Max Weber in his social theory elaborated without clarity four main types of rationality. It was his position that rationality existed in four main variants; formal, substantive, practical and theoretical. According to Weber, rationality sufficed for purposes of rationalizing society into the modern form it has assumed. Rationalization, in the precepts laid by Weber, would occasion the shape and trajectory the society assumed and gave society its capitalistic character. Weber was cardinal on the consequences of rationality. He asserted that formal rationality was perhaps responsible in larger measures to the ethic bases that would lead to capitalism. However, an evaluation of Weber’s works reveals a careless and uncommitted approach towards the distinction of the various forms of rationality and especially in relation to the rationalization. This paper would grapple with the colossal and onerous task of outlining the distinction between substantive and formal rationality. The task would be accomplished through a diverse approach that employs the work of Weber in attempting to draw the distinction.
Substantive rationality is more concerned with the value in decisions and outcomes. It, therefore, looks at the final outcome with a consideration put of the value of the end and attendant returns. To this extent, substantive rationality would be guided by a result oriented approach that is predicated on the need to achieve positive results. In this context, substantive rationality in management and organization would be more inclined towards the substance of the process results rather than the procedure in the process.
On the other hand, formal rationality is more concerned with matters of fact. In that context, formal rationality looks into the calculations of procedures and means to an end and examines their realities and objective abilities to achieve an end. Formal rationality in management would be likened to the conservative approach that is modelled around predetermined and simulated concepts and ideas. In the long run, both formal and substantive rationality apply in equal measure in the management process.
It would be improper to canvass this discourse without engaging the precepts of the originator. According to Weber, formal rationality ought to be credited for the rationalization of the society. Weber opined that it was out of formal rationality that systems approached issues with the calculated means and procedures that would see the end result being positive. One of the outstanding precepts in Weber’s analysis was the role of religion. He asserted that religion, due to its diverse approach based on an ethic gave the leeway for the promulgation and attendant establishment of the capitalists system. The nature of religion with its calculated approach has served to influence processes to poses ethical undertones that in the long run led to the societal order that was.
However, even though Weber saw in the capitalist establishment an ethic base that was largely formal in its rationality, it should be appreciated that formal rationality works on a larger premise and is not limited to ethics only. This can be seen in the modern concepts and practises in management. The flow of management today is premised on a calculated and forecasted approach that has the internal and external mechanisms of a calculated result. In this vein, the approach that is premised on formal rationality is seen in the modern management concepts that apply heavy scientific approaches. In these models, often the end results have been postulated in simulated forms so as to see the likely scenarios eve before implementation.
This has occasioned a situation in the management front where only calculated and procedural measures are taken. In the age of risk analysis, this approach to solving management challenges has proved effective. What has resulted in the end is the proliferation of the application of formal rationality to organizational management. In the domain of human resource management, managers continue to apply concepts originating or deriving from the basic laid by Weber in his formal rationality. In addition, it ought to be appreciated that the place of religion and its ethic contribution to the rationalization of society has been replaced by contemporary ethics that draws from moral precepts rather that isolated religious precepts. Some of the ethical drives have been drawn from the collective approach that international morals have founded.
The developments in modern management have also been influenced in lengths by the scientific advancements. These advancements have by large facilitated the formal substantive approach in management. This could be seen in light of the technological applications that provide a better methodology of calculations and means of procedure. In this aspect, modern technology can be said to have contributed to the distinct and facilitated approach in management based on the nobles of formal rationality. It has taken fundamental concepts of scientific models to enable the entrenchment of the formal rationality.
It is illustrative in the same breadth that Weber had developed an indebt analysis of authority structures in relation to rationality. This has been applied in the overall managerial practise to entrench a formal rationality premise. Cases in point on the authority structures can be seen in the methods proposed by Weber. These are traditional, charismatic, coercive and rational approach to authority. The three subtypes in Weber’s analysis have all being used in the overall utility of the formal rationality.
In the overall application of formal rationality, management has been concerned more with the process rather than the final outcome. This, perhaps, has been facilitated by their belief that the implementation of the laid out process to the letter of the provision would have the ultimate result of positive results. It has, therefore, been marked by an intensely scientific approach in the overall formulation and implementation of managerial processes. The implication, which is inclined towards Weber’s assertions, has seen the application of certain and definite mechanisms in the overall pursuit and roll out of managerial processes. In the long, the philosophy in line with the formal rationality approach has seen an application of processes that have been calculated and measured and estimated to be likely consequent of positive results. This result oriented approach has seen the application of a more risk free managerial process where organization of people is calculated and based decision models that are definite and procedural in nature.
On the other hand, substantive rationality looks at the matter of value with the main concentration on the end result. This approach in substantive rationality is more inclined towards an informality that is premised on postulating positive end result. The substantive rationality works on the precepts of results and does not indulge in the letter of procedures. Rather, it looks at the finality in results and places no significant concentration on the procedures. This has given the substantive rationality a risky character. Since no definite set of procedure is followed, the substantive rationality entertains informality in its application that is predicated on the concept of positive results and achievements.
In addition, substantive rationality considers the ultimate gain made in a process. Management that adopts the substantive rationality is more flexible and receptive of internal ideas from the employee base. This management style is more prone to open sessions and flexible to interaction and contributions of the management. It should be appreciated that the imperative that drives this kind of management is diverse and contrasts sharply to the approach adopted in formal rationality. In the former, the main concern of the management is the attendant result that would come out of the process. It should be noted that this approach entertained by the substantive rationality is responsible for its overall success in the management process. In the long run, substantive rationality looks at what may be described as the substance of the process. That is how much beneficial is the process. It considers the final outcome and draws a direct relation to the returns. This return based approach to managerial endeavours continues to contribute to the risk based approach in management. In this context, risk is entertained in as much as it as its resultant returns. In fact, the higher the risks, the higher the returns.
In attempting to distinguish the substantive rationality from the formal rationality, one needs to undertake an analysis of the managerial process and the body of managerial theory that has characterised the managerial sphere since time immemorial. This section shall take the journey through the rich managerial history and highlight the key developments in managerial theory. It should be appreciated from the onset that generally, the managerial history and current practises have shown a gradual yet consistent movement from the formal rationality precepts to the substantive rationality precepts. In other words, there has been a deliberate and consistent development that tends to shift from the formal based rationality to the substantive rationality.
This can be seen in the changing managerial practises and body ethics. Looking at the current managerial practices, one has to entertain concepts such as management by objective and management by agreement. It should be appreciated that these are some of the signs that the managerial theory and practise is headed the substantive rationality direction. In substance, one may want to interrogate how the above two fall within the province of substantive rationality. One needs to consider their salient features which pose heavy substantive undertones. Management by objective (MBO), for instance, requires that the management set objectives and allow employees to pursue the objectives through their own independent and internally generated mechanisms. In this mode of management, the manager’s role is merely facilitative. The manager seeks to provide a conducive managerial background and environment and the employee is left to his devices to see to it that the managerial concerns are pursued and implemented to the letter. This approach departs from the classical approach entertained by the formal rationality.
A contrast to the management by objectives that would fall within the formal rationality could be cited in the hierarchical system practised under the classical managerial systems. In the hierarchical systems, the organization dwells on the concept of delegation of implementation roles only. This is to mean, under a hierarchical system, employees have little decision making abilities even though the tasks involved relate to the pursuit of managerial objectives. In this case, the management make the decisions usually in isolation and without the involvement of employees. The decision is then communicated to employees, and they are expected to pursue implementation. This approach also entertains formality and respect to the management. Weber appreciated this mode of management. In his treatise on the administrative bureaucracy, Weber observes that the hierarchical system is good for the overall management of the organization. In Weber’s opinion, bureaucracy facilitates the overall orderly management of an organization. In fact, Weber appreciated bureaucracy and recognized it for its ability to create an element of control and certain in management. This narrative that is more inclined towards a system of control and certainty reflects in large measure the reliance in the formal rationality that is often inclined towards the application of calculated and measured methods of organization. The control and certainty is exercised through the follow up of a benchmark or threshold predetermined.
However, contemporary management appears to have assumed a different approach and is today more liberal and less conservative. Modern management allows employees more opportunities to deviate from the planned approach in as long as the overriding objective is achieved. This approach in modern management has assumed a substantive rationality character that is concerned with the ultimate achievement of results rather than the methodologies in play.
The management by agreement is another element in modern management that favours the substantive rationality. In management by agreement, employees and the management engage each other in open dialogue and negotiations. It is in these open sessions that the overall managerial and workplace objectives are agreed. The employee is given the rare opportunity to elect his own objectives with the guidance of the manager. Ultimately, the employee is facilitated in the pursuit and achievement of the agreed objectives. This approach is devoid of controls, supervisions and regulations. What the management undertakes to do is merely contributing towards the achievement of the overall goals. The manager sees to it that the employee receives the right environment and the right factors necessary for the pursuit of the organizational objectives. This approach purposely enables the achievement of organizational objectives. It should be appreciated that this approach is alien to formal rationality and effectively sits within substantive rationality. This is because the main concern of the organization is the achievement of the results. The organization is not locked in the traditional modes where hierarchy and superiority conferred decision making on the management only. In the latter, the employee was merely an implementer of instructions and managerial decision making had a finality that was not subject to any challenge by employees. However, the former envisions managerial decisions being challenged for the ultimate constructive arrival at the best solution for the organization.
Over time the managerial practise has shifted from the classical approach that had bureaucracy, control and formality as the main precepts governing managerial decision making. In addition, the approach to managerial problems was more conservative with the management retaining most of the decision making abilities and powers. The manager was responsible for objective formulation and had to provide the formula of implementation and see to it that the implementation was smooth. This system was hinged on a formal rationality framework that entertained less delegation of authority, power and resources from the managerial functionaries to the employees. However, contemporary practise has taken a deviation that could be said to have assumed a substantive rationality framework. In the contemporary management, the fundamental concern is the achievement of results. Organizations have discarded their obsessions with hierarchy and managerial control. Delegation and decentralization have become more essential and common. In addition, the approach today has entertained more contributions from the employees.
Several reasons could be given in relation to the new trends. Firstly, the place of technology and globalization has had to be appreciated. In regard to globalization and highly technology based systems, the old system that was premised on the formal rationality precepts has been found incompatible and unnecessary. Organizations no longer find it necessary to concentrate decision making powers and roles and the resource control at the top. Instead, this has only presented complexities in the execution of work operations. In the need to bridge this technological divide; management has had to adopt less rigid and less formal systems that delegate authority and resources down to the lower employee levels. This has enhanced delivery and discharge of functions for the organization is no longer inhibited from working by mere procedural issues. It should be noted, however, that the system has not necessarily done away with the bureaucracy and the hierarchical nature of organizations. What has actually occurred is the leaning of these systems. The bureaucracy has been cut, and only the necessary and central portions left. In addition, organizational structures have been flattened so as to entertain a flatter structure that does not introduce unnecessary managerial levels within the organization.
It should be noted that the best outcome has been witnessed in managerial concerns that adopt an interplay that owns characters of both systems. This perhaps exonerates Weber in his preference for formal rationality. While formal rationality in isolation is not only incompatible to modern management, but equally inapplicable and unnecessary, the substantive rationality cannot also be applied in isolation. The informality in the latter makes an isolated application risky and potentially detrimental. It is what may be descried as radical management. In the organizational setup, the competition has become so stiff so that organizations cannot afford to pursue high risk measures. Instead, the approach organizations have favoured is that which entertains the least risks possible while still being compatible and sensitive to the contemporary managerial developments.
In conclusion, it should be appreciated that formal rationality relies on the calculations and procedures inherent in a system or process. This requires that some level of certainty and success is seen. It also works in consonance with the classical approach to management that regarded hierarchies and bureaucracies as imperative. This system is based on controls, regulations and supervisions. It ultimately ensures that the management process is formalized and that overall rationalization is based on predetermined procedures. On the other hand, substantive rationality is less formal and based on an approach that is informed by the end results rather than the process is passes through. To this extent, substantive rationality embraces any approach that would result in the successful achievement of results.
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