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Achieving Change and Innovation with a Bureaucratic Business Stance

Because it is systematic, bureaucracy is the best way to deliver change and

innovation in an organisation. Discuss.

Bureaucracy is a type of organisational form that exhibits a hierarchy of

ascending authority. This chain of command, based on the knowledge, rights
and responsibilities and entitlements attached to different positions, allows a
network of strict organisational rules and regulations to be enforced (Clegg,
Kornberger & Pitsis 2008). As a result, although innovation is more difficult
to achieve, the systematic business model is able to deliver change in an
organisation (Zimbardo, Maslach & Haney 2000; Rosen 1988; Browning
However, Courpasson and Clegg (2012) and Josserand, Teo and Clegg
(2006) criticise Webers theory of ideal bureaucracy and its lack of
flexibility, thereby making the model incapable of accommodating
subordinates suggestions for more effective change. Therefore, it can be
noted that bureaucracy is not as serviceable as it could be. To better
understand this concept, NASAs 1986 Challenger disaster (Dimitroff,
Schmidt & Bond 2005) will be investigated to show how bureaucracy can
not only prevent innovation, but also lead to the ultimate renunciation of an
organisations business goals, and, subsequently, the business as well.
Finally, since Courpasson and Clegg (2012, p. 56) contend that
bureaucracies have never been apolitical zones of efficiency, it will be
argued that bureaucracy, paradoxically, needs to transform itself before

innovative solutions to arising problems can be achieved (Birkinshaw &

Gibson 2004). For example, a business with a bureaucratic bias is required
to accommodate technological advancements and emerging contemporary
issues, such as gender-neutral work roles and pay, if it is to achieve
innovative methods to deliver maximum output, efficiency and profitability
(Courpasson & Clegg 2012; Josserand, Teo & Clegg 2006; Almeida,
Sheridan & Fernando 2010). Therefore, the emergence of other business
models might suggest that as industry continues to evolve, a bureaucratic
system is less effective in achieving change due to its rigid nature. A study
of the events of Ernest Shackletons unsuccessful 1915 Antarctic
expedition (Browning 2007) will be undertaken to illustrate this theory.

Since the hierarchical structure of bureaucracy creates a strict network of

rules and regulations within a business, employees are discouraged from
deviating from their area of expertise (Clegg, Kornberger & Pitsis 2008).
While this definitely is a limiting factor in promoting innovation, an
organisation is still able to achieve efficient solutions to complex problems
because each individual or branch of a firm works to solve a single part of a
problem (Clegg, Kornberger & Pitsis 2008). For example, if a business is
haemorrhaging money, research and development teams may look to
improve existing products or introduce original products, marketers will aim
to improve advertising, and financial managers will look to make savings in
unnecessary areas. When each arm of the firm combines its ideas with the
rest, an appropriate (and possibly innovative) solution to the money issue

should be evident. In this way a bureaucratic firms systematic nature is able

to deliver innovation and change.
However, some commentators believe that change will often be regular
and systematic, and will rarely be innovative. In fact, Josserand, Teo &
Clegg (2006) criticise the bureaucratic belief that there has always been a
correct and successful method of carrying out business and that the if it
aint broke, dont fix it rule applies. This may very well allow a
bureaucracy to remain functional, but will definitely limit the organisations
potential, especially as industry evolves (Dimitroff, Schmidt & Bond 2005).
For instance, an employee working in a bureaucratic organisation will often
be unwilling to question or challenge a business decision of a superior
because that employee fears reprimand or isolation from the business
(Zimbardo, Maslach & Haney 2000). As a result, a bureaucracys workers
will usually leave an organisations goals uncontested. Therefore, the
business will continue to achieve its goals at the most basic level, and it will
be unlikely that the firm will exhibit much innovative strength Birkinshaw
and Gibson (2004).

However, although the story of Shackleton and his Antarctic expedition

provides an example of the success of bureaucracy in achieving innovative
solutions under pressure, as mentioned, some commentators believe that
bureaucracy is an out-dated system that fails to keep pace with industry
requirements (Courpasson & Clegg 2012; Josserand, Teo & Clegg 2006;
Dimitroff, Schmidt & Bond 2005). Achieving change through innovation is
a difficult task; and at times change will more likely come about due to

failures of the bureaucratic system. For example, NASA is generally

regarded as an impressively innovative organisation. However, it took the
1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster to demonstrate how sclerotic the
organisation had become and how bureaucracy can breed its own demise.
The necessary restructuring of NASA following the disaster emphasises the
point (Dimitroff, Schmidt & Bond 2005).
It is commonly believed that as industry and technology evolves, as
community values change and as contemporary issues arise, a business must
be responsive to the changes and adapt or die (Josserand, Teo & Clegg
2006). If an organisation is unwilling to change its practices, numerous
problems are bound to occur (Almeida, Fernando & Sheridan 2012). For
example, it is generally agreed that the Challenger was doomed due to the
strict, inflexible bureaucratic culture of NASA, where recommendations
from consulting experts to postpone the launch were derided or ignored due
to lack of compelling evidence (Dimitroff, Schmidt & Bond 2005).
This is just one aspect of the limitations of bureaucracy where inferior
employees hesitate proffering useful suggestions or recommendations
because they fear repercussions for deviating from the organisational norm
(Dimitroff, Schmidt & Bond 2005; Josserand, Teo & Clegg 2006). This was
one of the main features of Zimbardo, Maslach and Haneys (2000) study of
the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment where prisoners were found more
likely to obey superiors commands because the prisoners feared
punishment. Again, aspects of this theory can be observed in the Challenger
incident. Although an expert engineering team cautioned against the launch,
Dimitroff, Schmidt and Bond (2005) believe that the original decision to

postpone the mission was overturned because of pressure from NASAs

upper echelons and their government and political employers. As a result,
the flight went ahead, failed, and led to the deaths of seven people.
In this case, it can be seen that bureaucracys rigid nature can definitely
limit an organisations potential for innovation. As already noted, a common
characteristic of bureaucracy is the belief that there has always been a
correct way of approaching a certain situation and that such a method should
never change (Josserand, Teo & Clegg 2006). In NASAs case, the previous
Challenger space shuttle missions had successfully completed in similar
conditions, and it was believed that the risk was minimal. But, as Dimitroff,
Schmidt and Bond (2005, p. 31) put it, the string of successes finally
caught up with NASA, and the organisation was forced to implement
change: the Office of Safety, Reliability, Maintainability and Quality
Assurance was established to oversee the safety and quality of future
Although change was achieved in this bureaucratic organisation, it came
at an excessive cost. NASAs studied obtuseness to the situation and its
unwillingness to deviate from normal operations led important decision
makers to debate expert advice and recommendations. Based on Brownings
(2007) reference to Blake and Moutons 1964 managerial grid, NASA
placed a higher concern on production than on people, and the consequences
were tragic. Therefore, it must be noted that bureaucracys systematic nature
can definitely be a limitation in delivering innovative measures to a

Therefore, as implied earlier, in order to achieve change through

innovative measures (and not failures), it is obvious that bureaucracy is
required to regulate itself as industry evolves. Although some commentators
wish to see the system disappear entirely, Josserand, Teo and Clegg (2006,
p. 55) are resigned to the fact that bureaucracy cannot be avoided, but
should rather exist in a hybrid form only, like a ghost lurking in machinery
of the network. In fact, Birkinshaw and Gibson (2004) talk about the issue
of ambidexterity, an organisational state where adaptability to market forces
and a commitment to delivering value are achieved simultaneously. It is
believed that if an organisation can be ambidextrous, it will be more
innovative and open to change, and therefore will be more efficient and
profitable (Birkinshaw & Gibson 2004).
This theory is admirably demonstrated in Ernest Shackletons expedition
to Antarctica in 1915. Shackleton managed to employ a bureaucratic
leadership style in a disastrous life-and-death situation (Browning 2007).
Although Shackleton was head of the ships power hierarchy, he lived on the
same level as his crew. He took pains to understand each crewmembers
personality and was able to effectively persuade them to work for the
wellbeing of all. If this enlightened method of leadership could be adapted
to an organisation, the bureaucratic hierarchy could be levelled, employees
would no longer be restricted to their own branch of expertise and an
organisation should be able to achieve the most innovative solutions to
problems. This idea chimes in Rosens (1988) recount of his experiences at a
company Christmas party, where superiors climbed down the stairs of the

hierarchy and mingled with the commoners. Here, problems were resolved
and the business emerged energised as a result.
Both Rosen (1988) and Brownings (2007) arguments signal the
emergence of the post-bureaucratic era, which Clegg, Kornberger and Pitsis
(2008) suggest places more emphasis on civil consensus rather than on
autocratic authority. As a result, a business can afford to be more open and
willing to change. For example, unlike the invulnerable nature of NASA,
Shackleton reflected high concern for both production and people on the
managerial grid (Browning 2007). As Shackleton was prepared to deal with
unknown situations as they occurred, his leadership style was seen to be
more post-bureaucratic and was thus more likely to display innovative
techniques in leading his men to safety.
Finally, Morgan and Spicer (2009) suggest that innovative changes in
industry have come as a direct response to resistance in the workplace. As in
bureaucracy, where employees were trained to be corporate clones and
never question a firms actions (Josserand, Villesche & Bardon 2012, p. 6),
the opposite is encouraged in post-bureaucracy. The capacity for a firm to
react and respond to employee criticism shows great innovative potential
(Courpasson & Clegg 2012), something that NASA, prior to 1986, was
unwilling to accommodate. Therefore, as industry evolves, it can be seen
that the post-bureaucratic business stance is a more effective in delivering
change and innovation in an organisation.

In summing up, it can definitely be argued that a bureaucratic business is

able to achieve change. However, this change may not be innovative. The

definite hierarchical structure obliges employees to concentrate on their

areas of expertise only and limits their desire or capacity to resist inefficient
practices or outdated rules. As a result, a sense of monotony can ensue, and
the innovative potential of these corporate clones will be restricted. Thus,
most change that occurs in a bureaucratic organisation will often be due to
mandatory alterations in industry or shifts in community values. Therefore,
change can be achieved in a bureaucracy, but it is unlikely to be innovative
or original until certain policies of the strict business design are relaxed.
On the other hand, it should be noted that there are other more obvious
ways to deliver change and innovation in an organisation. The postbureaucratic model regulates itself more often and allows organisations to
be more aware of and receptive to the emergence of new and unknown
market forces. Therefore, post-bureaucracy and other newer business
models can be more successful in delivering change and innovation within
an organisation.
In conclusion, bureaucracys systematic nature limits an organisations
innovative potential. The paradox is obvious: in order to be innovative and
deliver the most appropriate change to a business, bureaucracy must first
transform itself into a more flexible system that countenances change. The
emergence of the post-bureaucratic era can be seen as proof that
bureaucracy will survive, but in a hybrid form dependent less on a
systematic attention to traditional procedures and more on a concentrated
awareness of and adaption to the ever-changing needs of a business

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