Critical Assessment Of Scientific Management Theory Business Essay


The emphasis on increasing productivity from individual worker impels the emergence of F. W. Taylor's scientific management at the beginning of 20th century. His philosophy of rationalizing work and organization to achieve maximum productivity, cooperation and prosperity has influenced the production and management model of his age profoundly. Despite the past 100 years, the shadow of Taylor's philosophy in terms of production approach and management practice is still alive at the times of information technology, flexibility of production and the industrial restructuring. As Stern has written, "The scientific management of Fredrick Taylor… shaped the first coherent school of thought with its twin goal of productivity and efficiency- still influences management thinking 100 years on." This essay will assess the influence of scientific management on contemporary organization.

Before assessing the influence, it is also important to introduce what scientific management is. It is a set of systematic theory of the correlation between labour and tasks for the purpose of increasing productivity by redesigning the work process. Based on the famous time-motion-study, Taylor developed four principles to increase efficiency:

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Study the way workers perform their tasks, develop a science for each element of a man's work, which replaces the old rule- of-thumb method.

Codify the new methods of performing tasks into written rules and standard operating procedures

Carefully select workers who posses skills and abilities that match the needs of the task, and train them to perform the task according to the established rules and procedures

Establish a fair or acceptable level of performance for a task, and then develop a pay system that provide a reward for performance above the acceptable level

Scientific management is a complete and interrelated system, but this essay will examine Taylor's four principle separately to simply the analysis.

One best way and division of labour

Generally, Taylor believes that there is a one best way of each task to achieve maximum productivity and during his age, He firmly believes the division of labour is the best way to achieve this. Though nowadays, due to the diversification of the market and the organization, the simple one best way can hardly be defined, such as business adopt mass-production strategy can have a completely different optimal method of production than those focus on niche marketing, his spirit of pursuing the best way is still vivid presented. Just as the quality circle pioneered by Japanese car manufacturing, modification is being discussed continuously to make the work process more streamlined, more efficient and not wasteful in its activity, which is "essentially the goal of Taylor's system".(Stoney, 2001:p27) Especially when information technology has become the means of analyzing the underlying flow of material and information, it is more convenient and prevalent for contemporary organization to decide the best redesign of business process to pursuing "productivity, quality and competitive posture".

Incorporated in his spirit, division of labour is the specific outcome of scientific management, the best way Taylor advocates to minimize skills required, and assembly-line, the creation of his age, are also still utilized successfully in contemporary fast-food industry. Such as MacDonald, the unskilled tasks from broken-down cooking procedure and sophisticated time record make it a completely modern duplication of Taylorism. The assembly lined production mode underpins the repetitive work cycle on the line by setting standard times. By doing this, efficiency improves dramatically as unnecessary tasks are eliminated, physical layouts improved, and work speeded up. (Fincham & Rhodes, 2005: p678) Despite that deskilling () will de-motivate employees significantly on a general scale, which may result in absenteeism and high staff turnover, its ability of "integrating new workers in production processes and dismissing workers without losing knowledge form the organization" can successfully overcome it. Besides, the emphasis on quantity rather than quality (Ritzer, 2004) of the fast food industry also highlights the need of efficiency. Taylor's influence goes beyond the bounds of manufacturing, the growing army of clerks in the rising service sector are automatically divided into departments and specialized in function. (Fincham & Rhodes, 2005: p608) This means the philosophy of division of labour apply to most clerical works to rationalize the working procedure. "A merging characteristics of clerical and production labour" () becomes one remarkable feature of modern society. However, the anomie and alienation brought by the absolute division of labour limit its' further application. The knock-on effect of de-motivate employees on quality and service can have more significant negative impact on contemporary organization than ever when they become the key to profitability at modern times.

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Despite the limitation of his method, this principle has a considerable profound and lasting influence because of Taylor's "preoccupation with the efficient use of resources". This philosophy can almost apply to every organization because whichever the work structure is taken, such as the prevalent team work and job enrichment; one of its ultimate goals should be improve efficiency. It can be proved by xx's argument that ()quality circles, "rather than being a transformation of labor relations toward democratic participation, are managerial strategy to facilitate workers' cooperation with management's goals for efficiency and productivity improvements".

Standardization and direct control

Taylor proposes standard rules to capture the best practice and direct control of workers to maintain efficiency. As Braverman (1974, p. 47) recognised, Taylorism never was a science, but a control system. Due to separate conception and execution, managers should design, allocate tasks and supervise workers' performance without consulting employees' opinions.(McGeorge Thoery X) Actually the appliance of Taylor's 'efficiency through rationalization' (Stoney, 2001: p.27) builds a mechanistic organizations, with strict rules, standardized defined tasks and top-down communication. Contemporarily, there are still cases where mechanistic organization proves to be optimal. A classic example is call centre where standard script must be followed, number of calls per hour is strictly monitored, as well as managers can listen in calls momentarily. Though it is argued that this complete control will alienate employees as it erodes the sense of freedom and self-determination, only this mechanic structure, where all tasks are designed to be consistent and coordinated, rigid rules are followed and instructions are obeyed immediately, can achieve the speedy service and uniform quality. Besides, despite its formalized and hierarchy nature causes inflexibility, organizations, such as call centre, which exist in a relatively stable environment where not much innovation and adjustment are required, has proved to be more effective because of the systematically rationalize procedures. (Burns & Stalker, 1961) Thus, it still exists where efficiency dominates effectiveness.

More commonly, only element of direct control can be seen in most contemporary organization. For instance, in public accounting firms, supervisor accountants supervise lower-rank accountants assigned with them to each audit. Junior accountants should work under the direct guidance of a senior accountant.(Hall, 1968) This is still due to Taylor's inherent advantage, direct control can boost efficiency by rationalizing complex accounting procedure and adopting tasks efficiently and accurately. A further reason is that when meticulousness it the first requirement and errors may cause serious consequence, it is direct control that can maintain efficiency at the same time safeguard the quality.

Efficient as it is, the reasons for not being fully adopted is that the drawbacks of direct control largely limit its influence. As Friedman (1977) points out, it neglects the 'positive aspects of labour'. That means know-how and practical experience cannot be reflected and diffused. And the formalized system develops passive organization culture which undermines innovation, commitment and flexibility. This contradicts to the requirement of contemporary organization, especially for manufacturing. At modern times, in manufacturing sphere, the key to profitability lies in innovation.(Ackroyd, 2002) It means how to improve application for existing technology, how to create market advantage by good design and exclusivity become the very crucial issues. This is why most of contemporary organizations only retain elements of direct control and tend to be decentralized to emphases on democratic participation.

To a broader extent, Taylor's standardization philosophy is more widely used, and the new globalized era makes it an urgent requirement for business. Due to the great advantage of diffuse best practice, standardization becomes the key to facilitate the diffusion of business's know-how to a new area for achieving a competitive advantage. Meanwhile, it is necessary for coordinating activities on a world wide scale and maintaining strict quality to safeguard firm's reputation. However, exposed to a greater level of external complexity, the drawback of rigidity brought by standardization must be overcome, thus standardization is a continuous improvement process nowadays, just as the standard operation in Japanese car manufacturing where work is performed according to standard work sequence to insure quality, meanwhile standard if frequently updated to standardize improvement.(Edwards et al, 1993) To achieve this, standardization tends to be combined with a flatter and organic organization structure highlighting integration and decentralization to keep innovative and flexible.

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Scientific selection and training

This is perhaps the most relevant principle today because these processes, selection, performance, as well as appraisal and development have been highly formalized in many organizations today (Cole, 2004). In the knowledge-based economy, talent has become the very valuable asset of business to achieve competitiveness. Much effort is devoted by contemporary organizations on selecting the right person. The contribution of Taylor is that he introduced the importance of selection criteria by management, such as the common competencies (i.e. communication skill, initiative) listed by recruitment department. In line with his emphasis on scientific approach to selection, Taylor advocates scientific training as he argues that "it is only when business systematically cooperating to train the competent man…that it shall be on the road to national efficiency". (Taylor, 1911: p 98)In the context of the knowledge society, companies are generally encouraged to develop employees' skills and knowledge (Hansson, 2007) Such as Nissan UK believes the key way for being the most productive car plant in Europe is its ambitious training scheme involving its entire manufacturing workforce.(Lydon, 2007) Costly as it seems, the long-term benefits of quality, safety performance and manufacturing costs overweight it. Moreover, training is usually positively related to promotion (Bayo-Moriones & Ortı´n-Angel 2006) it means it can motivate employees by satisfying their growth, achievement needs. Overstepping Taylor's efficiency idea, nowadays the meaning of training is also related to be flexible and acuity enough for competing in a more complex global market, such as the widely-used management trainee schemes in multinationals to cultivate managers with practical experience and global perspective.

Money as a motivator

Taylor advocates piece-rate payment scheme based on his assumption that human nature is essentially self-interest, "workers would be motivated by obtaining the highest possible wage by working in the most efficient and productive way". (Mullins, 2001: p23) In modern age, despite his method can rarely be seen due to the decadence of manufacturing, Based on his philosophy, money motivation still play a crucial role in other form, such as the incentive-based pay system. One common example is sales bonus. The rush of a sales force to place orders before month end reflects highly targeted performance. Thus there is little doubt that this system will work if designed appropriately. In the new context, when various approaches (i.e. job enrichment, team work) are applied to improve personal commitment, money motivator is not narrowed for efficiency as well. For instance, bonuses assessed on cooperation can represent up to 50% of wage packet in Japanese system and group bonuses are also given. (cf. Dohse et al., 1985, pp. 137-8) It means money motivator is now used flexibly according to organization's strategy. Rynes's study of pay motivation in contemporary organization also support Taylor's assumption, as "there is overwhelming evidence that money is an important motivator for most people." Furthermore, he found that for high academic achievers, high performing employees and individuals with high self-efficiency and high needs for achievement, pay are the most important motivator.(Rynes et al, 2004) It means nowadays pay maybe more crucial than ever as those kinds of person are just the valuable human resources that organizations compete for. However, it is undoubted that Taylor's idea of motivation is narrow minded and not suit as an extrinsic motivator, the emphasis on money will decrease staff's intrinsic motivator. Despite that, contemporary organizations usually adopt compromising approach as nowadays, the satisfaction of social needs and achievement needs are regarded as almost equality important motivator. Thus, multiple motivators, money in conjunction with other intrinsic motivator are more prevalent. For instance, performance-based pay and challenging work are used in such successful firms as Microsoft.

Conclusion remark

It should be admitted that there is almost no other management theory can overstep the influence of scientific management. As Braverman says, "the principle of scientific management is not a failed system, but a set of guiding principles which continue to inform and influence the role and function of modern management". Some of the methods he advocates, such as division of labour, scientific selection and training, have become the features of modern society. More primarily, as efficiency is one of the enduring needs of all organizations, his preoccupation with the efficient use of resources thus becomes the driving force behind the evolution of subsequent management theories () and the root of management practice. Due to its extensive and deep influence, it is institutionalized not only in contemporary corporation, but also ideologically embraced in other institutions, modelling the modern world with the character of "efficiency, calculability, predictability and control through technology". (Ritzer) However, its inherent drawbacks of inflexibility, dehumanization require modification in current situation. Therefore, it can be argued that management of contemporary organization is based on a modification of Taylorism and a combination with more sophisticated management theories.