Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856 – 1915) was an American inventor, mechanical engineer, and management consultant best known for his systematic approach to organization of work outlined in the 1911 monograph ‘The Principles of Scientific Management’. Taylor’s ideas, most frequently referred to as ‘Taylorism’, are widely recognized to be at the foundation of modern management theory, which is why we chose to read his book for the inaugural episode of Talking About Organizations!
The ‘Principles of Scientific Management’ was an instrumental text in the development of a ‘scientific’ approach to managing people and work process design. Taylor decried the waste of effort and resources that resulted from inefficient management practices. He saw traditional way of working, where employees would essentially learn by doing, as irrational and unjust to both the employees and the employers. To this end he proposed a science-like way of analyzing and reorganizing both the work and the management of it. The science part of scientific management centered on observing and timing factory employees as they did their work and then fragmenting results of those observations and measurements into the simplest possible constituent elements. This was done in order to reduce any job to a repeatable series of tasks as far as possible. The work management aspect of Scientific Management complements work design with a planning department that exists to prepare written instructions for work, assign daily tasks to individual employees, set work up, and evaluate records of performance.
Taylor’s system is simple, precise and extremely rewarding for both the employees and their bosses – all you need to do is hire a bunch of math geeks (don’t forget the slide rules!) to measure everything and everyone in terms of resources, find the most efficient way to apply those resources to manufacture of whatever it is that needs manufacturing, match workers to the new work, train the workers, create financial incentives to motivate the workers to work in the new system, reallocate your workforce as a result of being able to do much more work with fewer workers, and continue to monitor the work for improvement opportunities (ok, that is a bit of a handful). Taylor believed that companies practicing Scientific Management were guaranteed to outperform competition by a considerable margin and offered concrete case studies from his own experience and the work of others to support this claim.
So who would argue with higher efficiency, higher wages, greater management engagement with the work, and higher profits? Like many claims for special formulas that produce amazing results, Scientific Management presents challenges. Some argue that the systematic deskilling of work advocated by Taylor is dehumanizing, making work repetitive and boring. Narrow job specifications can inhibit coordination and development of systems expertise. Scientific Management has a very low opinion and uni-dimensional view of the motivations of workers. Taylor anticipates these criticisms as he presents his own philosophy of work and management, views on what motivates people and a task-oriented approach to selection and training.
What was Taylor’s motivation and why is that important? How and why is he making these claims? Was he the first to think of all this? Is his way really the best way? Can we still use it? And, most importantly, how are modern management practices indebted to the legacy of Scientific Management and is this a good thing?
Join us for this first episode as we discuss The Principles of Scientific Management by F.W. Taylor!
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To Learn More:
Joyce, D. (n.d.). Theories of work, Chapter 3: Management Science. Theories of Work.com. Retrieved from: http://www.theoriesofwork.com/theories-of-work-chapter-3-management-science/
Cummings, S., Bridgman, T., Hassard, J. and Rowlinson, M., 2017. A new history of management. Cambridge University Press.