Frederick Winslow’s Theory of Scientific Management Essay

Introduction Management is an activity that occurs throughout every organization, be they social, political or commercial in nature. In fact, the field of management is a broad one, with various functions, principles and theories which are still being studied in the modern age. This essay firstly reviews the journal article by Professor Edwin A. Locke which is in itself a critique on the ideas of Frederick Winslow Taylor, the founder of scientific management. Lastly, through supporting academic articles and a contemporary example, this essay will attempt to critically analyse the key themes of the selected reading.

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Review The key theme of the reading is focused on the applicability of Frederick Taylor’s concept of scientific management in present times. Scientific management can essentially be defined as a way of performing the work of management using a scientific and factual approach. It is based on the philosophy that both the attitudes of the workforce and the management have to be united as it only through unity that maximum productivity and consequently, maximum prosperity can be secured for both employer and employee (Taylor, 1997).

Scientific management has its fair share of critics however, with many suggesting that its techniques border on worker exploitation as well as the fact that it dehumanizes employees, treating them like machines. Furthermore, there are arguments that the concept was only relevant during the industrial revolution when there was a heavy emphasis on manpower and productivity. The introduction of technology and the current technological revolution has resulted in lower manpower requirements. Locke, however, is a huge advocate of scientific management.

He offers supporting accounts and examples from multiple sources to argue against the criticisms of this theory and further validates his opinion that most of Taylor’s insights concerning scientific management are still significant today. Analysis According to Taylor, organizations can achieve maximum prosperity by integrating a variety of scientific management techniques. The first technique involves scientific selection, wherein it is suggested that the person with the highest aptitude for the job should be hired.

Taylor is a firm believer in the concept of the “first class man”, that is, if an organization hires the person best suited for a specific task, it will in turn receive optimal performances. The next few techniques are focused on the tenets of standardization and efficiency. To achieve maximum output, time and motion studies are used to break down a specific task in order to calculate the optimal period in which an employee can complete it.

All employees in the organization should also use standardized working tools and procedures, specifically those that have been tested to be the most effective at accomplishing the stipulated tasks. Furthermore, employees are also required to be purposefully trained by management experts who are thoroughly familiar with the job instead of experienced staff. Additionally, to promote self-expression and self-realization, employees should work individually instead of in groups.

Lastly, employees should also be granted the benefits of higher wages along with shorter working hours and periodic breaks to inspire motivation and reduce job fatigue (Locke, 1982). On the other hand, there are some fallacies directed towards Taylor’s techniques. According to Taylor, standardization is regarded as critical for achieving productive efficiency. However, it also comes at the cost of individuality and creative faculty, two factors which are integral in industrial leadership. Massive standardized production is not an advance, from a human point of view, over skilled handicraft: it increases man’s power over matter; but it may diminish his power over himself” (Marshall, 1919). Furthermore, another adverse effect of standardization is the fact that it reduces flexibility in the organization and prevents it from making quick reactions to market change (Caldari, 2007). Tying in closely to the notion of standardization is the idea of the “one best way”, often cited by Taylor as the method which all employees must uniformly adopt in order to achieve maximum productivity.

Taylor’s “one best way”, however, is not applicable in the context of today’s modern and complex organizations. For example, organizations, especially social ones such as schools would often find themselves in ambiguous situations which require flexibility. Furthermore, factors such as political power amongst the workforce and the management can also influence coalitions and cause conflicting interests. The notion of the “one best way” in the rational model presented by Taylor is simply unacceptable and unthinkable (Montemurro, 2004).

Despite these disparagements regarding Taylor’s principles of standardization and the “one best way”, it is undeniable that Taylor’s techniques were considered a breakthrough in the management field. It has played a part in contributing to rising productivity and reduced operation cost across many organizations (Nelson, 1992). One overriding criticism, however, is that scientific management is singularly focused only on productivity, and in order to achieve maximum output, it disregards the wellbeing and psyche of its workforce.

Supporters of scientific management have counter-argued that higher wages alone are adequate motivators for employees. This has since been disproved by the Hawthorne Experiments, a series of tests conducted to gauge the productive effectiveness of workers in different work environments. The result derived was that of the “Hawthorne Effect”, where it was discovered that no single factor improves worker performance, even that of greater wages.

An organization which accurately embodies the principle of scientific management is Hon Hai Precision Industry, more notably known by its alternate moniker, Foxconn. A multinational electronics manufacturer based in Taiwan, Foxconn is the largest producer of electronic components in the world whose customers include reputable firms such as Apple, Microsoft and Sony (“About Foxconn”, 2007). From 2010 to 2012, Foxconn has been plagued by a series of employee suicides at its production factories. One of the reasons for these suicides was attributed to the work process of scientific management.

Foxconn prides itself on achieving high production output, and it does so by having its employees work seven day weeks and 15-hour days of repetitive manufacturing (Moore, 2010). The core tenets of scientific management such as standardization, individual work and systematic processes are all abundant within Foxconn. Workers on the production line are required to repeat routine processes for long periods and are forbidden to make any changes, or even interact with one another. Deprived of personal expression and creativity, over time, they lose their social ability, human dignity and sense of purpose.

For those with weaker mentalities, suicide becomes a form of escape. Conclusion It is correct that Foxconn has achieved first-class production rates with its system of scientific management. Conversely, it comes at the cost of widespread employee dissatisfaction and considerable negative media coverage. Locke is right in advocating certain aspects of scientific management. Aspects such as management-labour co-operation and scientific decision making are, to a moderate degree, still valid in many modern organizations.

Instead of fully embracing its every concept, however, it is also prudent to note that some scientific management techniques, specifically those with regards to standardization, “a single best solution” and work motivation are not entirely valid in current times because of its rigidity and impracticability. Furthermore, in an era where there is an increased focus on human relations in the working environment, scientific management is a practice that is potentially inhumane as seen in the example illustrated by Foxconn. Total number of words (not including references section): 1200

References:

1. About Foxconn. (2007) Retrieved 27 Sep 2012, from http://www. foxconn. com/CompanyIntro. html 2. Caldari, K. (2007). Alfred Marshall’s critical analysis of scientific management. History of Economic Thought, 14(1), 55-78. 3. Locke, E. (1982) The Ideas of Frederick W. Taylor: An Evaluation, Academy of Management Review, 7(1), pp. 14-24. 4. Marshall, A. (1919). Industry and Trade. London: Macmillan. 5. Moore, M. (2010). What has triggered the suicide cluster at Foxconn?

Retrieved from http://blogs. telegraph. co. uk/news/malcolmmoore/100039883/what-has-triggered-the-suicide-cluster-at-foxconn/ 6. Montemurro, V. (2004). Frederick Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management and the Multiple Frames for Viewing Work Organizations. New York: St. John’s University. 7. Nelson, D. (1992). Scientific Management in Retrospect A Mental Revolution: Scientific Management since Taylor. Ohio: Ohio State University Press 8. Taylor, F. W. (1997). The Principles of Scientific Management New York: Dover Publications.

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