Fw Taylors Scientific Management Theory Management Essay

As increasing organizational efficiency is the main goal of every company, management theorists have made much effort to pursue this goal. Scientific management (also called Taylorism) is a management theory that rationalizes and standardizes production techniques, with the objective of improving efficiency and productivity (Sheldrake 1996). This theory was developed by Frederick Winslow Taylor and published in The Principles of Scientific Management. He formalized the relationships between workers and their jobs, and redesigned the work process. This idea has been widely adopted and it is now claimed that “Scientific Management, at age 100, is alive, well, and poised for the next century.” (Greco 1999 pp28) In other words, Taylorism forms the core of organizations. This essay will first briefly outline the principles of Taylorism, and then critically assess how they have influenced the management of contemporary organizations.

Initially, Frederick Taylor was an industrial engineer and was interested in practical outcomes. He observed workers at work, and made accurate measurement of what they did in a time-and-motion study. (Ellis 2000) By conducting this study, Taylor discovered that much resource was wasted and a one-best way in performing the task should be found in a scientific analysis. After years of experiments, Taylor proposed four principles to determine optimal production methods.

Replace rules-of-thumb with methods based on a scientific study of the tasks.

Cooperate with the workers to ensure that the scientifically developed methods are being followed.

Scientifically select, train, and develop each worker rather than passively leaving them to train themselves.

An acceptable level of performance and a reward system for a task should be established to motivate people. (Taylor 1911 pp36-37)

These principles were first implemented in Henry Ford’s car factory. Ford pioneered mass production with the aid of division of labour, standardization and assembly lines. His approach was so successful that he increased car sales by 2 million, reduced costs by two-thirds and pushed Ford into the leading car factory. (Haralambos 2004 pp641) From then onwards, the principles of Taylorism have been widely applied to other sectors and have a profound impact on the management of modern organizations nowadays. (Freeman 1996) The essay will critically assess how Taylor’s four principles have influenced the management of modern organizations.


To begin with, within the central focus on efficiency improvement, the first principle — “scientific study of tasks to find the one-best way” is still largely deployed in modern organizations. (Freeman 1996) In the process of finding one best way, managers realize that the intensified division of labour is the key. (Caldari 2007) It entails analyzing a production process and breaking it down into a multitude of simple and routine tasks performed by different workers. This reduces labour cost, eliminates unnecessary tasks and increases productivity. (Rhodes 2005) Hence, Taylorism is a method for the efficient production. With the aid of information technology, the means of finding the one-best way becomes more effective nowadays. Modern managers use IT such as Numerical Control in “capturing vast knowledge to redesign business processes in order to improve productivity and quality”. (Hosseini 1993 pp533) In particular, manufacturing companies, such as Toyota, apply division of labour, break down the assembly lines into steps, conducts technological research to find the best way, such as minimizing the waiting period. These measures maximize the efficiency and prevent inconsistencies in work. (Ohno 1988) However, critics believe that the service sector, will be less affected by Taylorism as it is based on the quality of services provided instead of the production method. This criticism is not sound to some extent as scientific analysis is still employed in supply chain management which procedures should be planned ahead and standard costs is accurately calculated. This allows companies to fully utilize their resources and avoid wastage, which is the aim of scientific analysis. Therefore, Taylorism is still the basis of control and efficiency in modern organizations. (Kelly 1978)

Nevertheless, Taylorism is inhumane and often has a negative effect on the workforce. (Robbins 2002) Although division of labour streamlines work process and peaks efficiency, it causes degradation of work. That is, the fragmentation of the simplified, repetitive and monotonous tasks leads to the low commitment to work and low degree of job satisfaction for workers. (Francisco 1996) Therefore, there is always a trade-off between human elements and the maximum efficiency. (Garud 1994) Contemporary organizations need to adopt some practices from Human Relations movement, such as teamwork, ergonomics, job enlargement and job enrichment, to minimize the negative impacts of the division of labour and improve working conditions. However, “this does not necessarily mean putting the quality of working life before productivity. Instead, it takes improvement of the quality of working life as a condition for improvement of performance.” (Pruijt 2000 pp445)

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Braverman also argues that Taylorism causes the deskilling of work as fewer skills is required to complete the simple tasks. It greatly diminishes the knowledge of workers, which results in unskilled labour. (Braverman 1974 pp112) This is disadvantageous to modern organizations as they are not functionally flexible (The ability of managers to redeploy workers between different tasks) and become rigid structures in the long run. It can be a cumbersome hindrance for organizations as flexibility is vital for modern businesses and there is a possibility of business failure (Caldari 2007) Therefore, it is crucial for effective modern organizations to strike a balance between efficiency and flexibility under Taylorism. (Knott 1996) Managers should “take Taylorism when products are predictable and in large units, while setting up semi-autonomous teams to produce small batch, differentiated products.” (Pruijt 2000 pp446) Moreover, organizations should be managed according to their nature of business, as suggested by contingency theory. For example, “organization should take an organic form if their task is complex and flexibility is vital in the changing market”. (Alder 1999 pp44)


Another influential principle is to “cooperate with workers to ensure that the scientifically developed methods are being followed”. In this sense, as Taylorism implies low-trust relations between employers and employees, a complete arbitrary control over workers is needed. This is achieved by the separation of conception from execution. (Pruijt 2000 pp443) In other words, Managers should be authoritarians that set all objectives and directions to workers through the vertical line authority relationship and top-down communication, whereas workers basically execute orders without any consultation. This is matched with McGregor’s Theory X, employees should not be trusted and need to be controlled.(Marcouse 2008 pp244). Not surprisingly, managers in call centres gain control by listening to the conversations between workers and customers.

Owing to the necessity of direct control, contemporary organizations usually codify the new methods of performing tasks into written rules and standard operating procedures—standardization, specifying exactly what workers should do to ensure standards and quality. McDonald’s is an archetypical example of employing scientific management (Ritzer 1998) by reducing standard procedures to “rules, laws and formulae”. (Braverman 1974 pp113) French fries are never more than 7 minutes old when served. (Beynon 1992 pp180) Standardization enables McDonald’s to gain control over the production and fulfillment of orders through clearly communicated guidelines and standards. It is this comparable advantage to efficiently supply standard food that allows it to become the biggest fast food chain in the globe.

Though Taylorism may seem effective, workers in Taylorist organizations cannot receive any feedback about what they have done. Therefore, they do not have a sense of achievement but alienation and frustration, as suggested by Marx. (Haralambos 2004) In order words, workers feel meaningless, powerlessness, self-isolated, which results in job dissatisfaction. This will be the biggest killer of motivation at work in the short term (Hagemann 1992 pp57), giving rise to labour-related problems such as high turnover rates and absenteeism. For instance, more than 40% of UK employees are considering quitting their job next year because of a lack of motivation. (BBC 2008). Moreover, direct control suggested by Taylor amount to reliance on a raft of supervisors and provokes labour-management conflicts, such as organized opposition from union workers. Hence, it is not that workable in current environment. Therefore, modern organizations will look beyond the standard rules, set up Human Resources Department and convert themselves to flatter hierarchical, decentralized structures, so as to increase effective communication and employee discretion.

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Equally important to the management of contemporary organizations is the third principle of “scientific selection and development of workers” (Boone & Bowden, 1987, pp 126). This principle is extended and is still relevant in this competitive market where diverse, talented workforce is highly valued as companies’ assets. Psychology tests and assessment centers are used to determine an applicant’s suitability in a scientific way, though the means of selecting workers changes with time. (Marcourse 2008 pp260). Workers nowadays not only should attain certain education qualifications, but also gain relevant experiences. Google puts candidates through up to seven rounds of interviews as it senses that “having the right person with the right skills in the right job” could improve its competitiveness. (Marcourse 2008 pp262)

Once suitable employees are being selected, modern organizations make use of training programmes such as “real-life” role plays and simulations to develop employees’ skills and make feasible production strategies. For instance, flight attendants learn the emergency procedures in the role plays. Further elaborating Taylor’s idea, modern organizations under present business climate and the impact of globalization, view training as a means to add-value to workers and increase flexibility within a business, enabling them to respond quickly to changes in technology or competitors’ actions. (Marcourse 2008) However, critics such as Hrandt Sakakeeny, a training industry analyst, believe that training can be a waste of money, time-consuming and become companies’ biggest liability if the desire results do not occur (Rosner, 1999). Therefore, the cost effectiveness of training should be evaluated. Business should match training directly with the needs of employees of the organization to make training more effective (Rosner, 1999), as training has a long-term positive impact on the quality, productivity, and motivation of the workforce, and laying a good foundation for a business to succeed. (Marcourse 2008).


In terms of motivation, Taylor pointed out that people were motivated only by money. Thus, better pay was the best incentive for people to work hard. Though critics such as Maslow, proposed that money was just the basic need in the hierarchy and other factors were required to successfully motivate a worker, such as self actualization (Ellis 2000), Rynes conducted psychology tests and insisted that people understated the importance of pay because a social norm said money was a less noble source of motivation and that “money was still the crucial incentive” (Rynes 2004 pp382). Due to the importance of pay, Taylor’s incentive pay scheme or the performance-related pay scheme (a financial reward to staff whose work is considered above average), is still being run in half of British companies. Taylor’s incentive-pay scheme is typically prevalent in today’s flatter organizations than the multi-layered organizations a century ago, as it retains employees who are at the top end of the pay scale for their job ranking, but whose performance is still outstanding. (The Economist 2009) For example, bankers make much effort to find clients because they can receive huge bonuses. More importantly, pay “induces conformity” which aligns workers’ effort more closely with the aims of the organizations, thereby “undermining potential worker solidarity derived from joint action for joint benefits.” (Price 1997 pp279) This indirectly increases productivity as efficient workers will self-monitor themselves, reinforcing the competitiveness and raising the profit margins of organizations.

Although Taylor’s pay system is useful to some extent, it is only practical when the goals of both sides are the same: profitability. If their goals are contradictory, employees will prefer working for their own interest to companies’ goals, as suggested by the pluralists. (Roberts 2008) In that case, business ethnics may be sacrificed, resulting in poor quality products and a dishonest culture. For example, in 2007, a BBC investigation suggested that staff at a high-street bank were encouraged by their supervisors to lie to the bank’s customers in order to hit their personal sales target. (Marcourse 2008 pp140) This dishonest behavior, though boosts revenue in the short-term, loses valuable reputation in the long-term. Implementing a monitoring scheme could ensure the quality theoretically, but it cannot ensure the best possible quality in practice. Therefore, it is important for managers to strike a balance between pay motivation, product quality and the companies’ goals. To achieve this, managers, on one hand, should “track employees’ behavior and employees’ attitude regularly” (Rynes 2004 pp391) to ensure workers’ effort are in line with organizations’ objectives. This assists managers to implement appropriate pay systems. On the other hand, managers can use other intrinsic motivators, such as self actualization and responsibilities, as suggested by Herzberg, to offset the disadvantages of pay motivation and improve workers’ satisfaction.

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To conclude, Taylorism is still one of the classic theories being applied to modern organizations. It proposes scientific analysis of tasks, the separation of conception from execution, the scientific selection and training of workers and the provision of an incentive-pay scheme. These ideas are widely adopted from the manufacturing sector to the service sector as they boost efficiency and productivity. Although critics argue that Taylorism is in decline due to its drawbacks, such as inflexibility, labour resistance and de-humanization of working conditions, Taylorism still sets the norm for how organizations are managed and has a continual impact on job design. However, it is now modified, updated and usually combined with other management methods, such as Human Relations Movement, to offset its shortcomings.


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