Critically discuss the contribution of the work of Frederick W. Taylor to management thought and practice. Pay particular attention to how his ideas were shaped by the cultural context of his time, and to the competing interpretations of his legacy.
Frederick W. Taylor has played a major role in the evolution of management thought and practice through the critical period of the turn of the century in industrialized America. So significant was his contribution to the systemization of management thought and practice that Geoffrey Colvin and fellow historians describeTaylor as “ the most influential business guru of the twentieth century”(Wren&Bedian,2011:154). Taylor’s fundamental concepts steamed from his determination to create a more systematic and productive work place. In this essay I will critically examine some of the main principles underpinning Taylorism which are; detailed task analysis to affect a more efficient task management system, the concept of making management more efficient in a scientific way rather than continuing with past traditions and thirdly the changes to performance based pay systems. Taylor commenced his working life during one of the most critical eras in the development of the industrailization of the United States. This was a period in history where immigration levels were high therefore creating a large diverse workforce: the diversity of skills, skill levels, language and culture presented huge challenges to the management and mobilization of this workforce. I am going to establish a link between the influences of these changing times on Taylor’s management practices. I will then review his legacy and the competing interpretations particularly with respect to how his principles have contributed to major improvements in the industrial development of the United States and much further afield and have also contributed to more recent management thoughts and practices. Taylor’s upbringing in a strict and controlled Quaker home had a major influence on his compulsive and highly structured approach to everything in his life. I think this was the key driver in his search to find the most efficent way to perform tasks in the workplace. When Taylor entered the workplace working practices were adhoc, disorganized and followed whatever industry practices had been established. Taylor took a scientific approach and analyzed the engineering and mechanics of each aspect of a role within a job. In this systematic analysis of skills and tasks Taylor separated the planning and organizing of work from its actual execution. This required management to have a more legitimate as well as an authoritative role in the workplace. Taylor based his theories on the division of work from pre industrial revolution thought leaders such as Smith and Babbage. His formula of dividing work into small component parts resulted in better management control of the pace of work and therefore ultimately reduced the cost of labor. This approach introduced the idea of consistent as well as systematic practices. The concept of applying work practices across different industry sectors had not been considered before. At this time the principle of soldiering applied throughout America. This meant that workers worked at a slow rate and tried to make their managers believe they were working as fast as they could (Wren & Bedeian, 2011:123), there was also of fear that if productivity increased the number of jobs would decrease. Taylor hoped that his systematic analysis of tasks could establish performance standards and show how jobs could be done more efficiently thus overcoming “soldering”. In the early 1900s, immigration was at its height with the resulting challenges of managing such a diverse and multicultural workforce. This presented management with major difficulties in hiring, training and supervising these multi-racial and multi-skilled workers. This demanded emphasis to be placed on the need for systematic work...
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