Scientific Management – Taylorism at its best.

Frederick Winslow Taylor, one of the pioneers in scientific management, argued, a century ago, that management shouldn’t be an art; instead a carefully selected set of scientific principles that should focus on systematic collection of knowledge about work processes, creation of tried and tested procedures for performing tasks and ruthless application of workforce efficiency. By doing so Taylor perhaps laid the foundation for what would transform the way workforce is managed and rewarded for generations to come.

Taylor, an engineer and a management consultant is widely known as the ‘Father of Scientific Management’ and his principles are commonly known as ‘Taylorism’. In his book (originally a paper prepared for presentation to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers), Taylor unfolds the fundamentals of scientific management in a simple and easy to understand language. For instance, he starts the paper with: “The principal object of management should be to secure the maximum prosperity for the employer, coupled with the maximum prosperity for each employee”.  Read some of the biggest companies’ mission statements and you’ll appreciate Taylor’s simplicity.

Taylor argues that for an organisation to function harmoniously with high productivity, the following are essential: analysis of current situation, decomposing tasks into constituent parts, getting rid of tasks that don’t add value, developing a science for every job, systematically recruiting and training employees to maximise production, and motivating employees by giving them the right incentive for their high efficiency.

There is almost an arrogant belief by Taylor that through methodical study and scientific principles it is possible to establish the ‘one best way’ of carrying out a job. This was challenged many a times, particularly by the creative industry but let’s leave that discussion for another blog. We challenge this idea too as there are several ways to achieve a goal (we see this all the time – even when we figure out a way to solve a problem, something else comes up that is even better) and its very much contingent on the prevailing technologies, skill of a person/team, motivation and circumstances.

Perhaps Taylor advocated the ‘one best way’ as the ‘best practice’ – a word that is overused in my view and least understood by many. Taylorism has not escaped its share of academic criticism over the years. Nevertheless, Taylor’s meticulous experiments and theories has been adopted by most (if not all) the major industries around the world. He summarised his scientific principles paper on a poetic note (which we like).

“Science, not rule of thumb.
Harmony, not discord.
Cooperation, not individualism.
Maximum output, in place of restricted output.
The development of each man to his greatest efficiency and prosperity.”

Book Reference: Frederick Winslow Taylor (1911), The Principles of Scientific Management.

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