Today we recognise him as the father of ‘Scientific Management’, a term coined by lawyer Louis Brandeis and used by Taylor in the title of his book, ‘The Principles of Scientific Management’.
Taylor became famous for one experiment – and at the same time, invented the ‘piece rate’ – payment per item made or task completed.
Midvale Steel Works
Taylor was working at the Midvale Steel Works in Philadelphia when he realised that factory processes could be optimised from the fairly random state he found them in. If he could find the ‘best’ way to fulfil a task, he could maximise efficiency.
The first problem he directed his attention to was the cutting of steel. At the Midvale Steel Works, Taylor tried out a whole range of experiments to find the best way to cut steel, and to shovel coal. Later, at the Bethlehem Iron Works, he took up the challenge to increase the amount of 32 inch iron bars a man could shift in a day. He measured the rate of work before starting his experiments at 13 tons per day. As well as suggesting alternative methods, Taylor offered ‘piece rates’ to the men.
The Victory of Incentives
One worker, called Henry Noll, was particularly motivated by incremental payment, because he was also building a house. Noll shifted an astonishing 47 tons of iron a day. As a result, he got to take home 60% more in his wages: $1.85 compared to $1.15 which his fellow workers got.
The Story Shifted
Of course, Scientific Management was not the last word, and researchers like Elton Mayo – who set out to provide further evidence for Taylor’s theories – were to counter it powerfully with a radical alternative: ‘Democratic Management’.
‘The change which you and your associates are working to effect will not be mechanical but humane.’
And now we are in Crazy Times… again
One modern management thinker has done more to rail against Scientific Management than any other. And he does so with a charisma and a showmanship that eclipses any of his peers. Love him or hate him (and many do each), it is hard to ignore the influence of Tom Peters.
Tom Peters has come to speak and write in demotic, didactic, explosive language that makes it hard for some to take him seriously. Academic and dry, he is not. So many criticise what appears to be his flippancy and glibness. However, he has been way ahead on just about every management and organisational trend in my lifetime. [21 years? Ed]
Tom Peters is capable of solid research and a more dusty style, and has written much in that format, but his more recent works have adopted a distinct style of challenging his readers and audience to think. He will stretch your concepts beyond breaking point and hope that, when you mend them, they have given up a measure of slack.
One of his most astonishing seminars and books was Crazy Times call for Crazy Organisations – in the mid 1990s.
Well, things are going crazy again folks. Time to dust off some Tom Peters, and challenge today’s orthodoxy, if you want to stay ahead for tomorrow. Here’s some classic Peters…