Revisiting Taylorism– Neo-Taylorism Vs. Anti-Taylorism: Permission-to-Think Vs. Prohibition-to-Think…

Taylorism is a management system developed in the late 19th century to increase efficiency by evaluating every step in a work flow process, and breaking down production into specialized repetitive work tasks… and this process is also known as ‘scientific management’…

Taylorism was conceptualized by Frederick Winslow Taylor in his book ‘Principles of Scientific Management’… Taylorism promotes the idea that there is only ‘one right way’ to produce ‘things’– essentially, Taylorism breaks down work tasks into small steps and focuses on how each person can do a specific series of steps most efficiently…

According to Taylorism; this ‘division of work’ process produces the optimum overall efficiency in the flow of work… According to Eizabeth Eyre; Taylorism’s extreme specialized ‘division of work’ is contrary to modern ideals about how to– motivate and develop an efficient workplace. Modern methods prefer to examine work systems more holistically in order to evaluate efficiency, maximize productivity…

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Taylorism separates– ‘manual’ from ‘mental’ work– whereas modern productivity methods seeks to incorporate worker’s– ideas, experience, knowledge… Taylorism, in its pure form, focuses entirely on ‘mechanics of work’ and fails to ‘value workers’– as the key element for efficiency, productivity in the work flow process… Taylorism is often criticized for giving management an extreme form of domination over workers, which leads to repression in some workplace– it track every workers’ ‘motion in work’– watch, study, control…

The basic tenets of Taylorism is centered on belief that ‘maximum efficiency’ is the primary goal… To achieve this end, workers are viewed as replaceable ‘parts’ in work flow, and each ‘part’ performs a specific task… When the ‘part’ slows down or breaks down, it must be immediately replaced with another ‘part’ in order to maintain maximum efficiency…

Taylor used ‘time and motion studies’, involving stop-watches, slow-motion photography, in order to determine the ‘most efficient’ means of doing things. In fairness to Taylor, he was working at a time where labor practices were not well studied and he believed that scientific management would benefit work by increasing the wages of the ‘best’ workers…

As time went on, however, Taylor and his followers became more fanatically obsessed with efficiency and division of labor until their recommendations resembled workings of military institutions. This eventually led to factory strikes and Congressional investigation into Taylorist practices… To achieve efficiency, Taylor argued that all decisions should be made by management with no input from the ‘parts’, either individually or collectively…

Evolving from the Taylorism debate are two movements; anti-Taylorism and neo-Taylorism… Anti-Taylorism is based on a rejection of the basic Taylor principles, while neo-Taylorism is more of modification of Taylor’s principles… Anti-Taylorism promotes more worker responsibility and seeks to push decision-making through all levels of an organization… The idea is that workers are given as much autonomy as possible so that they an use the most appropriate work method for a given situation...

Here workers are given more responsibility, e.g.; encourage to participate in decision-making, less rigid standardization, encourage to contribute in the development of the work flow process… Whereas, neo-Taylorism is a modern version of the classic Taylorism and it’s based on maximizing efficiency by– standardize, routinize… plus– tools, techniques for doing a  the designated work… and most important, there is more recognition of the human element in the work flow process… also, it involves the use of technology to monitor– workers, process, efficiency, productivity… in order to ensure desired level of outcome…

The origin of anti-Taylorism is predominantly European, while neo-Taylorism has spread from Japan… According to Gary Hamel; if you read Frederick Taylor works; there are three fundamental things he taught: 1.) Find the best practice wherever it exists… 2.) Decompose the task into its constituent elements… 3.) Get rid of things that don’t add value… According to Frank Michael Kraft; Taylorism is neither good nor bad; it’s good when used for the right purpose, but it’s bad when used for the wrong purpose… and there are many examples of both…

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In the article Scientific Management (Taylorism) in 21st Century by Sean Priestley writes: It’s not difficult to find examples of scientific management in the 21st Century, e.g.; cars, computers, electronics, food products… as well as, many of the work environments people go to everyday, such as; hospitals, restaurants, fast food… and many service organizations use some form of Taylorism… In fact, variations of this method is so commonplace and logical that it’s almost impossible to accept that these principles were developed over 100 years ago…

However, scientific management is an incomplete system and its principles are purely authoritarian, e.g.; it assumes that decision-making is best done by management only, because workers lack the skills, competence to make decisions… This style of management for many modern organizations is a recipe for disaster– when workers feel as though they are being treated without– respect, trust… most are demotivated and either leave the organization or refuse to give their maximum effort… In addition, the rapid rise of technology and changes in worker behavior and expectations has greatly impacted the modern workplace… hence, many of these earlier management techniques just don’t work in the 21st Century…

However, scientific management is still a very relevant concept in contemporary work organizations… Scientific management has proved that it has a place in a post-industrial economy and within many organizations, albeit in a hybrid form with a more human worker relationship model… Its strength in creating a divide between management functions and worker functions are employed widely at all levels and in all industries…

In addition its strength in making organizations efficient through the replacement of the ‘rules of thumb’ with scientific facts has both insured its widespread application, and ironically bred the conditions that make it less applicable to modern organizations… Hence perhaps as a complete theory Taylorism may seem invisible in some workplaces, but many of its elements are deeply ingrained in modern organizations…

In the article Repaint, Modify, Smash Taylorism by Hans Pruijt writes: The first principle of scientific management (Taylorism) is the decoupling of the work flow process from the skills of the workers; managers must assume the responsibility for overall work flow process, e.g.; classifying, tabulating, reducing… and similarly it’s managers responsibility to completely evaluate workers knowledge and abilities, and develop the appropriate– rules, laws, formulae…

The second principle is that all the work that involves ‘thinking’ should be removed from workers and centered in management… The third principle is that management should prescribe, exactly– how, and how fast each work tasks must be performed by each worker… It interesting to note that all of these principles  are just a refinement on the detailed ‘division of labor’ management strategy…

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It’s important to draw a sharp distinction between detailed ‘division of labor’ and ‘specialization’… Through specialization people can develop themselves further in their crafts or professions; whereas detailed ‘division of labor’ reduces people to performers of routine tasks… Detailed ‘division of labor’ (or Taylorism) entails analyzing a work flow process and breaking it down into a multitude of work tasks performed by different workers…

It’s interesting to note that this methodology was a craft-based flow process that was once controlled by the workers themselves, and is now segmented into pieces into a work-flow process that is under the control of managers… The financial advantage of this latter strategy is that it becomes possible to hire less skilled, lower-paid workers…

Taylorism tends to carry the detailed ‘division of labor’ to new extremes, where work cycles are measured in very fine clock times, e.g.; seconds… it also implies a low-trust relationships between workers… This control question urges managers to find ways of managing workers on specific work flow issues, e.g.; what the worker must do, how it must be done, what time frame it must be done, what pace it must be done… also managers must evaluate the workers’ detailed work performance and apply corrective actions as necessary…

At the time of his death in 1917 Taylor’s work was the subject of much debate, both ‘pro’ and ‘con’… And it must not be forgotten that Taylor was a man of his times and sought solutions to problems of his times. He was one of the first true pioneers of management methods through appying scientific examination– for the way work is done… His work led directly to the achievements of other management gurus like; Max Weber, Henry Ford…

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The main criticism of Taylor is that his approach is too ‘mechanistic’– it treats workers like machines rather than human beings, and it treat workers as ‘stupid’ things to be trained like animals, rather than people to be motivated… According to Harold Jarche; between Frederick Taylor and Elton Mayo were the organizational gurus of the 19th century and these men carved-up the world of management theory to represent their points of view– Taylor being the ‘rationalist’ and Mayo being the ‘humanist’… 

And the Taylorite, or ‘rationalist’ are saying: Be efficient!!! And the Mayo-ite, or ‘humanist’, are replying: Hey, these workers are people that you are talking about!!! And still today, in the modern digital age; the debate rages on– between ‘rationalists’ and ‘humanists’…

 

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