well as its operation. By dealing these limits. To find that operational definition.the four survived to be in a very good shape as there is always something that is incompatible with one after the other while all of them are equally applicable to administrative situation. which among other things. what Simon is pointing out is that for efficiency to be operationalized. He further concluded that none of the four can be singly sufficient as a guiding principle for administrative analysis. Each situation produces its own efficiency. This efficiency must be given operational definition which means that it has to be operationalized or applied in each given situation. Finding out these limits would then lead to finding ways of dealing with them as an approach to reaching the goal of high efficiency. this operational definition is what is needed in contrast to the current administrative description which suffers from superficiality. administrators would look at the strength of one member that . oversimplification and lack of realism. there is no such thing as best practice applicable to all given situation.

Finally. Simon’s emphasis on this article. aptitude and attitude of people within the organization. Accordingly. Even results of researches. what is needed is empirical research and experimentation to determine the relative desirability of alternative administrative arrangements using the so-called operative definition of efficiency. is mainly to contend that this so-called “proverbs of administration” be over-hauled. only experience can tell how exact or how best can the proverbs of administration be applied. Doing this analysis and/or research entails following two conditions. if an administrative organization whose activities are susceptible to objective evaluation be subjected to study. In conclusion. then the actual change of accomplishments can be observed and analyzed. experimentations and studies do not give a hundred percent of guarantee for administrative efficiency. expressed in terms of these objectives. after analyzing its defects and undesirable consequences. it is necessary that sufficient experimental control be exercised to make possible the isolation of the particular effect under study from other disturbing factors that might be operating on the organization at the same time.# . every administrative situation entails looking at the complementation of skills. Second. it is necessary that the objectives of the administrative organization under study be defined in concrete terms so that results. Hence.could complement to the limits of another. can be accurately measured. One. To do this.

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