Charles Heckscher

Recent Articles

Can Business Beat Bureaucracy?

Attacks on bureaucracy have typically come from outside the corporate world; now they are coming from inside it. Are the business critics and reformers serious? Is American business really undergoing an internal transformation?

During the past twenty years, in a profound shift, the leaders of large businesses have turned against the models of bureaucracy that long served as corporate ideals. In rhetoric and practice, managers previously focused on establishing clear lines of authority and accountability. Now they often disparage older hierarchical forms of organization; James Houghton, chairman of Corning Glass, goes so far as to say that "the age of the hierarchy is over." Instead, the new language of management increasingly celebrates involvement, creativity, individual autonomy, participation, even "empowering" employees to use their own initiative. For those who value participation and human development -- indeed, for all those who care about the extension of democratic ideals in the world of work -- this change in corporate thinking is a startling evolution. For two centuries the dream of worker involvement in management has been persistent but almost entirely futile. From Robert Owen's factories to the...