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The first big management idea to reach a mass audience it swept through corporate America in the early years of the 20th century and much management thinking since has been either a reaction to it or a development of it.

At the core of scientific management lie four principles:

Replace rule-of-thumb methods of doing work with ones based on scientific study of the tasks to be carried out.

Select and train individuals for specific tasks.

Give individuals clear instructions on what they have to do, then supervise them while they do it.

Divide work between managers and workers, so that the managers plan “scientifically” what is to be done, and the workers then do it.

Peter Drucker once wrote that:

Taylor was the first man in history who did not take work for granted, but looked at it and studied it. His approach to work is still the basic foundation”.

The trade union movement, however, always hated it. A union officer once said:

No tyrant or slave driver in the ecstasy of his most delirious dream ever sought to place upon abject slaves a condition more repugnant.

There is little space for Taylor’s ideas in today’s world of freewheeling teamwork. But the writings of people such as Michael Porter and Michael Hammer, with their emphasis on breaking business down into measurable (and controllable) activities, hold more than a faint echo of Taylor’s ideas.


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