What Is Administration?

When two men cooperate to roll a stone that neither one could have moved alone, the elements of administration have occurred. This simple act has the two essential characteristics of what is called administration.

There is a purpose—moving the stone—and there is cooperative action—several persons using combined strength to accomplish something that could not have been done without such a combination.

Administration, in its broadest sense, can be defined as the activities of groups cooperating to accomplish common goals.

Frederick LaneOpens in new window defined administration as “organizing and maintaining human and fiscal resources to fulfil a group’s goals.”

Other prominent scholars have also defined administration in similar fashion:
As defined by Leonard D. WhiteOpens in new window

Administration is the art of administration is the direction, co-ordination and control of many persons to achieve some purpose or objective.

As defined by Ordway TeadOpens in new window
Administration is conceived as the necessary activities of individuals (executive) in an organization who are charged with ordering, forwarding and facilitating the associated efforts of a group of individuals brought together to realize certain defined purposes.

As defined by E. A. Nigro

Administration is the organization and use of men and materials to accomplish a purpose.

As defined by Herbert A SimonOpens in new window

In its broadest sense, administration can be defined as the activities of groups co-operating to accomplish common goals.

As defined by J. M. Pfiffner:

Administration means the organization and direction of human and material resources to achieve desired ends.

Putting all these definitions into perspective, we can establish for a fact that administration is characteristic of all human enterprises to achieve a purpose or a predefined objective. However, the central idea of administration is rational action, defined as,

action correctly calculated to realize given desired goals.

As such, administration is cooperative human action with a high degree of rationality.

Human action is cooperative if it has effects that would be absent if the cooperation did not take place. The significance of high degree of rationality lies in the fact that human cooperation varies in effectiveness of goal attainment, whether we think in terms of formal goals, the goals of leaders or the goals of all who put in their cooperative efforts.

The term administration is also used in a narrower sense to refer to those patterns of behavior that are common to many kinds of cooperating groups and that do not depend on either the specific goals toward which they are cooperating, or the specific technological methods applied to attain these goals.

For example, the two men rolling the stone could have used various techniques in accomplishing their purpose.

  • They might have merely pulled and shoved the stone in some manner.
  • Or they could have used a pole or a steel bar as a lever.
  • They might have fastened a rope to it, with a pulley attached to the nearest tree.
  • They might have broken the stone with sledge hammers and then carried away the fragments.

The methods of moving the stone are legion.

However, administration in the more restricted sense is not basically concerned with the chosen technological methods. It is concerned with such questions as how the method was chosen—in this case:

  • how the two men moving the stone were selected and induced to cooperate in carrying out such a task,
  • how the task was divided between them,
  • how each one learned what his particular job was in the total pattern,
  • how he learned to perform it,
  • how his efforts are coordinated with the efforts of the other.

Although the illustration of the two men and the stone expresses the basic characteristics of administration, the complexity of modern life requires organized activity much more involved and specialized.

To build and market an automobile, for example, calls for a complex system of interrelationships.

Specialists of a bewildering variety must bring their competences to bear on the problem at exactly the right time and the right place.

Raw materials must be bought, processed, and transported to the place of assembly.

The factory must be planned and built. Thousands of men with exactly the right tools and skills must be on hand at an appropriate time.

Thousands of independent parts must be put together in a certain sequence. After the automobile is completed it must be transported and sold—a task requiring the aid of still other group of persons.

In all of this activity, every step is essential to the completion of the next step and any failure to cooperate at any one point may disrupt the whole pattern and make the accomplishment of the goal impossible.

If the steel makers fail to provide the steel; if the wheel maker fails to produce the wheels; if the dealers fail to sell the cars; the factory will close.

The key to the whole process is effective cooperation among the persons engaged in the operation. Since the problems are complex, the work has to be carefully planned. Estimates must be made as to what materials and persons will be needed at a given place and at a given time.

The participants must be induced to cooperate. And because resources are limited, the amount of materials and the amount of human energy used to accomplish the task must be held to a minimum.

The employment of ten clerks to accomplish a task that one clerk could do is inefficient—it brings more energy to bear on a task than is necessary for its accomplishment.

The Universality of Administration

Since administration is concerned with all patterns of cooperative behavior, it is obvious that any person engaged in an activity in cooperation with other persons is engaged in administration.

Even more interesting, since everyone has cooperated with others at some point in one’s life, one has some basic familiarity with administration and some of its problems. The boy’s club, the fraternity, the church, the political party, the school, and even the family require administration to achieve their goals.

Much of this administration is unconscious—that is, not deliberately or formally planned—but it is administration nevertheless. The father is often considered the head of the household, but he is not consciously selected as such by a formal vote. Unless he is completely henpecked, he certainly performs administrative functions, making decisions for the family and assigning tasks to its members.

Most persons, while they are engaged in administration everyday of their lives, seldom think formally about the process.

That is, they seldom deliberately set out to consider the ways in which the cooperative activities of groups are actually arranged:

  • how the cooperation could be made more effective or satisfying;
  • what the requirements are for the continuance of the cooperative activity.

In most of the simpler organizational situations in life—the family, for example—there are traditional and accepted ways of behaving that are gradually acquired during childhood and that are seldom the objects of conscious attention or planning. Like Molière’s hero who had talked prose all his life without knowing it, Opens in new window most persons administer all their lives without knowing it.

If large-scale organizations are to accomplish their purposes; if the extremely complex interrelationships of an industrial era are not to break down, organizational life—its anatomy and its pathology—needs to be understood.

Those who participate in and operate the formal organizations through which so much of our society’s activity is channeled must know what makes cooperation effective and what hampers it.

Either through experience or through formal education, or both, they must study administration. Our concern is with the formal study of Public AdministrationOpens in new window.

Administration in Formal Organization

With respect to selecting the method for moving the stone and communicating it to the two men, for example, the coordination of the two stone-movers could have been achieved in many ways.

  • There might have been a simple, perhaps even unspoken, common recognition that the stone had to be moved and a recognition of the type of activity necessary to move it.
  • Or the problem might have been talked over and a common agreement reached as to the best method.
  • There might have been an employer-employee relationship between the men, so that one of them decided on the technique and then ordered the other to assist in a given way.

These alternative methods might be considered in organizing almost any other kind of cooperative task—fighting a fire, paving streets, processing claims for unemployment compensation, or sorting letters in the post office. Hence, they are part of administration in the narrower sense.It is this narrower area of administration—the patterns of behavior that are common to human cooperation in organizations.

Therefore, any activity involving the conscious cooperation of two or more persons can be called organized activity.

However, in modern society cooperative activity is carried on within a much more formal structure than the one just described. Participants have tasks assigned to them; the relationships between participants are ordered in such ways as to achieve the final product with a minimum expenditure of human effort and material resources.

Thus, by formal organization we mean a planned system of cooperative effort in which each participant has a recognized role to play and duties or tasks to perform.

These duties are assigned in order to achieve the organization purpose rather than to satisfy individual preferences, although the two often coincide.

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