ADLER typewriter Model n°7 (Frankfurt / Germany). Unknown model date (probably ~1930/40). By Dake

Bought Jaques’s A GENERAL THEORY OF BUREAUCRACY

E. Forrest Christian Reviews - Books, Theory 1 Comment

I got the Red Cover edition of Elliott Jaques’s book today. I could have saved some cash and ordered it from Australia, but I figured that the Friends To The North would ship more quickly. And they did: it arrive a week and a half after my ABEBooks order.

I have no idea what the Red Cover edition comes from. I don’t think it’s the first edition.

I’ve been borrowing Glenn Mehltretter’s copy since dropping in and seeing him. Thanks, Glenn! I’ll be sending it off tomorrow via insured UPS.

It’s a pretty thick book but just the discussion of the properties of Roles has made quite an impression. Jaques talks about how different sociologists have thought of social roles. He seems to come down on the side of those who favor both pre-existing roles and Goffman-style “create them as you go” roles. Many times the role is simply negotiated between us. Goffmanites argue that all interactions are the result of negotiated reality between the two persons. I may see that you are my boss but that doesn’t mean that I will act that way. Much of the role devices that we see used in business have to do with maintaining the clarity of role division. Ed Schein talks about this, in a round about way.

For Role Based Access Control (RBAC), this has a great many ramifications.

Like most management fads, RBAC supports centralized knowledge and control. Each user (employee / associate / partner) is given a role. For example, a largish European bank had some 40.000 users and 1900 roles. (From the SACMAT conference proceedings that arrived recently.) Each user would be given one or more roles.

On the face, RBAC makes sense. People occupy roles so why not dole out systems access based on that role. The only problem is that this rationalized view of the corporation, I’m now convinced, doesn’t allow for work to get done. Real work follows a more confusing pattern of relationships.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not arguing for a non-hierarchical, “let’s all be a network” view of the organization. But these other ways of getting things done, especially lateral relationships within a stratum, play an important part. As the Communities of Practice folks have observed, the chatting is the work.

But that’s all for later on.

Image by Dake. (CC BY-SA 2.5)

About the Author

Forrest Christian

Twitter Google+

E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps managers and experts find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his "unique ability and insight" by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants. Forrest lives and works plain view of North Carolina's Mount Baker.  [contact]

Comments 1

  1. These “other ways of getting things done, especially lateral relationship within a stratum” are not in fact other ways of getting things done. Within a requisite organization the essential need for collateral and cross functional role relationships is fully acknowledged and Jaques’ as well as anyone else who understands his proposition recongize that work cannot be executed without the essential role relationships and the immediate and cross over managers expectation that subordinates will work in a mutual trust enhancing manner to achieve this condition.

Tell Forrest how wrong he is: