In order to critically assess the contribution of Taylor’s theories to management science a three step approach is necessary. First, the theoretical work of Taylor is analyzed in order to clearly separate objectives, assumptions and tools. Second, the structural contributions of Taylor and his work are presented and reviewed critically. Lastly, the functional impact of management science is assessed.
Scientific Management and Frederick W. Taylor
Frederick W. Taylor presented the theory of scientific management in his 1932 seminal book ‘The principle of scientific management’ (Taylor 1932). In scientific management, the core objective of management and the company is ‘ to secure the maximum prosperity for the employer, coupled with the maximum prosperity for each employ é ’ (Taylor 1932, p. 9). This core objective rests on three assumptions regarding the function of a company and the human behavior: humans as rational utility maximizer, convergence of interests within the company towards productivity increases, and the ‘one- best-way’ principle (Taylor 1932).
Taylor assumes throughout his work that the human being, both as a manager and an employee, possess the capacity to act rational and to influence the outcome of actions actively. The worker within a company wants to earn the maximum of wage possible, while simultaneously ensuring a certain degree of work place safety. The manager wants to maximize the profit of his company. Moreover, scientific management considers both groups to be able to influence outcomes or to be in the ‘driving seat’ with regard to transformations within the company (Taylor 1932).
The second central assumption is the convergence of interests of workers and managers within a company towards the improvement of productivity: The maximum prosperity can exist only as the result of maximum productivity (Taylor 1932, p. 12). Here, Taylor assumes that the goals of employees and managers are fundamentally the same, both requiring efficiency improvements in order to best serve their interests, even though this is not realized by all participants in the first instance (Monin et al. 2003; Taylor 1932).
Lastly, scientific management rests on the assumption that there is a ‘one-best-way’ method of achieving an optimal outcome in terms of productivity and consequently, the overall prosperity of the factory as well as the society (Nelson 1992, p. 2). Hence, there must be an optimal state of organization for each work process and for the organization as a whole to which it should strive (Taylor 1932; Locke 1982).
The underlying assumptions are reflected in the variety of tools suggested by scientific management in order to reach the core objective of higher overall prosperity (Taylor 1932). In general, four methodological tools can be distinguished: scientific method of observation, efficiency and training, motivation of the work force, and overall coordination.
First, the scientific method of observation allows managers to draw unbiased and optimal conclusion for improvements (Taylor 1932). Furthermore, it is the appropriate tool to reduce the negative influence of traditions and the omni-present rules of thumb (Locke 1982). Second, efficiency and training are two core methods of scientific management used to enhance productivity on the individual as well as on the collective level. This encompasses the setting of clear goals, the standardization of work as well as tools for scientific observation (Locke 1982). Furthermore, scientific management emphasizes the training role of the manager in being the enabler of the efficiency of workers (Taylor 1932). Third, ‘motivating the workforce’ is emphasized in order to prevent ‘Soldiering’ (the voluntary withholding of capabilities by workers) as the largest source of inefficiency (Taylor 1932). A variety of motivation tools is proposed in order to enhance the motivation of the single worker: shared responsibility between labor and management, joint cooperation, and monetary incentives. Special focus is put on monetary incentives, which Taylor sees as indispensable hygiene factors helping to ensure the most basic motivation of employees (Drucker 1976; Herzberg 1959). Lastly, the overall coordination of the business towards efficiency as the ‘ smallest combined expenditure of human effort, plus nature ’ s resources, plus the cost for the use of capital ’ (Taylor 1932, p. 11) is the capstone for an organization adjusted along the principles of scientific management. This includes the decomposition of large units of work into specific tasks as well as a cooperative relationship between the workers and the management of a company.
Structural Contributions of Scientific Management
For the purpose of this paper, structural contributions are defined as the impact of fundamental concepts and assumptions of Taylor on further academic work in shaping approaches, ways of thinking and objectives. It is crucial to make the distinction between functional contributions (which will be analyzed in the second part) and structural contributions, since ‘ the best way of applying [ … ] general principles should in no way be confused with the principles themselves. ’ (Taylor 1932, pp. 28-29).
In general, scientific management has an extraordinary impact on further management research through forming a ‘ systematic philosophy of worker and work ’ (Drucker in Waring 1992, p. 205). This is widely acknowledged in the literature focused on the philosophic contributions of Taylor such as: Merkle (1980) with the ‘crusade’ of Taylor, Guillén (1997) with the influence of Taylor’s instrumentality on modernism, Locke (1982) and Nelson (1992, pp. 2-5) with Taylor’s goal of a ‘mental revolution’ in management, or Monin et al. (2003) seeing Taylor’s work as a preacher like predictions of the future of management. Nevertheless, it is fruitful to analyze the contribution of scientific management in more detail along three of its basic assumptions: humans as rational utility maximizers, the ‘one-best-way’ principle, and its overall objective of higher prosperity.
First, the assumption of rationality for managers and workers has been taken up by a variety of research streams within the management sciences. In the field of organizational theory, especially research concerning the motivation of employees and the behavior of managers has relied on this assumption of scientific management. Early studies of group work and motivation have extensively drawn on the assumption of utility maximizing persons in order to explain behavior and possible solutions to adverse actions such as the principal-agent problem (Locke 1982). Nevertheless, there has been extensive critique for the strong focus of scientific management on monetary incentives (Herzberg 1959; Kotter 1982; McGregor 1960). This critique seems to omit Taylor’s explicit statements of money not being the only relevant incentive, but rather being a hygiene factor (Drucker 1976, p. 97). Thereby, Taylor even partly antedated Herzberg’s two factor theory concerning hygiene factors (Herzberg 1959).
Second, the ‘one-best way’ principle was adopted by various fields of management research such as Operational Management and Human Resource Management. In Operational Management, the Toyota Production System has embraced the notion of a ‘one-best-way’ principle. Within this system, the constant search for the single best solution is the ultimate objective, which can only be attained through the implementation of various tools of Taylorist origin (Spear, Bowen 1999, p. 98). In the field of Human Resource Management, a complete research stream of ‘universalist theories’ follows the idea of a unique best solution available for the management of Human Resources within a company (Pfeffer 2005). Nevertheless, the notion of a ‘one-best way’ principle is also debated in the area of Human Resource Management with contingency theories arguing that there is no single best solution (e.g. Tichy et al. 1982).
Third, the objective of maximum prosperity shared by all participants in a firm has been adopted more or less implicitly by various schools of thought in management. First and foremost, the concept of stakeholder value has structured a complete management philosophy around this objective while transferring the concept of prosperity onto the problems of companies in the modern capital markets (Freeman 1984). Another prominent school of thought was the management by objective (MBO) approach developed by Drucker, which incorporated Taylor’s notion of prosperity but extended it into a much broader definition of social welfare (Waring 1992, p. 211). Moreover, there are further striking similarities in the approach towards managing an entity between Drucker’s management philosophy and Taylorism in such areas as incentives and organizational structure (Waring 1992, p. 206).
For the purpose of this paper, the functional contribution of scientific management is defined as the resemblance or kinship of a concrete management tool with scientific management in further academic contributions. In general, tools developed by scientific management are incorporated in most streams of management science. Out of these, two areas merit special attention: Organizational Theory and Operations Management.
Within the field of organizational theory, the MBO approach of Drucker is based not only on concepts of Taylor, but also on tools proposed in the scientific management approach. The decomposition of tasks and the clear command structure in scientific management are forerunners of Drucker’s goal structure (Locke 1982, pp. 15-16). Nevertheless, there are some adaptions of scientific management tools used in the MBO theory: first, Drucker envisages a less hierarchical structure than Taylor, focusing more on ‘ concentric, overlapping, coordinating rings ’ (Waring 1992, p. 215) and second Drucker puts more emphasis on worker participation, despite the slightly weaker assumptions regarding goal communality between workers and management (Waring 1992). Besides the MBO approach, there is a significant functional influence of Taylorist tools on other organizational aspects of firms. The functions of classical management presented by Taylor (training, supervision) are still largely relevant today and can be found in most organizations (Carroll, Gillen 1987; Taylor 1968, p. 363; Allen 1981). Although there has been some critique seeing the manager’s function to be less proactive and more driven by exogenous influences (Mintzberg 1990, p. 163), there is good empirical evidence that classic Taylorist functions of management are still taking up a large part of managerial work and focus (Carroll, Gillen 1987, p. 46).
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- Michael Engels (Author), 2011, Contribution of Taylor to Management Science, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/184129