Frederick Taylor’s Scientific Management


People view the role of management as one that is shaped by a vigilant long-term thought. However, based on the lessons learned from the recent economic predicament, virtually no organizations see beyond a certain limit: they are struggling with the ever-transforming surroundings. The intense nature of competition in the global market has forced many organizations to strive towards adopting the best practices that would ensure faster and cheaper operations.

The organizational environment is changing tremendously and failure to address this change is proving to be costly to the organizations (Darmody 2007, p. 1). Since the inception of scientific management, which was brought forth by Fredrick Taylor, the concept of management has been dynamic and one that is marked with numerous uncertainties. Organizational management has taken an important paradigmatic shift, which encourages workers to cease from struggling to work harder rather than smarter.

The existing literature in the subject of management presents the management systems that have been adopted by organizations to boost productivity and efficiency since the times of Taylor (Blake & Moseley 2011, p. 346). It is Taylor’s scientific management, which introduced the new way of viewing the management task in the wake of the twentieth century. Only the organizations, which had planned and effectively addressed the concept of change in organizations, were not affected greatly by the recent global financial crisis.

The discipline of management has recently attracted a lot of attention from both scholars and practitioners in the field. As a result, this paper aims at reviewing the existing literature in management with close regard to the management ideas that are expressed in Taylor’s scientific management, as well as changes in perspective that have been realized in the management field.

Taylor’s scientific management

Frederick Taylor came up with the scientific management theory and was involved in an active campaign for its adoption as the best management practice that would ensure organizational success at all times (Rose 1975, p. 24). Several vast and powerful organizations adopted the management system and proved its applicability and efficiency. Among the renowned organizations that adopted this management system is Ford motors.

During such time, it was a period when heavy mechanization and industrialization were taking over the American economy completely. Ford motors and other organizations that implemented Taylor’s scientific management grew immensely. According to Taylor, the scientific management theory makes use of “scientific observation to analyze human movement and subsequently restructure the workplace in such a way that the minimum effort produces the maximum production” (1911, p. 45).

Rosen (1993, p. 6) posits that the theory introduced a new system that ensured an increase in production. At the same time, people entered a new realm of mechanized work where they worked in organized patterns as if they were machines. A certain worker was accustomed to performing a particular task, which did not require him/her to engage their thinking in any way. The managers were the ones employed to think while the other workers were supposed to handle the physical jobs without engaging their brains (Rose 1975, p. 65). The nature of the organization of work was such that the workers at the bottom did not need creativity in handling their duties.

Tsukamoto (2007, p. 109) argues that the scientific management theory only resulted in the dehumanization of the workers in what he refers to as the development of the “machine metaphor”. The human worker was deprived of everything including his/her nature as a human to come up with new ways of handling his/her duties or engaging his/her minds in his/her work. Tsukamoto goes on to add that the practices advocated for by the scientific management theory were, not only limiting to the individual worker, but also the organization (2007, p. 112). The organization fails to utilize its human resources effectively.

Therefore, it does not achieve, as it would have done in terms of productivity. While working like machines, workers lack motivation. Therefore, this affects their performance and the overall productivity of the organization.

According to Taylor, the scientific management theory has the following basic characteristics. Firstly, the responsibility for the entire organization is vested in the manager. This implies that there is more responsibility given to the manager or the leader than the worker is. As a result, the worker in the organization operates like a mere machine that cannot be answerable for anything. As posited by Darmody (2007, p. 45), this practice of making the laborers or the employees less involved and less responsible threatens the very existence of the organization, as it forms the base for division and oppositions between the management and the other workers.

The second key characteristic is that in scientific management, scientific methods are relied upon in determining the easiest and the most efficient ways of performing work. As argued by Blake and Moseley (2011, p. 347), this practice cannot come up with the best result, as some variables such as the human resources cannot be subjected to scientific research methods as a way of determining their efficiency. Scientific research methods are suitable when determining the performance of machines. Therefore, it proves that by trying to use such methods in measuring human behavior, the theory reduces humans to the level of machines. This negatively affects the morale of such workers, thus, resulting in a decrease in their productivity.

Thirdly, the theory emphasizes selecting the best person for a particular position in the organization. This is a key characteristic of scientific management as posited by Taylor. While this may seem to work for the best interest of the organization from the onset, the reality of the matter, as argued by Braverman (1998, p. 44) is that the system ignores the possibility of improvement. Therefore, it hinders the growth of workers.

Organizations that utilized the scientific management theory, as structured by Taylor, experienced many problems in the human resource management department since workers opt to leave for other organizations where they have the potential of growing. This makes it costly for organizations to keep on recruiting new workers, which is expensive and costly (Braverman 1998, p. 47).

Lastly, close monitoring of the performance of workers to ensure that they are closely held to the stipulated work procedures is another key characteristic of the management theory. This practice, as advocated for by the scientific management theory, creates a slave-master relationship in the organization between the workers and management. The result is that the workers are not free. Therefore, they cannot contribute ideally to organizational growth while they feel deprived of their liberty (Head 2005, p. 42). Workers in this state are also not in a position to employ creativity and innovation in their work. This hinders progress largely. Workers develop a sense of opposition, as they only struggle to achieve the set targets when being supervised.

According to Taylor (1911), in the scientific management theory, the wage earners are supposed to labor in a mechanistic form while all the thinking in the organization is considered the duty of the leaders at the management levels. Darmody (2007, p.3) states, Taylor was even fond of telling casual workers that they were not in any way supposed to think in their work, as there were people who were paid to do so in the organization.

They should instead focus all their energies on the physical work that they have been given. On the same issue, Guillen (1994, p. 29) adds that the philosophy of the machine metaphor was such that it encouraged the workers to leave their brains at the door. Because of feeling dehumanized by these practices, wage earners considered Taylor their biggest enemy as evidenced by the reactions of the trade unionists against Taylor’s concepts at the time (Freeman 1996, p. 35). The high rates of immigration during the early years of the 20th century ensured that the workforce in the United States was huge but unskilled (Nyland, & McLeod 2007, p.669).

This is what made Taylor’s scientific management theory appear as working too many. Since most of the workers spoke in different tongues and lacked the commonality of the English language, their contribution in the form of ideas seemed inappropriate. Therefore, it was not required. The decision and the policy-making processes involved only those in the management levels, as they were mostly taken from the elite class. The organizational environment has changed greatly since then. As a result, the scientific management theory has faced a fair deal of criticisms from many scholars. It is deemed ineffective in dealing with the nature of change in the organizational environment (Beissinger 1988, p. 28).

While some of the scholars argue that the contemporary organization is different from that of the early years of the 20th century, the scientific management theory is inapplicable. Others posit that the theory can be adopted in the contemporary organization only that it should be reviewed. For instance, Darmody (2007, p.3) claims that, after being modified to suit the current needs of the management tasks in the modern organization, the scientific management theory can still prove useful.

Scientific management and organizational change

Taylor’s idea in coming up with the scientific management theory was to arbitrate terms between the employer and the employee (Head 2005, p. 23). One of the major flaws of the scientific management theory is that it did not put into consideration the aspect of organizational change. The management system is not flexible enough to address the issue of organizational change. As a result, most scholars and practitioners in the management world feel that the theory is no longer relevant (Dawson 2005, p. 43).

To deal with the issues that came about in organizational management because of such change, organizations had to adopt new management systems and strategies. This is because organizational change completely alters the nature of operations in the workplace and failure to deal with it results in a loss that the organization cannot handle. The recent global financial crisis revealed the importance of managing change in the organization. Thus, instead of solely relying upon the long-term thinking that is advocated for by the scientific management theory, it is better and safe for organizations to take short horizons in their planning as a way of addressing the problem of change in the organization (Dawson 2005, p. 54).

Most anti–Taylor management systems advocate for a horizontal management structure rather than the vertical one argued for in the scientific management theory (Tsukamoto 2007, p. 115). The vertical structure imposes management ideas on the workers in a top-down manner, which makes it seem oppressive. Workers’ freedom and autonomy are the major concerns addressed in most management systems.

With workers’ autonomy and liberty being enhanced, creativity, and innovation, as well as increased productivity, are encouraged according to Guillen (1994, p. 67). The fact that organizational change is not spontaneous ensures that continued learning and development is essential to ensure that workers upgrade to the desired skills to cope with a given change aspect. Training and developments are conducted at regular intervals as well as constant research, which detects these changes. The system has received praise from many workers considering that it encourages the growth of the workers. Therefore, their upward mobility is certain.

The nature of the contemporary work environment encourages coordination in the organization (Freeman 1996, p. 67). The disjoint that existed in organizations that adopted the scientific management theory has been replaced by a system that encourages coordination among the workers and management. In cases where thinking of the workers was discouraged, the organization failed to utilize all the resources that it had in possession.

Because of this realization, organizations have adopted measures that ensure that every asset in the organization is utilized to the maximum. Even the lowest of the workers can now actively participate in the growth of the organization by contributing ideas that are useful (Mullins 2004, p. 37). Workers are taught how to be independent in making decisions, as well as ensuring that they employ creativity in doing their work. Knowledge creation has been a major reform aimed at replacing the orthodox way of doing things in the organization (Beissinger 1988, p. 54).

Without the active participation of the individual worker, effective organizational management can’t be realized (Guillen 1994, p. 154). Taylor’s scientific management inhibits workers’ participation in that they are not in a position to do so. To deal with change in the organization, organizational management has taken measures to ensure that every single worker is empowered to a position of making active participation in the growth of the organization.

A sense of loyalty to the organization is fostered, as the individual worker feels trusted to become an agent of the entire organization. A given work should be able to respond to the changes that take place in the internal and external environment in the organization. As suggested by Tsukamoto, reviewing the scientific management theory of Taylor to ensure that individuals can detect and correct errors without waiting upon the management to do it can enhance the applicability of the theory in a contemporary setting.

Nyland and McLeod claim that the active participation of every worker results in a 100 percent increase in overall productivity in a given organization (Rose 1975, p. 32). A hermeneutic review of the existing management practices about organizational change reveals that organizations are completely avoiding the scientific management theory since it is considered as extremely bureaucratic and tyrannical (Pugh 1993, p. 23).

New management strategies aimed at dealing with organizational change

The humanist motivational models that enhance the liberty and autonomy of individual workers have replaced the principles of the scientific management theory (Head 2005, p. 45). Workers should feel appreciated to participate in the growth of the organization. It is only those employees in the management posts that are considered important according to the scientific management theory, as put forth by Taylor (1911, p. 34).

The demoralizing nature of the scientific management theory makes it impossible for the wageworkers to feel as if they are part of the entire organization. As a result, they completely lack loyalty. This means that they can easily move to other organizations, therefore, making the entire organization lose out in terms of finances involved in the recruitment process. The stiff and inflexible management systems adopted by several organizations before the global financial crises led to the near bankruptcy of such organizations. In comparison to the organizations that employed short-termed and flexible management plans, those organizations that relied upon the inflexible management systems were hit harder by the financial crisis.

In dealing with the reality of organizational change, the scientific management theory proves ineffective, outdated, and irrelevant (Nyland, & McLeod 2007, p.685). To obtain a competitive advantage, organizations have completely denounced the scientific management system in favor of other management systems that are friendly to the human resource, which is considered the most valuable asset that any organization can have. So many forces in the organization prove the inefficiency of scientific management in managing change. These include diversity, as well as the reality of globalization (Mullins 2004, p. 12).

Through the creation of groups and encouraging teamwork, worker participation has been enhanced, which is contrary to the principles of the scientific management theory (Rosen 1993, p. 212). Active sharing of knowledge and creativity rather than the solitary machine-like operation advocated for by the scientific management theory have boosted to a great extent the performance of workers and the overall productivity in organizations.

Human capital development is among the major strategies that most contemporary organizations are using in managing change after a keen review of their experiences during the global financial crisis. By disregarding the importance of human capital management, those organizations that had concentrated on making huge financial returns experienced the most losses during the global financial crisis (Pugh 1993, p. 67). This is because even most of the workers left at the time when they were needed the most.


Scholars have considered Taylor’s scientific management theory as inflexible and very ineffective when it comes to addressing the issue of change in the organization (Rosen 1993, p. 234). Management as a concept and a practice has evolved a lot since the time of Taylor with a lot of focus being made on the management practices that recognize the importance of human resources in an organization, as well as the concept of organizational change.

The existing literature in management revolves around what is considered as good management practices about others such as “Taylorism”. If the global financial crisis is anything to go by, management practices should be such that they ensure flexibility to handle the concept of change effectively. Organizations have also shifted from the autocratic and bureaucratic principles of the scientific management system to other systems that “enable them to address the challenges that come with organizational change” (Tsukamoto 2007, p. 116).


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