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lunes, 17 de marzo de 2008

Principles of Scientific Management - Taylor

This is the first paper, of several to come, which tackle classical management readings. Please don`t hesitate in adding any comments. Thanks.

“An idealist is a person who helps other people to be prosperous.”
Henry Ford[1]

The first thing that popped out of my mind after finishing reading Fredrick Taylor´s “The Principles of Scientific Management,” was the question of who is our today´s Taylor. Who has on his own decided to bring down all the prehistoric social fictions and install a sophisticated scientific model to understand and run human acts? Who has achieved as Taylor himself summarized: “Science, not rule of thumb. Harmony, not discord. Cooperation, not individualism. Maximum output, in place of restricted output. The development of each man to his greatest efficiency and prosperity.”[2] There are not that many men/women who have challenged our societies and made a contribution towards development in the extent of those achieved by Taylor. He was the idealist Ford was talking about; the Bono or Al Gore of today’s fight on global warming and poverty.
Scientific management’s object Taylor suggested “should be to secure the maximum prosperity for the employer, coupled with the maximum prosperity for each employee”[3]. Given the period of time when the book was written it’s important to note that management was basically done by a hierarchical position from were orders were given to workers. These workers were generally trained by others in an artisan fashion ( methods that had not evolved that much). The relationship between both was kept down to a money transaction with possible out spurs of strikes in order to achieve better salaries or working conditions by the men. In any case the idea of coupling both, employer and employee prosperity, was a revolutionary idea. Even more revolutionary where the methods through which we believed he could attain this object of management.
First, we have to develop a science for each element of a man’s work in order to replace the rule of thumb. Second, there is a need to select and then train, teach, and develop the workman instead of simply paying workers to do certain tasks. Third, insure that everything is done according to the principles of science. Furthermost, divide responsibility, among both management and workman, in order to create the right results. What Taylor sought to accomplish by these new management duties was efficiency. The general thought of the time was that monetary incentives would promote the initiative of workers and boost their efficiency, but it had the fallacy of leaving it all to the workman. The truth of the matter is that we know, after almost one hundred years, that he was right. But why was he so effective in demonstrating he was on the right track?
Taylor’s priority was to find a solution to the “larger question of increasing national efficiency”. The solution, he believed, was in focusing on the labor force efficiency. In order to increase labor efficiency he encouraged the scientific management of the work force. Measurement was to be used in order to improve performance. The methods that he introduced brought a positive change to national efficiency. I believe that the book was very helpful in demonstrating his points because it bounced from theoretical to practical examples.
Many of the methods to achieve efficiency introduced by scientific management are today taken for granted. One simple example is the hours of class we have at UAI. One hour and fifteen minutes is the scientifically proven average time a student can keep up his attention. Most of the acts we consider to be a habit were once measured to assure efficiency. This is way the book is worth the while reading, because it truly helps us understand why we stand were we are.
The one thing that I partially disagree on with Taylor, and this may well be because of the different priorities our societies face, has to do with the inhuman treatment given to labor force. I recall Charles Chaplin, in Modern Times, already making a satire of the “dehumanization” in 1936. Chaplin was a contemporary of Taylor and he depicted the degree to which human beings were considered a gear in a bigger machine. Taylor would have disagreed with Chaplin and me, by saying that the men not only became better than first class workers, but earned more money with which they could live a more comfortable life. I would agree with him on that level, but would refute him in that the more scientific we decide to make human acts the farther apart we fall from today’s conception of human dignity. (Human dignity is expressed as a necessity of work conditions in article 23, paragraph (3), of the Universal declaration of Human Rights).
I also believe that today’s companies not only have internalized Taylor’s scientific management, but the work force has become more professional, and the question of worker turn out has changed from: how can workers perform better? Towards: what are the priorities and needs of workers? What we need to know is if the first question is of vital importance for the creation of the second. In other words: Can we today, in developing countries, endorse labor efficiency asking our self’s directly the second postulate, or is it a necessary condition to pass through Taylor’s teachings?
[2] Taylor, Frederick, The principles of Scientific Management, Nu Vision, 2007, pg 79.
[3] Taylor, Frederick, The principles of Scientific Management, Nu Vision, 2007, pg 9.

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