Is ‘Taylorism’ still relevant in today’s organisations?
Frederick Winslow Taylor
Prime the pump
January 30, 2024
Is ‘Taylorism’ still relevant in today’s organisations?

I recall a conversation with an individual, the person claimed that their services were terminated because it was alleged that of the number of job competencies on their job description, they were only good at one. Therefore, their employer deemed them incompetent. This situation got me thinking about Frederick Winslow Taylor’s ‘Scientific Management Theory’.

According to Britannica, Frederick Winslow Taylor 1856 – 1917, was ‘an American inventor and engineer who is known as the father of scientific management.’ The American Society of Mechanical Engineers stated that “While Taylor was working at the Midvale machine shop, he noticed that some workers weren’t working to their capacity, slowing down production and causing inefficiencies. He developed a system, sometimes called production or task management, for approaching jobs objectively and measuring workflow efficiency and productivity before these concepts had names”.

Taylor believed that flaws and inefficiencies in work processes could be solved scientifically. He believed that there was “one best way of doing things” and that a standardized approach was the best way to optimize work and achieve an efficient workforce. Taylor had an obsession for mitigating soldiering. Soldiering was the term used to classify employees working below their full potential. Taylor believed that there were only two ways to mitigate soldiering; one was micromanaging workers which was considered an expensive initiative, and the other was for managers to design the work of their direct reports in a way to get the most effort from them. He believed that every employee was ‘first-class’ at something and if that was not the case, it was because the employee was a misfit, poorly trained or just lazy.

Taylor’s theory was based on four main principles: Understanding Taylorism: The History of Scientific Management Theory – 2024 – MasterClass

1. “Select methods based on science, not “rule of thumb”- Rather than allowing each individual worker the freedom to use their own “rule of thumb” method to complete a task, you should instead use the scientific method to determine the “one best way” to do the job.

2. Assign workers’ jobs based on their aptitudes-Instead of randomly assigning workers to any open job, assess which ones are most capable of each specific job and train them to work at peak efficiency.

3. Monitor worker performance- Assess your workers’ efficiency and provide additional instruction when necessary to guarantee they are working productively.

4. Properly divide the workload between managers and workers-Managers should plan and train, while workers should implement what they’ve been trained to do.

Taylor argued that an employee did not have to be skilled to be considered valuable to an organization, just first-class at doing one task. He believed that if a manager found the one best way to perform a task, identified the employees most inclined to do that task, and trained those employees in the process of efficiently delivering that task, also, if the employees were motivated to do the task, productivity will increase. Taylor believed managers could increase motivation in employees by increasing their pay and separating inefficient workers.

Taylor is also associated with what is called the ‘Time and Motion Study’. This study explored ‘Time’. It broke tasks up into smaller parts and looked at the less time on average someone took to perform each part of a task.

‘Motion’, the least number of motions necessary for completing each small task. Therefore, instead of hiring highly skilled/specialist workers, for example, a chef, the chef’s tasks were broken down into smaller parts and unspecialized workers were hired for each individual task. It is said that McDonald’s adopted this theory at the inception of their business and still uses it today. Some of the McDonald’s characteristics that reflect this theory are their ‘speedee’ system, standardization and consistent quality.

There are several advantages and disadvantages to Taylor’s Scientific Management Theory. Some of the notable advantages include low cost to the organization as specialists are not required. Employees are motivated to be more productive because higher producing employees receive higher pay. There is consistent production and quality because employees only perform one first-class task there is increased productivity.

The disadvantages on the other hand are, employees find their jobs boring and repetitive. There is no room for initiative and innovation on the part of employees. They are not allowed to deviate for the designed process. It limits opportunities for growth within the organization and higher pay. It leads to employee disengagement
So the question on the table for consideration is this: Is there room in your organization or an employee who is first-class at one task, or do you prefer a Jack of all trades and master of none?


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