A modern version of scientific management

Digital Taylorism

A modern version of scientific management threatens to dehumanise the workplace

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Sep 12th 2015 |The Economist


FREDERICK TAYLOR was the most influential management guru of the early 20th century. His Principles of Scientific Management was the first management blockbuster. His fans included Henry Ford, who applied many of his ideas in his giant River Rouge car plant, and Vladimir Lenin, who regarded scientific management as one of the building blocks of socialism. Taylors appeal lay in his promise that management could be made into a science, and workers into cogs in an industrial machine. The best way to boost productivity, he argued, was to embrace three rules: break complex jobs down into simple ones; measure everything that workers do; and link pay to performance, giving bonuses to high-achievers and sacking sluggards.

Scientific management provoked a backlash. Aldous Huxley satirised it in Brave New World (1932), as did Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times (1936). A rival school of managers argued that workers are more productive if you treat them as human beings. But a recent article about Amazon in theNew York Timessuggests that Taylorism is thriving. The article claimed that the internet retailer uses classic Taylorist techniques to achieve efficiency: workers are constantly measured and those who fail to hit the numbers are ruthlessly eliminated, personal tragedies notwithstanding. Amazons boss, Jeff Bezos, insisted that he did not recognise the company portrayed in the piece. Nevertheless, it provoked quite a reaction: the article attracted more than 5,800 online comments, a record for aTimesarticle, and a remarkable number of commenters claimed that their employers had adopted similar policies. Far from being an outlier, it would seem that Amazon is the embodiment of a new trend, digital Taylorism.

This new version of Taylors theory starts with his three basic principles of good management but supercharges them with digital technology and applies them to a much wider range of employeesnot just Taylors industrial workers but also service workers, knowledge workers and managers themselves. In Taylors world, managers were the lords of creation. In the digital world they are mere widgets in the giant corporate computer.

Technology allows the division of labour to be applied to a much wider range of jobs: companies such as Upwork (formerly oDesk) are making a business out of slicing clerical work into routine tasks and then outsourcing them to freelances. Technology also to be carried to new levels. Several firms, including Workday and Salesforce, that turns performance assessments from an annual ritual into a never-ending trial. Alex Pentland of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has invented a sociometric badge, worn around the neck, that measures such things as your tone of voice, gestures and propensity to talk or listen. Turner Construction is using drones to monitor progress on a sports stadium it is building in California. Motorola makes terminals that strap to warehouse workers arms to help them do their jobs more efficientlybut could also be used to keep tabs on them.

As stopwatch management continues to conquer new territory, so too does pay for performance. The more firms depend on the brainpower of their employees, the more they are seeking to reward their finest minds with high salaries and stock options. A great lathe operator commands several times the wage of an average lathe operator, Bill Gates points out, but a great writer of software code is worth 10,000 times the price of an average software writer. Many firms, including Amazon, apply the same Darwinian logic to their worst performers as well, in a process known as rank and yank: workers are regularly ranked by productivity and the weakest are culled.

The reaction to theTimespiece shows that digital Taylorism is just as unpopular as its stopwatch-based predecessor. Critics make some powerful points. Gobbetising knowledge jobs limits a workers ability to use his expertise creatively, they argue. Measuring everything robs jobs of their pleasure. Pushing people to their limits institutionalises burn and churn. Constant peer-reviews encourage back-stabbing. Indeed, some firms that graded their staff, including Microsoft, General Electric and Accenture, concluded that it is counter-productive, and dropped it.

The meatware fights back

The march of technology can cut both ways. The rise of smart machines may make Taylorism irrelevant in the long term: why turn workers into machines when machines can do ever more? The proliferation of websites such as Glassdoor, which let employees review their workplaces, may mean that firms which treat their workers as mere meatware lose the war for the sort of talent that cannot be mechanised. And Mr Pentlands sociometric badges have produced some counter-intuitive results: for example, in a study of 80 employees in a Bank of America call centre, he found that the most successful teams were the ones that spent more time doing what their managers presumably didnt want them to do: chatting with each other.

Even so, digital Taylorism looks set to be a more powerful force than its analogue predecessor. The prominent technology firms that set the tone for much of the business world are embracing it. Google, which hires a few thousand people a year from up to 3m applicants, constantly ranks its employees on a five-point scale. Investors seem to like Taylorism: Amazons share price ticked upwards after theTimess expos. The onward march of technology is producing ever more sophisticated ways of measuring and monitoring human resources. And Taylorist managers are mixing the sweet with the bitter: Amazons Amabots, as they call themselves, seem happy to put up with micromanagement if they get a nice bonus at the end of the year. The most basic axiom of management is what gets measured gets managed. So the more the technology of measurement advances, the more we hand power to Frederick Taylors successors.

End of the article





My respond was :

Best human recourse management practices have been a subject of discussion and evolutions for quite some time. Scientific management has evolved to become one of the most prominent of such practises, right from its pioneer, Frederick Taylor. He insisted that management could be turned into a science. As the key to boost productivity, Taylor urged that with his three basic rules, workers could be turned into machines. This argument provoked a huge backlash from scholars such as Aldous in his book Brave New Wolrd and Charlie Chaplin in his book Modern Times. Critics of Taylorism urged that workers were more productive when treated like humans. However, a recent survey published inNew York Timesshowed that Taylorism is prospering.

Plus Booktakeaway : Strategic management focuses on firms and the different strategies that they use to become and remain successful. Multiple views of strategy exist, and the 5 Ps described by Henry Mintzberg enhance understanding of the various ways in which firms conceptualize strategy


She post back : The first paragraph repeats information from the reading. In the second paragraph, there is mention of the Five Ps, but am not sure how this related to the discussion of Taylorism. Please focus on making a comprehensible point.


She highlight to fix thing because not related to so I needed

Please read the article attached to the link above and post a briefblogresponse(3 sentences max) describing your key takeaway.


I need to re do this but in a related way to the article so you have to read the article and then whats the really key points on it, please only business and stretaging mastering people.

Only needed Please read the article attached to the link above and post a briefblogresponse(3 sentences max) describing your key takeaway.

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