In 1911, Frederick Winslow Taylor proposed a new and radically
different approach to management known as scientific management
(The Principles of Scientific Management, Dover Publications, 1998;
first published by Harper & Brothers, NY, 1911). Taylor's work
was an attempt to counter the prevalent management practice of his
day, which created an adversarial relationship between labor and
management. As Taylor saw it, workers used various methods to
deliberately work slowly in order to protect their jobs and those
of their co-workers. Management, driven by the need to increase
productivity, relied on a series of positive and negative
incentives to boost output.
Taylor saw this system as flawed and worked out his revolutionary
theories as an alternative. Taylor's time and motion studies, in
which each task is measured in order to quantify the time and
motions needed to perform it optimally, are a cornerstone of the
scientific management process. Through his studies, Taylor was able
to quantify the maximum load for a "first-class" worker, including
the number of required rest times needed for optimal efficiency.
Once he collected data on the attributes of a first-class worker,
he was able to increase outputs a staggering 60 to 70 percent.
It is a tribute to the soundness of Taylor's scientific management
process that it has remained required reading. In fact, reading the
details of his time and motion studies is very reminiscent of the
early days of quality programs. And yet, much of what he preaches
sounds archaic and outmoded. He boldly states that scientific
management is the responsibility of the manager because the worker
is simply too "stupid" to figure it out himself.
But, just as I was dismissing Taylor as relic of a bygone era, I
noticed valuable insights. He observes that the fundamental
underpinning to the success of his model is close and intimate
cooperation between managers and laborers. As Taylor points out,
managers do not know how the job is done or how it should be done.
The managers' job is to observe, analyze, and codify the optimum
steps to take for task completion.
They must then teach, help, and guide the workers in the new
methods. They must plan the work in advance and ensure that workers
are matched to jobs based on their capabilities. This ultimate
"cooperation between management and workers" results in attaining a
basic principle of management: "maximum prosperity for the employer
and the employee."
By recognizing the manager and laborer as partners in the business
enterprise, Taylor established the foundation for participatory
management that would not be fully developed for nearly 50 more
years. His relevance for today may be his revolutionary break from
the adversarial, dictatorial management of his times to the
individualized performance coaching methods he espoused. Taylor's
subtheme that every worker needs to be measured and matched to the
best work for him (or her!) is clearly still relevant and important
for leaders to apply today.