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Scientific Management Theory

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Published: Thu, 13 Jul 2017

Scientific Management is an “approach to management based on the application of work study techniques to the design and organisation of work in order to identify the one best way” (Fellenz &Martin, 2010). Kulesza et al, (2011) suggests that as management accounting systems progress in the 21st century, several academics foresee a return to Scientific Management.

This report studies the key characteristics related to scientific management theory. Specifically the report examines the strengths and weaknesses of the theory in comparison to the human relations management. Lastly the application of scientific management in accordance to modern business in the United Kingdom will be discussed.

Characteristics of Scientific Management Model

Scientific Management is based on the ideas of Fredrick Taylor who was often regarded as the “Father of scientific management” due to his major influence on management. Taylor (1919, p.9) believed that “The principal objective of management should be to secure maximum prosperity for the employer, coupled with the maximum prosperity for each employee” .This was achieved through Taylor’s introduction of his five principals:

  1. Determine the best way to do the job.
  2. Find the most suitable person for the job.
  3. Train the most suitable person so they are able to follow the correct procedure.
  4. Offer financial rewards to maximise prosperity.
  5. Give the manager the task of planning and organising.

By having staff follow these principals, efficiency within organisations rose as tasks became extremely routine and predictable to employees (Department of Management, 2010).

Other contributors to Scientific Management include the work of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth. Lillian Gilbreth focused on the psychological features of management, believing that the welfare of the workers influenced their ability to reach their full work potential causing a sense of fulfilment and pride (The Psychology of Management, 1914). On the other hand Frank Gilbreth concentrated on the rules and regulation of a workplace and how to eliminate mistakes, therefore increasing productivity.

Max Weber was another advocate of Scientific Management. Weber created “Bureaucratic Management” approach which consisted of several characteristics that improved efficiency and productivity. These characteristics included:

  • Rules and regulations
  • Impersonality
  • Division of Labour
  • Hierarchical structure
  • Authority
  • Rationality

Weber argues that a clear hierarchy is a significant characteristic of scientific management. By having a tall hierarchy in an organisation, employees are given instructions by those in a higher position (Department of Management, 2010). Arguably, this works well in large bureaucracies such as the National Health Service and Ministry of Justice.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Scientific Management Model

The introduction of the Scientific Management Theory in the early 1900s had several advantages to organisations. Firstly managers are able to have a tight control over production. As employees repeat the same tasks continuously they become specialists in their field therefor this makes it easy for a manager to control. However a disadvantage to being able to control employees is that they lose creativity. Arguably, because their jobs are repetitive they become tedious, monotonous and meaningless which diminishes employee’s motivation (Department of Management, 2010).

Furthermore, an advantage of scientific management is the ability to plan ahead. Frank Gilbreth argued that planning avoids unnecessary waste and exhaustion in the procedures of human labour (Dean. 1997). However, a downside to planning would be that work would be inflexible and ridged which could lead to dissatisfaction and carelessness, ultimately causing a decrease in productivity.

By using the scientific management approach, output of the organisation increases through regimented tasks. However, this shifts focus from how well employees are doing their job onto the results and statistic of how much they can produce in a certain timeframe (Boddy et al. 2008) suggesting that the workers would feel undervalued and may them to feel alienated which could lead to absenteeism.

Lastly, scientific management can be seen as being overly bureaucratic.  Employees may be dissatisfied from being in a strict, bureaucratic organisation which may lead to high staff turnover rates yet again effecting productivity as new staff must be trained therefore wasting valuable production time. Overly bureaucratic organisation may also suffer as they are less likely to adapt to changes in their sector.

Scientific management has its strengths as managers are able to plan, control and have an increased output. On the other hand, each advantage also has its downside for example there is a lack of creativity, employees become alienated and the work environment becomes inflexible.

The Human relations model – comparison

In comparison to the Scientific Management Model, Human relation focuses on the social aspects of the workplace including employee motivation and satisfaction. Mary Follett separated power from hierarchy, removing the belief that “some were born to rule and others to follow.” And that “Managers should give workers a chance to grow capacity of power for themselves.” (Graham, 1995.) This conveys that an effective manager would teach their employees to use their power sensibly instead of manipulating them.

Whereas scientific management states that having hierarchies in organisations benefits them due to the clear line of power. Furthermore, Follett created three principles relating to Human Relations:

  1. Functions are precise task areas within organisations
  2. Responsibility is shown in terms of an empirical duty
  3. Authority comes from the responsibility to exercise power

(Clegg et al, 2008).

Additionally, Elton Mayo emphasised the close links between work life and domestic life (Department of Management, 2010). Mayo conducted the Hawthorne Studies which analysed the effects of productivity when working conditions change. Furthermore, the study looked at the importance of working in groups and group based behaviour at work (Fellenz & Martin, 2010). Mayo discovered that by introducing rewards -rest breaks, refreshments and changing the length of the working day – would increase employee productivity. The Human Relations approach contrasts with scientific management as it focuses on how the employee feels in the workplace and not just how productive an employee can be. Moreover, Human Relations emphasised the importance of human resource management and how the behaviour of managers impacted the organisation prosperity (Mullins, 2007).

By analysing and comparing the Scientific Management Model and Human relations Model it is evident that they vary significantly in how to maximise employee productivity.

Scientific Management in Modern Organisations

Scientific Management originated in the 1800’s though its influence can still be seen in today’s modern organisations. Taylor’s influence can be seen in the fast food industry in restaurants such as McDonald’s and KFC where the efficiency of employees reflects the profits of the organisation (Bell & Martin, 2012). The way McDonald’s use a production line to prepare food is reminiscent of scientific management. An example of this would be the preparation of a standard McDonald’s “Big Mac Meal” where a certain employee cooks the meat for a specific time; other employees prepare the bun, salad, fries, drink and packaging. The process of making a McDonald’s “Big Mac Meal” takes less than two minutes from frozen conveying how employees become skilled in their given area.

Moreover, fast food industry employees are fully trained and are conscious of all regulations and how to operate machinery. Once again Taylor’s influence is noticeable as McDonald’s offer all staff training from their first day of employment as well as additional scholarships and education allowing employees to progress in the organisation (McDonald’s, 2012) this guarantees that employees are prosperous and efficient.

Further evidence of scientific management in McDonald’s included the layout of their kitchens. A McDonald’s kitchen is designed to minimise employee movement, diminishing time wasting. An example of this is at the cash register where the same employee is able to take orders, collect money and packaged meals and prepare drinks and fries without having to walk far. This mimics the beliefs of Frank Gilbreth who aimed to plan what has to be done and eliminate wasted time.

Additionally, Call Centres are known to follow scientific management models. Management in call centres monitor and control what their employees say and do which increases productivity and decreases the amount of time wasted. The work of the employee organised at least one day in advance, where each employee is given instruction on what is to be completed, the method used to complete the work and how long this should take them (Desai, 2010).

Toyota also displays influences of scientific management through their main principles. Toyota state that they aim to base their goals for the long term, that the correct process will lead to success and they eliminate any step that does not add value, flexibility or develop products (Boddy et al, 2008). Like McDonalds this shows an influence of Taylor and Gilbreth by minimising time wasted and maximising goals.

To summarise, in modern organisations hints of scientific management is evident in the way their employees are delegated to maximise the company’s potential however, the tasks lack creativity and become highly monotonous.

Conclusion

It is evident that from its origin in the 1800’s that Scientific Management has had major influences on the way organisations are managed in the past and the present. Taylor contributed by stating his five principles that increased productivity in the workplace. Gilbreth focused on eliminating mistakes and psychological effects of work. On the other hand Weber created bureaucratic management.

Scientific Management has various advantages for example increased output due to staff becoming skilled and efficient in their area of work. However, the model also can be overly bureaucratic. This may make it difficult for an organisation to adjust to sector changes.

By comparing both Scientific Management and Human relations Model it is evident that scientific management maximise productivity through structure, rules and regulations where as Human relations looks at how work and home life can effect productivity.

Lastly, the influences of scientific management are still visible in today’s modern business. This is shown mainly in the fast-food industry where there is a set procedure to be followed.

Overall, this model has demonstrated that it is successful in the past and in the modern business of today.


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