Scientific Management – Frederick Taylor Essay

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Scientific Management – Frederick Taylor


Frederic Taylor was one of the pioneers of management theory. His work was a product of the Industrial Revolution and the strict societal views and class structures of that day. Although scientific management is often criticized today, its key principles are still applicable in many areas of work and life.

Scientific Management- Fredrick Taylor

Employee management techniques and procedures are central to the effectiveness of a business. Every business must find a way to complete the tasks necessary for it to provide its goods and services to the marketplace. Because a business is unable to act unless all of its employees, from interns to the chief executive officer, act as a single team to achieve the goals the business has established, it is essential for a business to determine how it can affect these employees to have them produce the results the business needs. Today many management techniques and theories tend to center on the personality or character of employees and how best to affect people based on their psychology or personalities. For example, some theories center on the motivations that can drive a person to take action, others on how persons react to different management styles. Management theories today recognize that employees are a key part of a company and that management theories are not just about controlling employees. Management theories must consider how to motivate and encourage workers to perform their jobs.

Management theories, however, must also consider the value of employees and that employees have different personalities and goals. There also is an understanding that there cannot be one management theory that works on all employees equally, on all types of businesses, or for all managers all of the time. The differences in setting, work, employer, manager, and employee must all be considered today. The most effective management theories of today are not meant to apply to all situations. Their developers understand that different situations and people require different methods and techniques because today society understands that all people have individual needs and offer different potential. At the time of the industrial revolution, however, there was a belief that laborers and managers were different classes of people. The thought was that people should be treated differently based on their social status. Management techniques were not concerned with “who” an employee was. Instead, management techniques were more concerned with assuring managers had order and control over employees, similar to the way a parent has over a child.

While the goal was the same as it is today, to achieve company goals, the belief was that labor had no role to play other than to follow orders. There was no thought or expectation that a laborer could have any knowledge or character that the employer may benefit from. At that time it was the role of management to train or convert a person into what the company needed. When management though of employee or labor training, what it thought about was not training that would benefit the person the employee was. Instead, training was thought to be geared to improving the production of the employee for the benefit of the employee (Berdayes).

The management style that was developed in this society, which remains one whose principles are still relevant today, was “Scientific Management”. It was a style geared to determining the best methods management could require employees to follow so that work was done most efficiently and productively (Berdayes). In fact, Taylor once indicated that managers/employer had to understand that: It is only when we fully realize that our duty, as well as our opportunity, lies in systematically cooperating to train and to make this competent man, instead of in hunting for a man whom someone else has trained, that we shall be on the road to national efficiency.

This statement clearly indicates the view that any man could be trained to simply follow a procedure and that would lead to great results. However, to fully understand scientific management it is important to understand the mind of the man from whom it originated: Frederick Winslow Taylor (Roper). Frederick Winslow Taylor was a member of the middle or upper middle classes of his time (Guru). He was born in 1856 into a family of Quakers, who believed in “plain living,” (Guru). His father was an attorney and Taylor graduated with a degree in industrial engineering from Stevens
Institute of Technology in New Jersey (Guru). As can be expected, based on this resume, Taylor was a part of management. In fact, while he worked his way through school, his jobs were those of a skilled worker, not a laborer (Guru). He worked in a metal products factory as a machinist where he eventually became a foreman (Guru). Then, he was promoted into the role of a research director and “finally achieved the position of chief engineer.” (Guru).

The fact that Taylor was born into a family headed by an attorney and his ability to attend college, even though he worked, seems to attest to the fact that he was from the higher classes of the time. Student loans and programs by the government were not available at the time to assure that students could afford an education if their families were unable to pay for them. Taylor’s jobs, although he worked as a machinist for years, also indicate that he was never a laborer on an assembly line or a member of that class of workers that was lowest in the society of the time. Taylor’s views, therefore, can be seen to more closely aligned to those of managers and employers than to labor. A person’s view point is greatly shaped by their upbringing and life experiences. Taylor’s life is almost empty of any contact with, or connection to, an average laborer. Taylor’s father was very successful as an attorney. Taylor spent his early teen years in private schools in France and Germany (Stearns).

He then attended the famous Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and was set to attend Harvard University Law School (Stearns). Society at the time of Taylor’s life was very different from the democratic and accepting society of today. Those who lived in Taylor’s circles did not associate or interact with those in the lower classes (Stearns). People were expected to be born in a certain class and die in that class. People obtained the education expected for their class members to have, they worked in jobs their class was expected to obtain, and they were presumed to have intelligence, feelings, and thoughts which their “class” was stereotyped as having (Stearns). Taylor is often perceived as looking “down” on the lower classes and the laborers of his day (Schachter). This was the era of the Industrial Revolution, where people were being looked at by employers and those who were building the American industrial complex, as machines (Stearns). Just as a motor’s part can be replaced, employers thought of employees are interchangeable parts of the machinery of the assembly line (Stearns). Indeed, there are several documented instances where Taylor speaks of workers as lacking in intelligence or being lazy in their work (Schachter).

In particular, there is one instance in which he observes a German bricklayer doing his job and describes him as lazy and unintelligent due to the way he performs his work (Schachter). However, in reality this “simple” man, was not only working full time as a bricklayer, but had also managed to purchase a parcel of land and was in the process of building his own home, on which he would work after his normal twelve hour day was over (Schachter). This was the stereotypical view of laborers, that they had no purpose, role, or life, nor could they benefit society in any other way than as labor, or a part of the “industrial machine”. In fact, it is this view of so much of humanity as being nothing more than parts of a large industrial machine that people such as Max Weber began to look at the way in which society was devaluing humanity (SJSUIE). It is interesting, however, that while Weber’s management theories were meant to humanize production, in the areas of sociology, his theory of management was one that also can be seen as evolving out of a fixed view of class and social structure.

Weber’s “ideal bureaucracy” formulated a system of management in which a firm hierarchy was put in place (SJSUIE). Through this system all involved were to firmly know and understand their responsibilities and duties (SJSUIE). Another system of “rules” for the new industrial complexes that were developing came from Henri Fayol (Holmblad). Fayol’s work went beyond that of Weber to provide more guidance for management as to their roles (Holmblad). Fayol established the five principle roles of management at this time: to forecast and plan; to organize; to command; to coordinate; and to control (Holmblad). Both of Weber’s and Fayol’s theories are interesting concerned only with the structure of management or the role of those in management (Holmblad). The viewpoint taken by both of these theories is that the important part of management is the managers and labor merely has to follow their managers’ orders. This is perfectly in line with the view taken of labor at the time period. It is in this society that the theory of scientific management developed.

Taylor was convinced that efficiency and productivity could be obtained through the use of study of motion and the use of that work to develop efficient production methods (Wrege). As Taylor argued, the techniques of science, so respected in society, could be applied to labor (Salvendy). This would permit the discovery of the most productive means of building a product or completing a process in the production of that product (Salvendy). Taylor believed people needed to be observed to understand the movements involved in their work (Salvendy; Wrege). These individual movements then could be further broken down to help identify the procedures necessary to accomplish them (Salvendy). In the end, Taylor would develop a production method, similar to the way machines are now designed, that would produce the most units in the least amount of time (Berdayes; Guru). Workers were instructed on exactly how to accomplish a task and were not to deviate from the procedures designed by Taylor (Salvendy). Taylor’s scientific management was a great success during Taylor’s lifetime (Schacter).

Because the term “scientific” was associated with the work, and as Taylor devised human body diagrams to “prove” how its movements were the most efficient, the theory gained great respect and generated great debate (Berdayes). One commentator argued that scientific management was a process in which “the person’s activity is thereby reduced to repeating a fractional operation at the tempo of the machine. At the extreme of this approach the person is simply subsumed as one more mechanized component of production with precisely specifiable fuel, cooling, and other operational requirements,” (Berdayes). Throughout the study the laborer in scientific management was reduced to a laboratory animal that was observed in its environment and after the study was reduced to a machine part in how they were required to work. The method was not loved by all or praised by all, regardless of its success. Interestingly, however, unlike Weber or Fayol, Taylor focused his improvements for the industrial complex at the level of the labor pool, not that of management.

His theory appealed to management because it provided clear cut order and direction for workers, but it was based on the need to have workers follow a certain order. This too meant the theory worked on a principle of hierarchy, in which management controlled, but at least Taylor saw that labor also played a role in production. It has been said that Taylor’s methods were driven only for the benefit of management, but Taylor did not feel this way (Schachter). There is some evidence that Taylor’s deep devotion to labor studies and motions to find the most efficient work process may have been a way to help keep management from taking advantage of workers (Schachter). During the industrial revolution managers would pay many laborers by the piece, say at a rate of $0.02 per nut or bolt produced (Schachter). Often, to earn more, workers would quickly develop faster means of production (Schachter). When that happened, however, management would then change the piece rate they paid because, they told their workers, their fast rate of production meant the work was too simple and should not be so highly paid (Schachter). Taylor may have wanted to keep management honest and felt that by developing a clear work process management could not harm labor for efficiency improvements (Schachter).

If this view point is correct, then Taylor’s scientific management may have been a way to help labor (Schacter). He may have believed that through scientific management labor would have a proven way to show management that they were acting as best as they could, hence avoiding any arbitrary actions by managers (Schacter). Taylor’s insistence on the use of written instructions, training, and incentive payments to workers can also be said to signify his belief in the fact that scientific management was a benefit to both employees and management (Guru). Unfortunately, however, that is not how Taylor’s work is remembered today, even though his work is still a part of current management studies (Wagner). Even as the Twentieth Century dawned people were disdainful of Taylor’s scientific management (Roper). The theory was believed to be too dehumanizing (Roper). However, scientific management’s worker efficiency and work processes were still valued, but there was a demand for theories that also involved human relations (Roper).

For the first time consideration was given to humans who worked at all levels in a company or firm. Workers were looked at as “sentient” beings, not just as “tools” who were part of an industrial machine. Finally, it seems, management and workers were viewed as mutual participants in work and the managerial process. This was the main problem with scientific management, and the reason for its disfavor as the Twentieth Century continued (Roper). Society also changed and labor itself placed demand on management and wanted to participate in how their work was to be structured and performed (Roper). In fact, scientific management was once so looked down upon that it was considered a form of slavery (Roper). Detractors argued that management was supposed to be more concerned with the humanity of the people who were being managed than with management needs or desires to “slave drive” people into production (Roper). Some argued that it would be better to motivate and encourage workers to product through the establishment of more humanitarian wages, working conditions, work hours, and job security (Roper).

This is one of the times when there were a great number of people convinced of the need for a communist revolution and it was often workers, who suffered the worst working and living conditions society had to offer, even through the First World War, that championed such movements (Roper). The theory of scientific management, as society developed, has been strongly disfavored (Wagner). As society moved away from the conditions that existed during the industrial revolution and left behind the strict beliefs in social class and a person’s proper place in society, the belief that labor had to be “instructed” into how to perform each minute step of their jobs was seen as insulting (Roper). The view that the lowest level employee would not understand how best to accomplish a task, and that, indeed, there was only “one best way” to perform a task, was discredited (Roper).

However, parts of scientific management are still recognized for the work Taylor completed in the principle of efficiency (Taylor). Seen as a social philosophy, instead of a management theory, scientific management does have application, at the personal level, to everyone who needs to complete a task, from a baker to a zoologist (Roper). Scientific management can be viewed as an early introduction of the principle of efficiency in labor and society. The idea that through thought and observation a person could perform regular tasks faster and more easily remains a very important part of work and life in our busy world.

Berdayes, V. (2002). Traditional Management Theory as Panoptic Discourse: Language and the Constitution of Somatic Flows. Culture and Organization, Vol. 8(1), pp. 35–49. Guros on Managing People. (NA). Fredrick Winslow Taylor: (1856-1915). Kerns, D. (2008). History of Management Theory. San Jose State University Industrial Engineering, SJSU ISE. 250. Retrieved September 23, 2008, from Holmblad, K. (2008). Some effects of Fayolism. International Studies of Management & Organization, Spring 2008, Vol. 38, No. 1, pp. 30 – 49. Roper, M. (2001). Masculinity and the Biographical Meanings of Management Theory: Lyndall
Urwick and the Making of Scientific Management in Inter-war Britain. Gender, Work and Organization, Vol. 8, No. 2, April 2001. Salvendy, G. (2004). Classification of Human Motions. Theoretical Issues in Ergonomic Science, March–April 2004, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 169–178. Schachter, H. L. (1989). Frederick Taylor and the Public Administration Community: A Reevaluation. (Albany: State University of New York Press). Stearns, P.N. (2007). The Industrial Revolution in World History, Third Edition. New York: Westview Press). Wagner, T.S. (2007). An Institutional Economic Reconstruction of Scientific Management: on the Lost Theoretical Logic of Taylorism. Emerald Management Review, Vol. 32, No. 1, pp. 105 – 118. Wrege, C.D. (2008). F.W. Taylor’s Lecture on Management, June 4, 1907: an Introduction. Journal of Management History, Vol. 14, No. 3, pp. 209 – 213.

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