Posts Tagged ‘Frederick Winslow Taylor’

Bundles Of Emotions

December 2, 2013 2 comments

Without a doubt, the most impactful (and depressing) management book I’ve read over the past few decades is Matthew Stewart’s “The Management Myth“. In his unforgettable masterpiece, Mr. Stewart interweaves his personal rise-and-fall story as a highly paid management consultant with the story of the development of management “science” during the 20th century. Both tracts are highly engaging, thought-provoking, and as I said, depressing reads.

At the end of this post, I’m gonna present a passage from Matt’s book that compares the Winslow and Mayo approaches to “scientific” management. But before I do, I feel the need to provide some context on the slots occupied by Winslow and Mayo in the annals of management “science“.

The Taylor Way

Frederick Winslow Taylor is considered by most to be the father of “scientific” management. In his management model, there are two classes of people, the thinkers (managers) and the doers (workers). Thinkers are elites and workers are dumbasses. By increasing piece/hour pay, Taylor’s model can be used to mechanistically increase efficiency, although it doesn’t come for free.  Executed “scientifically“, the increase in labor cost is dwarfed by the increase in profits.

The Mayo Way

Elton Mayo, although not nearly as famous as Doug MacGregor (the eloquent theory X and X guy who I liked very much before reading this obscene book), is considered to be one of the top “scientists“, and perhaps creator of, the human relations branch of  management (pseudo)science. In Mayo’s management model, there are also two classes of people, the thinkers (managers) and the feelers (workers). Thinkers are also elites, but workers are bundles of emotions. By manipulating emotions, Mayo’s model can be used to “humanely” increase efficiency. But unlike the reviled, inhumane, Taylor model, the efficiency gains from Mayo’s “nice” model are totally free. A double win! Productivity gains in an ethical manner with no additionally incurred financial cost to the dudes in the head shed. Management is happy and the workery is a happy, self-realized community. W00t!

The Quote

OK, now with the context in place, here’s the passage I promised:

Mayo’s drive for control makes Taylor look like a placard-waving champion of the workingman. The father of scientific management may have referred to his workers as “drays” and “oxen,” but with his incentive-based piece-rate systems he nonetheless took for granted that these beasts of burden had the capacity to make economic decisions for themselves on the basis of their material self-interest. In Mayo’s world, however, the workers of the world lack this basic rational capacity to act in their own self-interest. – Stewart, Matthew (2009-08-10). The Management Myth: Why the Experts Keep Getting it Wrong (p. 135). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

When I first read that passage, it sent an uncomfortable shiver down my spine. Was it as good for you as it was for me?

Shoving all the preceding BD00 drama aside, I’d rather be happy (and duped?) making $XXXX than be miserable making the same amount. I just wish that badass Matt didn’t throw his turd in my damn punchbowl! 🙂

Turd In Punch BowlIn case you’ve been wondering why I’ve been relentlessly railing lately against the guild of agile coaches on Twitter, this post exposes my main motivational force. From what I’ve seen, the coaching community rarely, if ever, thinks or speaks or writes about where the fruits of their so-called 400% efficiency improvements end up. They either auto-assume that the tropical delights are doled out fairly, or the topic is taboo; undiscussable (RIP Chris Argyris).

Not Arbiters, Nor Catalysts

October 12, 2012 2 comments

When I was young and naive (as opposed to my current state: old and misinformed), I entered the werkfarce thinking that HR departments were supposed to be compassionate arbiters of disputes and employee development catalysts – until I discovered what they actually did:

HR groups are bright shining examples of POSIWID. “The Purpose Of a System Is What It Does” – not what it says it does. Alas, BD00 doesn’t think that most HR departments are maliciously evil, they’re just so indoctrinated and immersed in Tayloresque, Theory-X thinking that “they know not what they do“. How about you? Besides thinking that BD00 knows not what he does, what do you think?


March 15, 2012 Leave a comment

In case you were wondering how to pronounce the title of this post, it’s “thoo-errs“. It rhymes with “Dewar’s“.

During the rise of the “institution” in the 1900s, Taylorism produced the segregated thinkers/doers model of operation (as shown on the left in the figure below) in order to get things done. Most doers were uneducated and assumed to be lazy/unmotivated barbarians.The “superior” thinkers created the framework of how/what/when work was done; hired some doers; tightly monitored and controlled the process of production.

Relative to the institution-less past, the segregated Thinkers/Doers modus of operandi was an improvement. Via an exchange of pay for work done, institutions provided the means for doers to satisfy Maslow‘s level one/two physiological needs for themselves and their families.

The vast majority of institutions today still operate in accordance with (a milder and veiled form of) Taylor’s segregated thinker-doer model. However, there are some gems (Zappos, Morningstar, Semco, Gore, HCL) out there that operate according the “thoer” model – where everyone is both a thinker and a doer. Although they’re hard to ferret out, these gems proactively provide a work environment in which all 5 levels of Maslow’s hierarchy are attainable to all stakeholders within the organization – not just those in the upper echelons.

A Succession Of Funerals

February 7, 2012 2 comments

Science advances one funeral at a time. – Max (walk the freakin’) Planck

As implied by the quote above, new and more effective ideas/techniques/practices/methods take hold only when the old guard, which fiercely defends the status quo regardless of the consequences, “dies” off and a new generation takes over.

Frederick Winslow Taylor, who many people credit as the father of “theory X” management science (workers are lazy, greedy, and dumb), died in 1915. Even though it was almost 100 years ago, theory X management mindsets and processes are still deeply entrenched in almost all present day institutions – with no apparent end in sight.

Oh sure, many so-called enlightened companies sincerely profess to shun theory X and embrace theory Y (workers are self-motivated, responsible, and trustworthy), but when you look carefully under the covers, you’ll find that policies and procedures in big institutions are still rooted in absolute control, mistrust, and paternalism. Because, because, because…, that’s the way it has to be since a corollary to theory X thinking is that chaos and inefficiency would reign otherwise.

Alas, you don’t have to look or smell beneath the covers – and maybe you shouldn’t. You can just (bull)doze(r00) on off in blissful ignorance. If you actually do explore and observe theory X in action under a veneer of theory Y lip service, don’t be so hard on yourself or “them“: 1) there’s nothing you can do about it, 2) they’re sincerely trying their best, and 3) “they know not what they do“.

Taylor’s List

March 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Since his management methods don’t apply to the vast majority of work performed in the 21st century, yet bazillions of managers still cling to them out of cluelessness, I’m constantly ragging against Frederick Winslow Taylor‘s work in this blog (can you say FOSTMA?). However, like all man-made ideas, beliefs, and concepts in the world, it’s not a black and white affair.

In Watts Humphrey‘s final book, “Leadership, Teamwork, and Trust: Building a Competitive Software Capability“, Watts summarizes some less well-publicized tenets of Taylor’s teachings. In the following list, he reproduces Mr. Taylor’s advice to managers:

Heartily cooperate“? “Equal division of work“?”Management takes over all work for which they are better fitted“? WTF? Uh, it seems like Tayloristic managers today (and of course, not all managers fit this bill) have only embraced the non-yucky, self-serving parts of Mr. Taylor’s teaching. They’ve conveniently thrown out the baby with the bath water, no?

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