Frederick Winslow Taylor was born in 1856 in Philadelphia where he became apprenticed as a machinist with a steel company. It was here that he formed the views that were later to develop into that body of theory which we know as Scientific Management, sometimes called Taylorism.
He was suspicious of what he saw as deliberate restrictions of output by operators which he put down to use of inefficient rule-of-thumb methods, poor management controls because of loose job definitions, and the workers’ fear of unemployment if output per man went up.
He set out to remedy the first two deficiencies by concentrating on the individual worker and his task. He reasoned that if the task were studied to devise the single best method and that where necessary this method were to be broken down into its basic elements the result would be efficiency gains and improved management control.
After all, it would be management’s task to re-structure the work along scientific lines since workers clearly were not equipped to take any part in decisions about work other than how fast to go under the stimulus of another Taylorist innovation, the piecework system of payment by results. As to the fear of unemployment, this proved correct in many cases as great gains in efficiency of manpower were realised.
Taylor did however believe that his scientific management would bring benefits to both workers and management because the result would be an end to arbitrary decisions and as output rose there would be ample to satisfy the needs of workers and proprietors.
Taylorism unquestionably supplied the methods which were largely responsible for growth of American Industry; also for the ability to mobilise and employ the raw untrained labour which flooded into the US in the late 19th and early 20th century. However, many commentators see Taylorism as an inhuman arrangement narrowly based on assumptions about human motivation which are now regarded as quite inadequate, e.g. money was the prime if not the sole motivator.
The lasting effects of Taylor’s principles are seen on all sides in industry, commerce and government and find expression is such concepts and practices as organisation and methods (O and M), payment by results, job descriptions, quotas, hierarchical control, functional specialisation and management by fear.