Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915) was an American engineer who promoted the scientific organization of work. His contributions have been key in business organizations and in particular in the industry.
Through his training as an engineer and his observations in the industrial world, Taylor provided insights that were vital in the transition from craft production to modern mass production systems.
Born in 1856 in Philadelphia, Taylor suffered from visual and physical problems. All this led him to observe the movements and instruments used by those who practiced sports such as baseball and tennis. Thanks to his observation, even beyond sports, he discovered more productive forms of work organization in the industrial world.
Frederick Winslow Taylor’s career in the industrial sector
After serving in a steel company in his native Philadelphia, in 1879 he arrived at the Midvale Steel Company, located in the town of Utah. It was there that in 1881 he began to thoroughly analyze the metal cutting processes.
Two aspects were key for Taylor: scrupulous respect for task completion times and simple procedures.
While working for Midvale, Taylor earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology. He would soon rise through the ranks and be appointed chief engineer. But his desire to continue delving into industrial processes led him to the Manufacturing Investment Company, where he carried out more advisory-oriented work.
Finally, he concluded his professional career at the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, where he was in charge of designing more efficient steelmaking processes.
scientific management theory
If Frederick Winslow Taylor is known for anything in the industrial and business world, it is for the theory of scientific management. Thus, Winslow’s theses are based on the fact that employer and employee seek to achieve the greatest possible benefit.
To achieve this benefit, a great specialization of the workers will be essential. Therefore, the greater the specialization, the greater the efficiency of the organization.
According to Taylor, it will be necessary to assess what the skills of different employees are. In fact, the training of the worker, combined with his natural abilities, will contribute to increasing efficiency.
Although other theories indicated that the objectives of worker and employer could not coincide, Taylor affirms that both figures have a common goal: efficiency.
For employers and workers to collaborate on the common goal of efficiency, Taylor argues that employees need to be paid based on their productivity. Thus, this remuneration system will work in the organization as a motivating element.
Regarding the different work activities, they must be simple and the established execution times must be determined. In relation to the activities carried out in the different areas of a factory, the foremen will play a key role in coordinating the different processes, pointing out faults and proposing improvements for them.
Criticism of the ideas of Frederick Winslow Taylor
Those most critical of scientific management maintain that organizing a company by activities produces alienation among workers. Repetitive and continuous tasks demotivate them and negatively affect their physical and mental health.
Therefore, Taylor’s vision of the worker leaves man aside as a social being and ignores the effects of fatigue.
Likewise, the desire of the employees to achieve maximum efficiency in order to achieve greater remuneration can end up generating excessive individualism within the organization.
From the point of view of the organization, Taylor only focuses on the activities, execution times and the specialization of the workers. This supposes an approach focused solely on formal aspects, which does not take into account the relationships that arise between the different members of the organization. In this sense, it should also be noted that the only communication that will take place in the organization will be the one that flows from the managers to the workers.
Although his contribution is of great value in the production area, his limited vision of the organization does not take into account aspects of great importance such as commercial and financial ones.
The way in which Taylor exposes his theories does not explain the functioning of organizations, but is rather presented as a series of instructions or orders that must be fulfilled within the framework of the organization.
Despite criticism of Taylor’s theses, the work organization methods proposed by the American engineer have allowed for better process management, increased efficiency and, therefore, a reduction in the time spent on the different activities of production.
It should be noted that, for the sake of efficiency, activity planning helps to better organize tasks.
When it comes to the worker and his selection, Taylor takes into account the skills and performance of the worker. In fact, worker productivity is an indicator highly valued by human resources departments.
Another aspect that Taylor addressed and that is widely valued in the business world is training. For this reason, worker training will be a decisive element in productivity.
Furthermore, the control of industrial processes proposed by Taylor, the management of work and production, were the origin of industrial engineering as a discipline.