Is Our Age Still The Age Of Scientific Management

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The industrial revolution brought about opportunities for many smaller businesses in the 19th century to expand to large corporations where early forms of organisation such as a sole trader prove to be ineffective to manage this new form of business well. Therefore, the question on how to control and supervise these large organisations effectively with a small group of specialist arises (Fayol, 1949 cited in Hill and Buren, 2018). With many competing views on how to best make a company work efficiently, Frederick Taylor created scientific management that aims to incorporate scientific processes into management (Kai-Ping et al., 2013). Scientific management involves breaking down a process into multiple parts as the time allocated and the method to do the work is standardised. Scientific management consists of four principals which are the usage of scientific method to find the most ‘efficient’ way to do a task, the cooperation between workers and managers, maximum output should be strived for, training and selection of suitable workers to reach maximum efficiency (Grachev and Rakitsky, 2013). Taylor systemic approach was designed to enhance the skilfulness of the firm (Tsukamoto, 2008). However, critics of scientific management points out how it only emphasises on the mechanics and fail to consider the employee wellbeing, motivation and satisfaction as a key indicator to productivity in the workplace. Furthermore, scientific management causes the dehumanization and deskilling of workers as workers are unable to have their own ideas and with a process being broken down into multiple processes, workers will lose their skills in the long run (referred to by Rita Davidson Lecture, 2019). This essay will thus discuss the relevance and impact of scientific management in the modern organisation, showing the different examples of practices that derives from scientific management and elaborate the other management theories that other organisation uses. Moreover, this essay will argue that this is still the age of Scientific Management.

In the modern contemporary world, different companies in different industries will have different management theories that they have modified and used to run their business. However, aspects of scientific management could still be seen in the daily operations of many businesses. One aspect of scientific management present in some companies is that workers are expected to efficiently do work with “the one best way” (Kemp, 2013). An example would be call centres of companies where the work is divided into many parts as operators are expected to use a prepared script in which it specifies the best way on how to respond to the customer problems or the time allocated to solving the problem (Desai, 2010). Moreover, operators would then be measured on how efficient they are in terms of “number of calls taken” or “ability to answer the customer query” (Marr and Parry, 2004). This example shows how efficiency plays an important role in an organisation process and how companies still expect workers to do a task in the company most “efficient” way.

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Other than call centres, the principles of scientific management are also prevalent in the service industry. With the release of new technology that is able to collect data and information at a faster pace, there has been a “digital revolution” that causes scientific management to be revitalised (Tobelem, 2017). Employees in the service work seems to be doing repetitive task where managers are able to collect and gather a huge amount of data where the manager will then determine how to improve (Frischmann and Selinger, 2017). This means that managers are able to track and monitor how efficient workers are accurately. The logistics industry is an example of this “digital revolution” as it is heavily focused on delivering products to their customers, the total transaction for the service within a specified time period is the main determinant of the company success. Taylor time-and-motion study is used to increase efficiency of these workers (Hounshell, 1988). For instance, workers in Amazon warehouse are equipped with wristbands designed to track their hand movement. There will be a countdown clock displayed on the watch to show employee how much time they have left to complete a series of tasks such as scanning barcodes, putting items inside the box, searching for the items or putting stickers in the box (Salame, 2018). This shows how a new form of scientific management is rising as employees are monitored and observed to measure their efficiency and managers find new ways to improve labour productivity.

The principals of scientific management is also being used in the manufacturing industries. There is the total quality management (Kaizen) that is heavily inspired from the principals of scientific management. It states how companies should pursue “continuous process improvement” (Imai, 1986 cited in Taneja, 2011). Even though kaizen seems to empower worker by granting them an illusion of control over their jobs, the method of kaizen “continual improvement” are standardised in which they need to be “measurable” and “reproducible” (Merkle, 1980 cited in Boje and Winsor, 1993). This is identical to scientific management that advocates the usage of standardised scientific methods to always find the most “efficient” way to do a task. An example of a widespread usage of this model is Toyota. Toyota was the first major company to adopt the kaizen system which emphasises on always improving efficiency through allowing employees to find ways to modify the standardised business process for improvement and recommend a practical solution (Toyota, 2013). This example therefore shows how total quality management is just like scientific management with a “humane” face but instead of managers, employees are the one tasked with finding the most efficient method.

Another aspect of scientific management found in today’s modern management practices is the “scientific selection and development of worker.” Recruitment and training of employees play an integral part in ensuring the success of a modern business. This is because when a business has employees that are fully qualified for their role, they are better equipped to handle opportunities and risks that the company will face which will help the company gain a competitive edge against their competitors (Cole, 2002 cited in Leisink and Stejin, 2008). This is similar to scientific management that aims to have suitable workers to be selected and trained by managers (Churchman, 2001). This is evident in many companies such as Microsoft as it has a rigorous recruitment process where eligible employees need to go through 3 stages of recruitment which are online test, technical interview and human resource interview. Furthermore, Microsoft also offer a wide variety of learning programmes such as coaching from managers or “in-the-classroom learning” (Microsoft, 2020). With this thorough selection, Microsoft is able to find employees that have the necessary skills and qualification that will help execute the company vision.

On the other hand, scientific management has limited influence on some companies. As each manager have their own unique way of managing their workforce, some companies have adopted different strategies and principals in contrast to Scientific Management. There is the human relations theory that was developed to overcome the criticism of scientific management. The human relations theory started from the Hawthorne studies conducted by Elton Mayo. He conducted and collected data from 6 experiments and found out that non-economic benefits such as social relationship and a supportive group can be used to improve efficiency of workers (Bruce and Nyland, 2011). Maslow hierarchy of needs also was used to build up on the human relations theory. Maslow categorise them starting from physiological needs such as food or warmth, safety needs such as security and law, social needs such as affection and love from friends or colleague, self-esteem needs such as independence and recognition from other and lastly self-actualization needs such as personal growth (McLeod, 2007). Maslow believed that each person will be motivated as each of the needs are met in each level. Thus, the human relations theory emphasises the importance of motivating and meeting the individual social and self-esteem needs to improve productivity (Hoque, 2006).

One example of this company is Google that uses the human relations theory for their continuous growth and development as a company. Google adopts a people centric approach for their business model. In order to stimulate continuous innovation, google employees are given freedom and flexibility to develop their individual idea to see whether it is beneficial for their stakeholders (Steiber, 2014). Moreover, in order to ensure the employee wellbeing, google offers a wide range of perks and benefits such as free food, outings to develop the relationship between managers and employees, time to work on projects that they are passionate of or ease of transfers between departments (Hartmans, 2017). This has helped make google employees feel valued and have a sense of belonging within the company. With google workers being happy, they will be more productive as the University of Oxford (2019) stated “happy workers are 13% more productive.” This is unlike scientific management that ignores the individualism of their workers and treat them as machines that is able to follow every command.

In conclusion, the 21st century is still the age of scientific management. Many companies still adopt aspects of scientific management such as carefully recruiting and training of workers or constantly finding the most efficient way to do a task. Standardised work process has been a norm in many organisations such as Microsoft or Amazon where digital technology has played a big role in ensuring efficiency. Many companies have used the data collected from employee work process in order to find out how efficient the employee works and finding ways to improve it. This digital scientific management ensures that employees are constantly monitored. A pure form of scientific management is also still being used in many companies in the developing world. With a high demand for labour, many companies exploit the workers who are desperate for work and uses Taylor’s theory of “a fair day pay for a fair day’s work.” Even though some companies have also combined the theory of scientific management has been mixed with other management theories such that employees feel valued for their work and is recognised for their effort, the high cost to always motivate and keep employees happy and empowered may discourage many other companies from adapting it and instead focus on efficiency in order to bring in more profit. In the future, where the technology progresses at a rapid pace, many companies may automate many of their business process with machines or robots to decrease cost. This can give rise to opportunities for employees to develop and innovate their own ideas where their creativity may not be limited. 


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