Scientific management also known as Taylorism (Mitchan 2005) is a set of rules that govern job design in manufacturing department. Taylor(1911), the pioneer of scientific management first came up with the theory in the late nineteenth century after viewing widespread inefficient work or soldiering among workers. Taylor’s promotion of time and motion study, production-control methods and incentive pay” (Burrell and Morgan 1979,Littler 1982 cited in Green 1986) has made great contributions to the boom of production since they were applied in practice. With the emergence of knowledge and information society which is science, technology and innovation intensified (Fagerberg, landstorm,Martin 2012 ),whether scientific management is still appropriate and effective in the modern society is uncertain.
This article will explore suitability of scientific management in the new era. Firstly, principles of scientific management and influence of these principles in practical management will be reviewed followed by critiques of scientific management pointed out in the human relations movement. Then analysis of appropriateness and inappropriateness of scientific management in modern organizations will be illustrated in detail. Finally, conclusions will be made upon how to apply scientific management in the modern organization with modification of its demerits and giving full play to its merits to satisfy the demand of modern society.
Principles and influence
The principles of scientific management are major component of Taylorism. Taylor assumes that people are economic men who are so rational and self-interested that they can only be motivated by remuneration. The approaches of scientific management are based on several principles. First, tasks should be divided into simplest components.
Second, management should integrate all knowledge in a particular industry and transforms knowledge into rules that can be precisely carried out. Third, all brain jobs should be separated from direct workers and leave them with planning sectors. Fourth, skill requirements should be minimized in performing tasks. Fifth, the layout of equipment and facilities must minimize motion and time taken (Bratton et al. 2010).
Next, we will look at how these principles of scientific management have influenced the conduction of management later. A typical application of scientific management is Fordism who practiced division of labor and management of time and motion in the assembly line which made mass production and product boom possible. It is described as economic expansion based on a mass production using unskilled workers(Burrows, Gilbert & Pollert 1992) and partitions of complicated tasks into simple parts with the aid of tools(Tolliday & Zeitlin 1987).
So It seems Ford has inherited the principles of minimization of skill requirements and division of work from Taylorism. Another successful application of Taylorism may be the JIT production approach, originated by Ford, but perfectly applied by Toyota. According to Schermerhorn(1996), JIT is a system known for its efficiency and productivity of Japanese companies by reducing cost and improving workflow with material needed in production arrive just in time. It is fair and reasonable to judge that Ford absorbed some ideas of Taylor and scientific management into JIT approach development, such as time study(Petersen 2002).
Taylorism also has influence on other modern management methods like TQM (total quality control), a model used in both manufacturing and service industries in pursuit of continuous improvement, or kaizen (Boje & Winsor 1993). Merkle (1980) believes that continuous improvement calls for a standardized program that can be measured and reproduced, so tasks are regulated and carried out in a way indistinguishable from scientific management.
Reviews of scientific management in history and modern society
Some critiques of scientific management have existed for a long time. For example, Human relations movement researched the negative effects of it. The movement highlighted the importance of “worker participation and non-authoritarian supervisors” such as holding interviews for workers to complain about their dissatisfaction (Bratton et al. 2010).
And direct employee participation is considered as a crucial factor influencing company overall performance and well-fare of employees (Humphrey, Nahrgang & Morgeson 2007; Parker, Wall & Cordery 2001 cited in Stephen et al 2012). As we all know job involvement is helpful to sustainable development of the company because it is attributed to loyalty and pleasure of workers. But in contrary to the advocacy of the human relation movement Taylorism emphasizes that direct workers should be taken away from planning process and do simplest jobs.
The inappropriateness of scientific management in modern organizations can be found in three aspects. First, modern organizations have more demand for generalized workers than specialized ones. Expanding the range of jobs to eliminate boredom and inflexibility brought by repetitive and less autonomous work is called job enrichment (Mione 2006) However, the basic principle of scientific management is to minimize the skill requirements and train workers to be proficient in a particular task. As a result, scientific management can only cultivate deskilled, mechanical and inflexible workers that are certainly unsuitable in modern society. And it is also of no help to give full play to individual creativity and improvement.
The second shortcoming of scientific management comes with service industry and emotional work. Scientific management holds that workers only care about wages so they pay little attention to their internal needs. Nowadays, employees tend to be more concerned with intrinsic reward such as recognition and self –esteem from the organization instead of extrinsic rewards mainly in form of wages and salaries.
And emerging service industry and emotional work call for genuine emotions. Such emotions like patience and respect may not be truly felt by workers but must be present to customers as required by organizations (Manns 1999). As a consequence, workers are likely to be self-estranged and be harmed by surface acting. Today managers are expected to take more care about workers’ psychological needs and influence employees through education rather than supervision, so workers can perform deep acting and offer better customer service.
Third, scientific management is not so compatible with modern working styles. The working styles of modern organizations are becoming more result-oriented, and organizations usually form work groups or project teams to solve a problem or finish a task collaboratively (Bratton et al 2010). Such teams are made up of workers of different functions and they need to collectively discuss, analyze and solve the task. So communication and understanding are essential rather than isolation and no interaction advocated by Taylorism. Information technology has altered the spatiality of work: more workers choose to take short-term jobs and work at home. Under such circumstances, it is difficult to apply rules and control indicated by scientific management.
Despite inappropriateness discussed above, scientific management still has some reference to modern management. First, Taylor noticed the issue of work hours and researched the link between work hours and fatigue. He believed that short working hours are beneficial to both employers and employees, and similarly the balance between work and life is also a hot topic today (Nyland 1995). Second, Taylor’s study of manual work, division of labor and separation of plan and execution remove the uncertainty during production and provide the most efficient arrangement.
Third, scientific management attaches great importance to the training, teaching and development of employees which is also a prevailing practice in modern organization. Fourth, scientific management though neglects communication among fellow workers, stresses cooperation and equal division of responsibility between managers and employees. It’s vital to keep close relationship between managers and workers. Fifth, not all workers are intelligent enough for autonomy and decision-making, even in today’s knowledge society, some knowledge work is repetitive with little thinking; therefore, it is suitable for those workers to work under the direction of scientific management (Paton 2013).
In conclusion, scientific management has some reference in today’s information and knowledge society in terms of work time, employee training, production stability and work distribution. But it cannot stand alone in modern management. It seems incompatible with modern organization of high involvement, job enrichment, psychological concerns and changed working styles.
It is obvious that Taylorism can still play a role in the knowledge work today if it can be introduced to modern organization with absorption of its merits and removal of outdated elements. It is suggested that scientific management be applied to knowledge work in pursuit of working efficiency but not in completely original form. First, modern organization should plan work time appropriately to improve well-being of workers and efficiency of organization performance.
At the same time, intrinsic rewards and psychological concerns should be given to workers. Second, organization must pay more attention to close relationship between managers and workers as well as interaction among fellow workers. Third, an organization seeking sustainable development should focus on improvement of employees and invest more on job training and education.
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