Conditions of the Professional Bureaucracy

This third configuration appears wherever the operating core of an orga- nization is dominated by skilled workers—professionals—who use pro- cedures that are difficult to learn, yet are well defined. This means an environment that is both complex and stable—complex enough to require the use of difficult procedures that can be learned only in extensive for- mal training programs, yet stable enough to enable these skills to become well defined—in effect, standardized. Thus, the environment is the chief situational factor in the use of the Professional Bureaucracy.

In contrast, the factors of age and size are of less significance. Larger professional organizations may tend to be somewhat more formalized and to have more fully developed staff-support structures. But that does not preclude the existence of small Professional Bureaucracies, or, for that matter, of young ones as well. The Machine Bureaucracy has a lengthy start-up time because the standards need to be worked out within the organization. Thus, it passes through a period of Simple Structure before its procedures become routinized. In the Professional Bureaucracy, in con- trast, the skilled employees bring the standards into the organization with them when they join, so there is little start-up time. Put a group of doctors in a new hospital or a group of lawyers in a new law office, and in no time they are functioning as if they had been there for years. Size would seem to be a relatively minor factor for the same reason, and also because the professionals to a large extent work independently. One accountant work- ing on his own adheres to the same professional standards as 2,000 work-ing in a giant firm. Thus, Professional Bureaucracies pass quickly through the stage of Simple Structure in their formative years.

Technical system is an important situational factor only for what it is not in the Professional Bureaucracy—neither highly regulating, sophisti- cated, nor automated. The professional operators of this configuration re- quire considerable discretion in their work. It is they who serve the clients, usually directly and personally. So the technical system cannot be highly regulating, certainly not highly automated. The professional resists the rationalization of his skills—their division into simply executed steps— because that makes them programmable by the technostructure, destroys his basis of autonomy, and drives the structure to the machine bureaucratic form.

Nor can the technical system be sophisticated. The surgeon uses a scalpel, the accountant a pencil. Both must be sharp, but they are other- wise simple and commonplace instruments. Yet both allow their users to perform independently what can be exceedingly complex functions. More sophisticated instruments—such as the computer in the accounting firm or the coronary-care unit in the hospital—reduce the professional’s autonomy by forcing him to work in multidisciplinary teams, as he does in the Ad- hocracy. These teams are concerned in large part with the design, modifi- cation, and maintenance of the equipment; its operation, because that tends to be regulating and often automated, impersonalizes the relation- ship between the professional and his clients. Thus, in the pure form of the Professional Bureaucracy, the technology of the organization—its knowledge base—is sophisticated, but its technical system—the set of instruments it uses to apply that knowledge baseis not.

Thus, the prime example of the Professional Bureaucracy is the per- sonal-service organization, at least the one with complex, stable work. Schools and universities, consulting firms, law and accounting offices, and social-work agencies all rely on this configuration as long as they concen- trate not on innovating in the solution of new problems, but on applying standard programs to well-defined problems. The same is true of hospitals, at least to the extent that their technical systems are simple. (In those areas that call for more sophisticated equipment—apparently a growing number, especially in teaching institutions—the hospital is driven toward a hybrid structure, with characteristics of the Adhocracy. But this tendency is miti- gated by the hospital’s overriding concern with safety. Only the tried and true can be used on regular patients. Institutions entrusted with the lives of their clients have a natural aversion to the looser, organic structures such as Adhocracy.) A good deal of the service sector of contemporary society, in fact, applies standard programs to well-defined problems. Hence, the Professional Bureaucracy tends to predominate there. And with the enor- mous growth of this sector in the last few decades, we find that this configuration has emerged as a major one.

So far, all our examples have come from the service sector. But Profes- sional Bureaucracies can be found in manufacturing, too, notably where the environment demands work that is complex yet stable, and the techni- cal system is neither regulating nor sophisticated. This is the case of the craft enterprise, an important variant of the Professional Bureaucracy. Here the organization relies on skilled craftsmen who use relatively simple in- struments to produce standard outputs. The very term craftsman implies a kind of professional who learns traditional skills through long apprentice training and then is allowed to practice them free of direct supervision. Craft enterprises seem typically to have tiny administrations—no tech- nostructures and few managers, many of whom, in any event, work along- side the craftsmen.

Many craftsmen were eliminated by the Industrial Revolution. Their jobs—for example, the making of shoes—were rationalized, and so control over them passed from the workers who did them to the analysts who designed them. Small craft enterprises metamorphosed into large Machine Bureaucracies. But some craft industries remain—for example, fine glass- work and handmade pottery, portrait photography, and gastronomic cui- sine. In fact, as these examples indicate, the term craft has today come to be associated with functional art, handmade items that perform a function but are purchased for their aesthetic value. Evidence suggests that one major industry, construction, has also remained largely in the craft stage.

The markets of the Professional Bureaucracy are often diversified. As noted earlier, these organizations often bring together groups of profes- sionals from different specialties who serve different types of clients. The hospital includes gynecologists to serve women, pediatricians to serve chil- dren, and so on; the university has its philosophy professors to teach those interested in general knowledge and its engineering professors for those in search of specific career skills. Hypothesis 11 would lead us to the conclu- sion that such market diversity encourages the use of the market basis for grouping the professionals. In fact, we have already seen this to be the case (although we also saw that the market basis for grouping turns out to be equivalent to the functional one in Professional Bureaucracies, as a result of the way in which professional services are selected).

Sometimes the markets of Professional Bureaucracies are diversified geographically, leading to a variant we call the dispersed professional bureau- cracy. Here, the problem of maintaining loyalty to the organization be- comes magnified, since the professionals do their autonomous work in remote locations, far from the administrative structure. The U.S. Forest Rangers, for example, are dispersed across the United States, each one on his own, as are CIA agents and certain consultants. As a result, their organizations must rely extensively on training and indoctrination, es- pecially the latter. The employees are selected carefully, trained exten- sively, and indoctrinated heavily—often by the organization itself—before they are sent out to the remote areas to perform their work. Later, they are brought back to the central headquarters for fresh doses of indoctrination, and are often rotated in their jobs to ensure that their loyalty remains with the organization and does not shift to the geographical areas they serve. The Professional Bureaucracy is also occasionally found as a hybrid structure. In our discussion of hospitals earlier, we alluded to a possible combination with characteristics of the Adhocracy that we can call the professionalbureau/adhocracy. Another hybrid—the simple professional bureau- cracy—occurs when highly trained professionals practicing standard skills nevertheless take their lead from a strong, sometimes even autocratic, leader, as in the Simple Structure. Consider, for example, the symphony orchestra, an organization staffed with highly skilled musicians who play standard repertoires. Some people have described it as a dictatorship of the conductor. In any event, there is no denying its need for strong leadership, based on direct supervision. In fact, after their revolution, the Russians tried a conductorless orchestra, but it lasted only a few years before con- flicts among the musicians necessitated the reintroduction of a central leader.

Finally, we might note briefly the effects of the situational factors of power, notably fashion and the influence of the operators. Professionalism is a popular word among all kinds of identifiable specialists today. As a result, Professional Bureaucracy is a highly fashionable structure—and for good reason, since it is a rather democratic one. Thus, it is to the advantage of every operator to make his job more professional—to en- hance the skills it requires, to keep the analysts of the technostructure from rationalizing those skills, and to establish associations that set indus- trywide standards to protect those skills. In these ways, the operator can achieve what always escapes him in the Machine Bureaucracy—control of his work and the decisions that affect it.

Source: Mintzberg Henry (1992), Structure in Fives: Designing Effective Organizations, Pearson; 1st edition.

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