Decision-making in the administrative of organizations process

Administrative activity is group activity. Simple situations are familiar where a man plans and executes his own work; but as soon as a task grows to the point where the efforts of several persons are required to accomplish it this is no longer possible, and it becomes necessary to develop processes for the application of organized effort to the group task. The techniques which facilitate this application are the administrative processes.

It should be noted that the administrative processes are decisional processes: they consist in segregating certain elements in the decisions of members of the organization, and establishing regular organizational pro- cedures to select and determine these elements and to communicate them to the members concerned. If the task of the group is to build a ship, a design for the ship is drawn and adopted by the organization, and this design limits and guides the activities of the persons who actually construct the ship.

The organization, then, takes from the individual some of his decisional autonomy, and substitutes for it an organization decision-making process. The decisions which the organization makes for the individual ordinarily (1) specify his function, that is, the general scope and nature of his duties; (2) allocate authority, that is, determine who in the organization is to have power to make further decisions for the individual; and (3) set such other limits to his choice as are needed to coordinate the activities of several individuals in the organization.

The administrative organization is characterized by specialization— particular tasks are delegated to particular parts of the organization. It has already been noted above that this specialization may take the form of “vertical” division of labor. A pyramid or hierarchy of authority may be established, with greater or less formality, and decision-making functions may be specialized among the members of this hierarchy.

Most analyses of organization have emphasized “horizontal” special- ization—the division of work—as the basic characteristic of organized activity. Luther Gulick, for example, in his “Notes on the Theory of Organization,” says: “Work division is the foundation of organization; indeed, the reason for organization.”6 In this study we shall be primarily concerned with “vertical” specialization—the division of decision-making duties between operative and supervisory personnel. One inquiry will be into the reasons why the operative employees are deprived of a portion of their autonomy in the making of decisions and subjected to the authority and influence of supervisors.

There would seem to be at least three reasons for vertical specialization in organization. First, if there is any horizontal specialization, vertical specialization is absolutely essential to achieve coordination among the operative employees. Second, just as horizontal specialization permits greater skill and expertise to be developed by the operative group in the performance of their tasks, so vertical specialization permits greater expertise in the making of decisions. Third, vertical specialization permits the operative personnel to be held accountable for their decisions: to the board of directors in the case of a business organization; to the legislative body in the case of a public agency.

Coordination. Group behavior requires not only the adoption of correct decisions, but also the adoption by all members of the group of the same decisions. Suppose ten persons decide to cooperate in building a boat. If each has his own plan, and they do not communicate their plans, the chances are that the resulting craft will not be very seaworthy; they would probably meet with better success if they adopted even a very mediocre design, and if then all followed this same design.

By the exercise of authority or other forms of influence, it is possible to centralize the function of deciding so that a general plan of operations will govern the activities of all members of the organization. This coordination may be either procedural or substantive in nature: by procedural coordination is meant the specification of the organization itself—that is, the generalized description of the behaviors and relationships of the members of the organization. Procedural coordination establishes the lines of authority and outlines the sphere of activity of each organization member, while substantive coordination specifies the content of his work. In an automobile factory, an organization chart is an aspect of procedural coordination; blueprints for the engine block of the car being manufactured are an aspect of substantive coordination.

Expertise. To gain the advantages of specialized skill at the operative level, the work of an organization must be so subdivided that all processes requiring a particular skill can be performed by persons possessing that skill. Likewise, to gain the advantages of expertise in decision-making, the responsibility for decisions must be so allocated that all decisions requiring a particular skill can be made by persons possessing that skill.

To subdivide decisions is rather more complicated than to subdivide sion in a particular operation, it is often possible to add the knowledge of a lawyer to that of an engineer in order to improve the quality of a particular decision.

Responsibility. Writers on the political and legal aspects of authority have emphasized that a primary function of organization is to enforce the conformity of the individual to norms laid down by the group, or by its authority-wielding members. The discretion of subordinate personnel is limited by policies determined near the top of the administrative hierarchy. When the maintenance of responsibility is a central concern, the purpose of vertical specialization is to assure legislative control over the administrator, leaving to the administrative staff adequate discretion to deal with technical matters which a legislative body composed of laymen would not be competent to decide.

Source: Simon Herbert A. (1997), Administrative Behavior, Free Press; Subsequent edition.

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