To What Extent Does the Mcdonaldization Model Move Beyond Weber’s ‘Ideal Bureaucracy’? Essay

This assignment will look at the model of McDonaldization and its links to Max Weber’s theory of bureaucracy. The advantages and disadvantages of the model will be identified and examples will be given of how these will affect an organisation. Effects of McDonaldization on society will also be considered. The extent to which McDonaldization provides a comprehensive metaphor for contemporary society will be determined from the evidence presented.

The definition of McDonaldization is “The process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as the rest of the world” (Ritzer, 2004, p. 1). There are four main characteristics of McDonaldization which will be explained in relation to McDonalds. These characteristics are efficiency, calculability, predictability and control. Efficiency within McDonalds is demonstrated by the automated soft drink filling machines, the drive through where the customer leaves before they eat their meals and there is a selection of food is always ready for consumption.

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These examples help reduce the time it takes for a customer to arrive and complete their purchase which allows McDonalds to cater for a higher demand in a set period of time. Efficiency is also optimized by “the use of the customer as labour” (Nancarrow et al, 2005, p. 298) in ways such as them carrying their own food to tables and putting their own waste into the bin. Calculability relates to how the organisation measures its performance and sets its targets. With regards to McDonalds this calculability would come from “the quantitative aspects of products sold” (Ritzer, 2004, p. 3).

These aspects could include the portion size of a meal, the time it takes to cook a burger or how long it takes for a customer to order and receive their meal. This calculability helps management in planning day to day issues such as how many staff are needed to run the business. Predictability comes from the standardisation and specialisation of tasks as well as the implementation of policies and procedures. McDonald’s gains predictability by uniformity of products and the quality of them which is achieved through training staff to do things in a particular way.

This is an “attempt to structure our environment so that surprise and differentness do not encroach upon our sensibilities” (Keel, 2010). This allows a customer to know that a burger bought in one branch will be the same as a burger bought in another branch. McDonald’s implements control to try to reduce unpredictability by limiting variety on menus and limiting the responsibility of staff by specialising their jobs. Control is also implemented through the technology within McDonald’s.

An example of this would be the soft drink machine that automatically fills a cup to a specific level every time it is used or a deep fat fryer that alerts staff to when the chips are ready. McDonaldization and Max Weber’s ideal bureaucracy are closely linked. Weber identified three different types of leadership styles. These were charismatic leadership, traditional leadership and leadership based on objective criteria. Charismatic leadership is based on “personality and charm, rather than any form of external power or authority” (Changing Minds, nd).

Traditional leadership is based on precedents and habits. The third kind of leadership is based on objective criteria and it is the type of leadership Weber thought was ideal as it was based on rationality. Weber’s theory is that a bureaucracy would be efficient, predictable, calculable and controlled. These are the same characteristics of McDonaldization. Weber thought the way to achieve these characteristics was through division of labour, a clear hierarchical structure, rules and regulations and administrative impersonality.

Division of labour is the standardisation and specialisation of tasks. The roles of workers are clearly defined to maximise efficiency. A clear hierarchy would help coordination between different departments within an organisation and will make it easier to hold people accountable for mistakes. Rules and regulations based on rationality would be put in place to increase predictability by clearly defining what should be done in different circumstances. Each action for each circumstance is then uniform.

This leads to the need for a massive number of rules and regulations. Administrative impersonality is using rational criteria to make decisions rather than basing decisions on emotion or personal preference. McDonaldization goes beyond McDonalds and fast food sector into other sectors of business and society. A number of other businesses which have adopted the McDonaldization model are IKEA, Tesco, Starbucks and Blockbuster. Tesco is a highly McDonaldized organisation. Efficiency is maximised through job standardisation and specialisation.

Some workers will only operate a till and others will fill shelves with stock on one aisle which is their responsibility. This specialisation makes the worker learn the job well which means they will work faster as they will understand their job role. “People who work in formal rational systems function more efficiently” (Anderson et al, 2009, p. 481). This suggests that job standardisation and specialisation is good. Calculability is achieved by Tesco by them knowing how much stock can fit on each shelf and how long it takes to fill a shelf.

This is a helpful managerial aid as it will assist the manager in working out how many workers are needed to fill shelves per shift. Tesco is predictable in ways such as store layout although the store may vary in size which may affect what lines it carries. The trolleys will still be at the front of the store and so will the baskets. Customers will know what to do no matter which store they visit. A method to control customers would be self service checkouts. Customers are encouraged to use them by supermarkets as this reduces the amount of checkout staff needed therefore increasing efficiency.

All the supermarket needs to do is provide the products and the customer can serve themselves. There are a number of advantages to the McDonaldization model. Products or services that are provided by a McDonaldized organisation are far more uniform or standardised in ways such as appearance and quality. This means consumers know exactly what they are going to get and what to expect and the organisation knows exactly what it is producing. This is achieved by using “the principles of scientific management coupled with centralized planning” (Wilson, 2004, p. 5). The level efficiency involved allows the customer to get their product more quickly which possibly means more sales for the organisation as they will be able to deal with greater demand in a set period of time. Efficiency relating to the use of technology could reduce waste and so maximise profit. An example of this would be a machine that calculates the best way to get the most cuts out of a material on a production line within a clothes factory. This removes any form of waste from human error. There are numerous disadvantages to McDonaldization.

Most of these appear to occur due to Max Weber’s irrationality of rationality. Irrationality of rationality comes from “reactionary irrationalities that come out of the hyper-rationality of modern bureaucratic structures” (Cornell, 2003). As McDonaldization is linked to Weber’s theory of bureaucracy it appears that it will have irrationalities within it. De-skilling is one of the disadvantages of the McDonaldization model. De-skilling is the breakdown of a job into smaller tasks. This means that jobs become more tedious and involve less initiative to complete them.

This leads to a de-humanising effect where workers become tired of the work which may lead to absenteeism, lack of control and where non-human technology is implemented could end up in sabotage. McDonaldization does not allow for creative or innovation. This could cause problems for some organisations as this may cause them not to move forward and keep up with their competition. Creativity and innovation can be highly valuable for organisations as they could gain a competitive advantage from it. Workers within a McDonaldized organisation are homogenous and interchangeable.

This relates to low job security and de-motivation as if the organisation is not happy with a worker or their output they can easily be replaced. McDonaldization has caused a shift in the expectations and perceptions people have within society. Most people now expect a uniformity of product so they know exactly what they are obtaining. This is because people take comfort in the knowledge that they can predict outcomes of situations that arise. There has also been a shift in the perception of quality.

Society now regards quality in more of a quantifiable way such as speed of service, the amount of the product for a set value of money and how this compares to comparative products or services. The actual quality of the product matters a lot less to society than it did in the past. Most, if not every area of society seems to have aspects of the McDonaldization within it. When it comes to business, every organisation has the characteristics of the model to some degree. If there were not any aspects of the characteristics, especially calculability, organisations would not be able to set targets let alone see if they achieve them.

All profit seeking businesses want to become more efficient as that means more profit. Control is imposed by every organisation on their customers as they decide how they communicate with them. An example of this would be a catalogue company. The company could choose whether it wants to be mail order, telephone orders, internet based or all three. Also when customers interact with the company it is on the company’s terms in accordance with any policies and procedures in place such as the use of scripts. Employment appears to follow McDonaldization.

Jobs within each industry are continually being broken down into smaller tasks and some human jobs are replaced with non-human technology. This replacement is done in the form of investment into the employers company. As time has progressed more and more investment is made with regards to non-human technology. This increase in investment leads to more control. The culture of society conforms to McDonaldization in ways such as looking to fulfil needs and wants more quickly. This suggests that the demands of society are a driving force of McDonaldization.

Overall, the McDonaldization model appears to be quite a comprehensive metaphor for contemporary society and the direction it is going currently. The characteristics of the model are highly desirable by businesses and people alike so society will continue to become more and more McDonaldized over time up to a limit. The main limitation on how dominant McDonaldization will become throughout society over time would be due to the control aspect. Although people like to have lots of control, they do not like to be controlled themselves.

There will be a point where people will not allow anymore control to be exerted on them and at this point inefficiencies would occur do to human aspects such as de-humanization. This would mean that when this point in time is reached McDonaldization would stop spreading any further in society.


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