What is Scientific Management Theory? Scientific Management Theory In A Nutshell

Scientific Management Theory was created by Frederick Winslow Taylor in 1911 as a means of encouraging industrial companies to switch to mass production. With a background in mechanical engineering, he applied engineering principles to workplace productivity on the factory floor.  Scientific Management Theory seeks to find the most efficient way of performing a job in the workplace.

Understanding Scientific Management Theory

In the early 20th century, there was also a general belief that workers were lazy and inefficient. Taylor argued that the remedy for inefficiency was to be found in systematic management – there was no use trying to recruit men who had extraordinary work ethics.

Taylor was one of the first to look at productivity from a scientific standpoint, believing in universal laws that governed labor productivity and efficiency. For this reason, “Taylorism” is often referred to as one of the first forms of scientific management.

Taylor’s classic assumptions about workers

Taylor’s belief that workers were only motivated by money provides the basis for several classic assumptions:

  • Workers find their work unenjoyable and have a natural tendency to slack off in a process he called natural soldiering. To counter this tendency, they must be closely monitored and controlled.
  • To increase worker investment in their job, it should be broken down into bite-sized actions.
  • Training should be provided to all employees to create a standardized way of working.
  • Workers should be paid based on how much they produce (piece rate). Taylor argued that this would create a win-win scenario where the employee would earn more money and the business would maximize its profits.

The four core principles of Scientific Management Theory

Taylor was perhaps a product of his time, viewing employee labor as an extension of machine labor. He was also a strong proponent of autocratic leadership, which an increasing number of modern companies are shying away from.

However, his principles of scientific management are still relevant today.

Here is a look at each principle:

  1. Select methods backed by science. Businesses should avoid giving workers the freedom to perform their jobs in any way they see fit. The scientific method must be used to identify the single, most efficient way of doing the job.
  2. Assign workers to jobs that match their aptitude. Instead of assigning workers to jobs at random, assign them to roles where their unique capabilities will allow them to work at peak efficiency.
  3. Monitor worker performance. Monitor efficiency and ensure that necessary instruction is given on how to maintain productivity.
  4. Divide the workload between management and staff. Here, roles and responsibilities should clearly be defined. Management should train workers and workers should implement lessons learned.

Examples of modern companies employing Scientific Management Theory

Although slightly outdated, scientific management theory is useful in highly competitive industries where labor costs need to be kept as low as possible.

Example organizations include:

  • Amazon – where warehouse staff are paid on a piece-rate basis according to their level of productivity. The company has also recently introduced patented wristbands that track employee performance in real-time.
  • McDonald’s – the homogenization of McDonald’s restaurants worldwide has meant that processes have had to become extremely refined. The procedure for everything from making a burger to mopping the floor is the same – regardless of geographic location. These processes are ultra-efficient and are broken down into actionable steps, which is a core component of Taylorism.

Key takeaways:

  • Scientific Management Theory is a theory of management that seeks to analyze and synthesize workflow to improve labor productivity.
  • Scientific Management Theory was originally based on the assumption that workers were only motivated by money and is heavily geared toward autocratic leadership styles. Nevertheless, it is still relevant to modern organizations.
  • Scientific Management Theory is particularly effective in industries with a high prevalence of menial or repetitive tasks where costs need to be minimized. Examples include Amazon and McDonald’s.

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