Essays on Should Management Historians Record Frederick Taylor as a Hero or a Villain Literature review

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The paper "Should Management Historians Record Frederick Taylor as a Hero or a Villain? " is a good example of a literature review on management. Much has been written about Frederick Winslow Taylor and his theory of scientific management. Scientific management is a theory of management that analyses and synthesizes workflows, improving labor and productivity (Khurana, 2009, p. 1). Taylor’ s core ideas which are the elements of scientific management can be referred to as Taylorism. This paper, therefore, dwells on the perspectives or Taylorism or scientific management with a view to determine whether the views postulated by Taylor still hold today, and thus whether Frederick Winslow Taylor should be recorded as a hero or villain in the history of management. Many authors have taken different standpoints regarding Taylor’ s work, and indeed, a position will be taken in this paper based on an analysis of different works done in the past.

Writing about Taylorism, Nyland (1995, p. 8) notes that analysts who depict Taylor and his close associates as villains tend to base their arguments on secondary sources on information and/or on a cursory and selective reading of some of Taylor’ s works.

The position taken in this paper that Taylor should be recorded as a hero in management is however based on a keen analysis of past studies in management vis-à -vis the contemporary world of management. However, it is also pointed out that some modifications are necessary to make Taylor’ s perspectives fit into the contemporary world of management. Principles of the theory of scientific managementThe fundamental aspect of Taylorism is the separation of conception from execution. According to the theory, managers can achieve this by applying three principles.

The first principle involves the decoupling of the labor process from the skills of the workers, hence: “ The managers assume the burden of gathering together all the traditional knowledge which in the past has been possessed by the workmen and then of classifying, tabulating, and reducing this knowledge to rules, laws, and formulae” (Pruijt, 2000, p. 439). The second principle is that “ all possible brain work should be removed from the shop and centered in the planning or laying-out department” (Pruijt, 2000, p. 439). Further, the third principle states that management should not leave it to the employees to decide how they go about their tasks.

Rather, management should lay down precisely how, and how fast, the tasks must be accomplished. The three principles are fundamentally based on logistical streamlining and standardization of components and have strengths and weaknesses as detailed next. Strengths and weakness of TaylorismTaylorism can be regarded as a refinement of the management strategy of a detailed division of labor. In this context, it is worthwhile to state the distinction between the detailed division of labor and specialization.

Through specialization, employees can develop themselves further in their professions or crafts, while the detailed division of labor reduces employees to performers of routine tasks. This is because a detailed division of labor, as implied by Taylor in the scientific management theory, entails analyzing a production process and dividing it further into an array of tasks that are performed by different workers. By doing so, a craft-based labor process that was initially controlled by the workers themselves is broken down into pieces. Then, managers are required to put the pieces together to develop a process that is under control of the management.

The financial implication of such a strategy for a firm is that it becomes possible to hire fewer well-paid workers (Pruijt, 2000, p. 440). This means a reduction in the cost of production. On the other hand, Taylorism implies low relations between employees and the employer. Hence, direct control is necessary to ensure that labor power bought is converted into labor performed. This control requires managers to find ways of imposing on workers what they should do, how they should do it, the limits within which they should work, and at what pace, and to assess work performance and apply appropriate sanctions.

As such, Taylor’ s prescriptions amounted to a reliance on a number of supervisors to be in charge of operations. But a strategy employed by Ford Motor Corporation deviated from this by having a mechanical assembly line that proved to be a more efficient control system. The assembly line works as a system of technical control, implying that the entire production process or large sections of it are based on technology that regulates it and is in charge of the work pace and controls the labor process (Jones, 1997, p.

6). That made Taylorism appear to fade in the 1930s (Pruijt, 2000, p. 440). How Taylorism has endured in the industryTaylorism is an old phenomenon but it is reflected even in the industries that employed the latest technology. Key among these is the contact center industry. Contact centers were historically set up to take advantage of economies of scale by utilizing the developments in information communication technology. This focus on reducing cost has led to contact centers adopting a mass-production approach to the provision of service.

As a result, contact centers receive a grim image in literature with some authors likening them to sweatshops and factories of the past. Many of the techniques employed in contact centers are from manufacturing’ s past, which can be related to factory environments and Taylorism (Smith et al, 2010, p. 434). Desai’ s (2010, p. 795) work also shows that majority of work experience in the call center industry is one of deskilling according to the Tayloristic scientific management principles as the work involved is fragmented and subdivided into smaller tasks that can be controlled by the management. The essence of scientific management principles is also reflected in just-in-time (JIT) concepts.

JIT production methods were popularised by the excellent results attained by the Japanese industry. When it became apparent that the Japanese were gaining more markets that were initially a domain of the Americans, there was considerable interest to learn how the Japanese industry operates (Petersen, 2002, p. 82). Petersen (2002, p. 82) explores the origin of JIT and denotes that it could as well be linked to Frederick Taylor.

JIT production methods were widely adopted by Ford Motor Company and are also used in the modern-day United States (Petersen, 2002, p. 82). Taylorism is also evident in the fast-food industry. McDonald's, the world’ s largest fast-food chain is an exemplar to this. According to Ritzer (1993) (cited by Seidl, 2007, p. 8 ), pure Taylorism has been established in McDonald's and is characterized by predictability and controllability. Seidl (2007, p. 8) also points to further evidence of scientific management: that advanced automation in large organizations can entail the incorporation of human skills and decision making into machinery, and thus the removal of brainwork from the shop floor – which is a key element of Taylorism.

There are many examples of automation in business, including business process outsourcing (BPO), whose operations are formulated on the basis of Taylorism (Seidl, 2007, p. 8). Case study: Production at ToyotaFrederick Taylor’ s ideas of scientific management are far from being ignored by going by Toyota’ s position in the automobile industry. Toyota has grown to be the world’ s largest automaker, and it is important to note that its management approach is Tayloristic – or is based on modifications of Tayloristic approaches.

Key among these is that “ one best way” will be used in the manufacturing process, and that the production process relies on “ systematic soldiering. ” “ One best way” implies standardization, and this captures best practice and enables the distribution of improvement ideas throughout the organization. It is because of systematic soldiering that European managers find a productivity gap at their disadvantage when they compare their firms with Japanese firms (Pruijt, 2000, p.

442). Toyota offers a good case of Taylorism as it involves a carefully designed modification that deals with the problem of labor costs while preserving the focus is on one best way. In the system, first-level supervisors perform double duty in that they supervise and also work on the line. In the Toyota production system, the team leader has a fixed position and the management of appoints team leaders. The major difference between a Taylorist low-level supervisor and a Toyota team leader is that the Toyota team leader has to perform production work himself (which is not the case in pure Taylorism).

Another interesting feature of the production at Toyota is that for each task there is a standard worksheet that contains the cycle time, the order in which the employee must perform the operations, and the standard inventory that belongs to the task (Pruijt, 2000, p. 444; Hino, p. 221). According to (Cheng, 1996, p. 23), the production technology employed at Toyota is referred to as Toyota and is the version of Taylorism.

It employs a management technique that encourages employees to internalize self-monitoring and correction and results in exploitation. Interestingly, the founder of Toyota, Eiji Toyoda, visited Ford’ s Rouge River Plant in Detroit and borrowed the idea, which was modified to lean production. Toyota is of course a modernistic discourse and is also hierarchical, capitalistic, and environmentally exploitative. Although the strategy employed by Toyota has been successful in Japan, Toyota is criticized for being applicable only to the Japanese worker. It is argued that the same strategy of control cannot be applied in the West due to the different forms of industrial relations that are embedded in western culture (Rafferty, 2011, p.

215). The downside of Taylorism and going about itIn addition to the weakness of scientific management mentioned earlier, it is also important to note that Taylorism deprives employees of innovative capacity. Organizations are dealing with this by buying up small, innovative companies or concentrating innovations in a separate department. Another issue is lack of flexibility within an organization and this is being tackled by granting autonomy to the shop floor level. Taylorism can also result in unattractive work on the shop floor, leading to a lack of motivation among employees.

However, this can be counteracted by adjusting the pay system and careful selection of workers. Toyota’ s model encompasses aspects such as continuous improvement, employee suggestions, and quality circles – which are all modifications of Taylorism (Pruijt, 2000, p. 444-445; Cheng, 1996, p. 23). ConclusionNotwithstanding its weaknesses, Frederick Winslow Taylor’ s theory of scientific management continues to be relevant long after it was postulated. Aspects of Taylorism have endured and are incorporated in modern large industry settings such as Toyota and McDonalds despite the changing perspectives of management.

Where pure Taylorism is not evident, some modifications have been made to fit current industry settings. That scientific management principles are applicable even in nascent industries such as business process outsourcing suggests that Taylor’ s theory is here to stay. It is therefore only worthwhile to brand Taylor a hero as he coined a theory that has shaped management for a long time despite the criticism its principles have faced over the years.


Cheng, C. 1996, “A comparison of the modernistic Toyota model of greenfield start-ups with a pre-modern Chinese family business transplanted to the USA,” Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 9, No. 3, pp. 18-30.

Desai, R. 2010, “Understanding management control systems in call centres,” International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, Vol. 59, No. 8, pp. 792-810.

Hino, S. 2006, Inside the mind of Toyota: Management principles for enduring growth, Productivity Press, New York.

Jones, B. 1997, Forcing the factory of the future: Cybernation and societal institutions, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Khurana, A. 2009, Scientific Management: A Management Idea to Reach a Mass Audience, Global India Publications, New Delhi.

Nyland, C. 1995, “Taylorism and hours of work,” Journal of Management History, Vol. 1 No. 2, pp. 8-25.

Petersen, P.B.2002, “The misplaced origin of just-in-time production methods,” Journal of Management History, Vol. 40, No1, pp. 82-88.

Pruijt, H. 2000, “Repainting, modifying, smashing Taylorism,” Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 13 No. 5, pp. 439-451.

Rafferty, J. 2001, “The synthesis of economic organization management of change: Intercultural and the Japanese paradigm,” Management Decision, Vol. 39, No. 5, pp. 415-420.

Seidl, R.2007, Business process outsourcing relationships in Swiss banking: An exploratory study, Cuvillier Verlag, Geneva.

Smith, M. K., Ball, P. D., Bititci, U.S. & Van der Meer, R. 2010, “Transforming mass production contact centres using approaches from manufacturing,”Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management, Vol. 21, No. 4, pp. 433-448.

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