Scientific Management was the first real revolution in management thinking. And it owes much of its vigour and many of its flaws to its founder, Frederick Winslow Taylor.
In the closing years of the nineteenth century, Taylor was observing inefficiencies in the manufacturing plants of the United States. And he was finding patterns of disincentives, poor work practices, and waste. If only, he thought, the modern workplace could be revolutionised by the Scientific Method. And he was the man to set about it. In so-doing, he created the discipline of Scientific Management.
Robert Owen is often referred to as a social reformer. So what is he doing in a blog about management?
In fact, in his espousal of management over pure command and control, we can see in Owen the first shining of the light of humanistic management, that was not to become the norm in his home country of the UK for nearly two centuries.
Robert Owen was born in 1771, in Newtown, in Wales. After working in several drapery businesses around England, in 1790, he became the joint owner of a textile factory in Manchester. Because he had little experience of manufacturing, he started off wth a rigorous regime of intense observation of how his employees worked. Through this, he said, ‘I maintained order and regularity throughout the establishment’. Could this be an early variant on ‘Management by Walking About’: Management by Observation?
Along with other investors, Owen bought a Mill in New Lanark in 1799. The realities of what was then regarded as enlightened mill ownership were that he inherited a workforce where 5 and 6 year olds were expected to work up to 15 hours a day. His first act was to stop taking children from the local poorhouse, to raise the minimum age of children he employed to 10, and to ban the use of corporal punishment.
This was the start of a series of reforms that led to Owen being labelled variously as a social reformer, a socialist, an educational reformer, and a utopian (by Marx and Engels!) But at this time, certainly, Owen justified all of his changes on purely economic grounds. He used profits to fund social improvements for his workers and found that productivity subsequently increased. Eventually, the New Lanark Mill showed a 50% Return on Investment (ROI).
Eventually, his reforms were to include taking no children into the mill, creating the first night school in the world, for his workers, starting what became the basis of the British Co-operative movement, and founding the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union in 1834 – sadly, it did not survive the year. He also tried in 1815 and failed to introduce new legislation to improve working conditions nationally.
It may shock us now that his aim of increasing the minimum working age to 10, reducing the maximum daily working hours to 10½, and requiring a minimum of half an hour a day of education for all children was seen as a serious risk to the wellbeing of business. Lesser legislation was passed in 1819 and we still hear the same arguments about potential legislation around worker’s rights today.
Consult other sources…
If you want to learn more about his social reforms, educational work, or attempts to create trades unions and co-operatives, there is plenty of good material. I would like to focus on the things Owen did in management, that were almost a century ahead of his time, to only really be formalised by the likes of Mary Parker Follett and George Eastman, and the later humanistic management leaders, like Elton Mayo and Douglas McGregor.
Five Visionary Approaches
Owen recognised that, in his rapidly mechanising industry, machines would never attain a greater importance than the people who worked them
Abandoning Command and Control
Owen preferred to manage his workers, rather than issue commands. And to help him, he started selecting his managers on merit and giving them training.
Okay, so he would never have used this modern buzzword, but he firmly believed in the value of giving his managers real autonomy.
Not only did Owen understand the value of winning trust from his workers before trying to impose change; he actively sought out influential individuals among them to help build and disseminate his case: what we call ‘change champions’.
Every day, supervisors would assess the work of their workers, and award a colour code (from poor, black to blue to yellow to white – best), which would be displayed on a wooden block (his ‘silent monitor’) for all to see. Peer pressure and pride are powerful motivators!
Who invented the Gantt Chart? This is a question I ask in many of my project management seminars, and the commonest answer/guess is ‘Mr Gantt’. Why does nobody suggest Mrs Gantt? In fact, neither answer is properly correct. But nonetheless, the Gantt Chart is Henry Gantt’s enduring legacy. But there was more to him as a manager and thinker than that.
Henry Laurence Gantt was born in the southern US state of Maryland in 1861; the year the Civil War started. As one of my reference books puts it, the war ‘brought about changes to the family fortunes’. His parents were slave owners.
Gantt graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 1880 and, after a few years of teaching, qualified as a Mechanical Engineer in 1984, with a master’s degree from the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey.
After three years working as a draughtsman in Baltimore, he joined the Midvale Steel Works in 1887. This is where FW Taylor was Chief Engineer, and Taylor was to become a mentor and important intellectual influence on Gantt. The two worked well together, and Gantt followed Taylor first to Simmonds Rolling Company and then to Bethlehem Steel.
They went their separate ways in 1900, and in 1901, Taylor endorsed Gantt as the best person to have as a consultant for implementing their shared principles of scientific management. This led to a successful career for Gantt; working with many large corporations. From this point on, though, Gantt was clearly thinking for himself and diverging from some of Taylor’s more extreme ‘scientific principles’.
It was in 1917 that Gantt ‘invented’ the now famous Gantt Chart, as a way to speed the construction of naval vessels during World War 1.
Gantt wrote two books – both out of print – and there is also a set of lecture notes available. Beware print-on-demand reproductions – some get poor reviews. His 1911 book, ‘Work, Wages and Profits’, focused on incentivising workers and marked a shift from Taylor’s penal approach to piece rates. In 1919 – the year of his death – he published ‘Organising for Work’. This marked an early contribution to the field we would now refer to a Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR).
We can summarise Gantt’s management thinking under three headings: incentivisation, task management, and corporate responsibility.
Taylor’s approach to incentivising workers was the piece rate system – getting paid only for the work you do. Gantt moved away from this idea, noting that motivation works best when you reward good work, rather than punishing poor work. So Gantt’s approach was to offer a base wage, with bonuses to workers who performed beyond a certain level. This meant that workers in the learning stages of their roles could earn a decent wage and led to a doubling of production levels.
He went on to provide additional incentives, most notably to foremen. This would recognise the collective efficiency of a work team and provided encouragement for on-the-job training. Gantt had clearly departed a long way from Taylor’s thinking, in the direction of humanistic management, when he wrote in ‘Work, Wages and Profits’:
‘the general policy of the past has been to drive; but the era of force must give way to that of knowledge, and the policy of the future will be to teach and lead, to the advantage of all concerned.’
Gantt was a close contemporary of Mary Parker Follett, with whose thinking this aligns, but I can find no reference suggesting that they knew one another. He was, however, a good friend of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth.
In ‘Organising for Work’, Gantt set out an agenda for corporate responsibility to society. He argued that the cold ‘buy low: sell high’ approach to business would not meet the challenges of business leadership in the twentieth century. He placed far more emphasis on the role of executives in motivation and efficiency that did Taylor – who saw workers largely as automata.
As he distanced himself from Taylor, he held that businesses have a duty to serve their communities, using the phrase ‘social responsibility’.
There is no doubt, however, that Gantt is best remembered (only remembered?) for the Gantt Chart. This is a representation of tasks as bars on a chart that plots a list of tasks down the left hand side and sets a time line from left to right. Each task is shown as a bar. The length of the bar represents the duration of the task, and the placing represents its scheduling. Shading of the bar can represent levels of completion.
This was one of many different charts that Gantt developed, to help make work easier to plan and manage. This was him at his most ‘scientific’. In his early career, he said that scientific analysis is the only route to industrial effectiveness.
So, did Henry Gantt invent the Gantt Chart?
We will never know if he was aware or not (I suspect not) but the same chart had indeed been ‘invented’ in 1896 by Karol Adamiecki. Adamiecki was a Polish economist and engineer, whose misfortune, if you like, was to publish in Polish and Russian. So, his writings received little attention outside of those countries and we now have the Gantt Chart, rather than the Harmonograph (Adamiecki’s favoured name) or the Adamiecki Chart. It is not clear to me when Adamiecki’s work was available – references I can find suggest he only published in 1931.
Apart from pride of authorship (among two long dead men) or nationalistic pride (between Poland and the US), there is little value in worrying who invented it. I’d be prepared to bet that if we had marks in the sand preserved from the ancient builders of Egypt, Sumer, Meso-America, Cambodia… somewhere we’d find a bar chart scratched out hundreds or thousands of years ago. What matters is the phenomenally wide usage this chart has.
The Gantt Chart is seen as a cornerstone of modern project management, yet it is hard to imagine the impact it had in the 1920s and 1930s, on US industry and Soviet Union central planning. And it has barely changed in the last 100 years. The only real difference is the technology we use to produce the charts and the consequent ease we have in using them to drive calculations.
For this, Henry Gantt does deserve to be remembered. So to, though, does Karel Adamiecki.
Abraham Maslow never set out to be a management thinker: his attention was on people in the round. It was only his desire to test out his ideas – and those of colleague Douglas McGregor – that led him to be one of the best known names among managers. His model of motivation is almost certainly the most widely known in English speaking organisations. Does it deserve to be?
Abraham Maslow was born in 1908 to Jewish emigré parents, who had come to New York to escape Tsarist pogroms in Russia. There, Maslow grew up amidst antisemitism.
He took his undergraduate degree at City University of New York and then gained his MA and PhD in psychology at the University of Wisconsin in 1934. His thesis considered dominance and sexuality in Monkeys, which later led noted sexologist Alfred Kinsey to seek out his assistance in the 1940s. Maslow, however, rejected Kinsey, challenging the rigour of his research and later publishing evidence of bias in Kinsey’s sample selection (of young women for his study).
Maslow spend the late 1930s and the 1940s teaching and researching at Brooklyn College, where he published his most notable work on The Hierarchy of Needs in 1943 (A Theory of Human Motivation, Psychological Review, 50, pp370-396). This was later fully documented in his most important book, Motivation and Personality.
In 1951, he moved to Brandeis University, where he stayed until 1969, a year before his death in 1970
A Humanist First
The core of Maslow’s work as a psychologist was his move away from studying the psychology of people with problems, towards people who are successful. He used the term ‘positive psychology’and was almost certainly the first to do so. It is now widely used, since its establishment as a (now very vibrant) field of research by Martin Seligman.
However, the movement he was instrumental in had the name of humanistic psychology and it is one that last week’s Management Thinker, Mary Parker Follett would have embraced.
The Hierarchy of Needs
His major contribution was a model that was designed to explain human behaviour and has subsequently come to be used as a theory of workplace motivation. He built a needs theory of human behaviour by first grouping human needs into classes, and then arranging these classes into a hierarchy. He argued that the prospect of satisfying an unmet need leads to motivation to act or choose.
Often shown as a pyramid, with basal (or ‘deficiency’) needs at the bottom and higher (or ‘growth’) needs at the top, the sequence means that our first instinct is to focus on the lowest level of unmet need.
include warmth, food, sex, sleep and shelter – anything necessary to survival.
Safety and Security Needs
can now be thought of as job, wage or other economic security.
Love and Belonging Needs
are for social acceptance and the development of trusting relationships.
are firstly for power, status and prestige and then, for a self-belief that our place is merited.
was what Maslow was interested in: maximising our potential, living life to the full and contributing to our society.
In more modern needs theories of motivation, like Self Determination Theory of Ryan and Deci (popularised by Daniel Pink), belonging, esteem and self actualisation are still seen as powerful workplace motivators in the forms of relatedness (love and belonging), competence (esteem), and autonomy (actualisation).
There are two critiques that are commonly levelled at the Hierarchy of Needs – one valid, one not.
It is often argued that the hierarchy presents a rigid sequence and that we continually want more, so do not fully escape the lowest levels, whilst some artist, say, will self-actualise away in lonely poverty in a cold garrett ignoring the basement motivators. In fact, Maslow himself said that the hierarchy is neither universal, nor a rigid sequence. The price his legacy pays for fame, is that most people learn the model from a few paragraphs in a text book or fifteen minutes in a management training session – and not from Maslow’s own writing. (Up goes my hand too!)
The more valid critique is the shallow research base for the model, and the reliance Maslow placed on anecdote, interview and subjective interpretation. However, we must understand his motivation: which was to create a springboard for studying what really interested him – Self Actualisation.
In fact, he did spend time in industry, studying motivation, but it was Douglas McGregor’s Theory Y that he was testing – and he found it wanting. Much as he supported it, he found it too simplistic in the real world, where people need a dose of Theory X predictability to feel fully secure.
Above and Below the Pyramid
Interesting to me is Maslow’s argument that we cannot satisfy our needs unless we have sufficient freedoms. As a humanist, he argued strongly for basic human freedoms such as expression and speech, the ability to defend ourselves, and for a society that prioritises justice.
Above the pyramid, he argued we would find needs higher than self-actualisation in the way he described it. These may be some form of aesthetic, spiritual or transcendent needs. This is an idea that Clare Graves developed into Spiral Dynamics, although the merits of that model need careful assessment.
For may years, knowing he came from Russia, I pronounced his name Mazlov. My research for this article shows that I was wrong. The name is common among Polish and Western Ukrainian Jewish families, where the -ow ending is pronounced with the soft w sound. A research student of his from the early 1940s records on a Wikipedia discussion page that Maslow pronounced his own name as Mah-zlow.
‘Ahead of her time’ seems to be the most appropriate epiphet to apply to Mary Parker Follett. And many have done so: Peter Drucker described her as a ‘prophet of management’, while Warren Bennis has said:
‘Just about everything written today about
leadership and organizations comes from
Mary Parker Follett’s lectures and writings.’
Mary Parker Follett was born in 1868, into a wealthy Quaker family in Boston. She was an exceptional scholar and a polymath, attending university at Harvard (the Society for Collegiate Instruction of Women – later Radcliffe College), during which time she also spent a year at Newnham College, at Cambridge University (in England). Although denied a PhD by Harvard, she studied widely in law, economics, politics, philosophy, and history. While at Cambridge University she prepared and delivered a paper that was to become, in 1918, her first book: ‘The New State’. It was about social evolution and group-based democratic government. It was reviewed by former US president, Theodore Roosevelt and remains in print today.
After studying, Follett spent the next thirty or so years (from 1890 to 1924) focusing on voluntary social work in Boston. She innovated, being the first person in the US to use a school as an out-of-hours community centre; a model that was widely reproduced across the country.
However, what interests us most at the Management Pocketblog is her work from 1924, when she turned her focus to industry. She wrote that it is ‘the most important field of human activity’ and that:
‘management is the most fundamental element in industry’
She became an early management consultant and was much in demand by industry leaders and academic institutions. She spent her time advising and lecturing, up until her death, at a relatively young age, in December 1933.
Sadly, her work is not widely known of in the western world, despite notable figures like Drucker, Bennis and Sir Peter Parker praising her to the rafters. This is despite the fact that she anticipated a wide range of issues and thinking that is still today presented as modern and aspirational for our large organisations.
Follett’s Visionary Thinking
Let’s count the ways that Follett was ahead of her time in the field of management. I get to eight.
1. Humanistic Approach to Organisations
Growing up in the time of FW Taylor, and ahead of the work of Elton Mayo, Follett rejected the functional approach to industry in favour of her emphasis on what we now call humanistic principle. She was a progressive, rational humanist in the management field as well as in the political and social arenas, and puts me very much in mind of George Eastman, whom I also described as a visionary. She very much anticipated the work of Douglas McGregor.
Follett rejected the idea that managers and staff have fundamentally different roles and capabilities. Instead, she saw that an organisation’s success would come from recognising the part that each has to play in delivering its services or creating its products. She advocated giving power to where it matters.
3. Joined up Business (… and hence, Re-engineering and Lean?)
This created a need for a joined up organisation, where activities, departments, functions and people are properly co-ordinated – both across the organisation and from the bottom to the top (and vice versa). She referred to the relationships between staff and managers and among functions as ‘reciprocal relating’. A leader’s role is therefore to see the whole organisation and the ‘relation between all the different factors in a situation’. Is it too much of a stretch to see this as anticipating the mission of re-engineering and lean management to close gaps in process flow? I don’t think so.
4. Group Dynamics and Team Working – Participative Leadership
The equal balance of power between management and employees leads to the need for team co-operation and that, she suggested, develops a true sense of responsibility in workers. To me, it also demands a model of leadership that Robert Greenleaf was to call ‘Servant Leadership’. Follett did not herself go as far, but identified ‘Participative Leadership’ as the style that involves a whole team in creating products and delivering services.
5. Personal Responsibility
Tying together empowerment, co-ordination and group working is the sense of responsibility they inculcate in workers. Follett again anticipated McGregor’s Theory Y, by arguing that it is this which most develops people.
If we are to delegate greater responsibility to our people, we must do so well. Follett was an early advocate of management training, believing when many did not that the leadership aspects can be taught.
7. Transformational Leadership
In a paper called ‘The social construction of leadership: From theory to praxis’, Edith Rusch notes the unacknowledged similarities between James McGregor Burns’ articulation of ‘Transformational Leadership’and Follett’s writings. She presents a compelling argument that Follett not only anticipated the ideas of transformational leadership, but that she was the first to put them forward and even used the term.
8. Win-Win Negotiation and Conflict Management
One particular interest of Follett’s was conflict. She suggested three approaches of domination, compromise and integration, that Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann would later refer to as competing, compromising, and collaborating. Her thinking on the benefits and mechanisms of creating integrated ‘win-win’ resolutions is rich and sophisticated. In her suggestion that we uncover the real conflict and get to each party’s deeper aims, and then seek to satisfy those, she anticipated a lot of the thinking in best-selling negotiation book, ‘Getting to Yes’.
My one Favourite concept…
from all of Follett’s writing is this: the idea of ‘circular response’. This is that our behaviour helps to create the situation to which we respond. It is the idea of a feedback loop of self reinforcing interpretations and behaviour. I don’t doubt that the essence of this very modern sounding idea goes back to the ancients and classical writings of many cultures. But her articulation of it (and of the compelling phrase ‘circular response’) is so clear, that it has got me thinking.
to Mary Parker Follett. Before I started researching this blog, I knew nothing of her (unlike almost all other management thinker subjects). I had hoped that, being less known, there would be little to read and writing this would be quick. Far from it. But I have gained a lot from learning about Follett, and I hope you will too.
George Eastman is mainly remembered as the father of Kodak, seller of cheap cameras and the film-stock you use for your holiday snaps. Yet I am aware that many adults reading this will only be dimly aware of the days when you had to get your photos developed. The ability to do that, however, was a huge step forward. Who knows what Eastman would have made of the iPhone and Instagram.
George Eastman was born in upstate New York in 1854 and his father died when he was still at school. This meant leaving at 14, to get a job at an insurance company, but at the same time he studied accounting at home, with the hope of getting a better paid job; which he did.
In 1878, while working at the Rochester Savings Bank, he was introduced to photography, buying a load of then state-of-the-art equipment and learning how to use it. The big problem he saw was the need to develop images quickly, while the emulsion on the photographic plate was wet. His genius was to take a suggestion of using a dry, gelatine emulsion and find a way to make it work. In 880, he patented this innovation and one other: a machine to mass produce dry plates.
Eastman gave up his job at the bank and, with a new partner, George Strong, he founded The Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company in 1884. Eight years later, this was to be renamed The Eastman Kodak Company. In the time until his death, in 1932, Eastman proved himself a pioneer in six areas of management (at least), as well as a massive donor to academic, cultural and medical institutions across the US and in Europe.
In the final years of his life, Eastman suffered agonising pain from a spinal disorder that left him inactive and increasingly depressed. In March 1932, he committed suicide with a single gunshot through his heart. He left a short message: ‘My work is done – Why wait? GE.’
Six Pioneering Principles
1. Democratising Technology
When he took up photography, it was an expensive and complex niche pastime, that required much equipment and many skills. Eastman saw the potential to make it easier and less expensive. He took a new technology and, throughout its life, was actively involved in its maturation. Eastman wanted to ‘make the camera as convenient as the pencil’.
2. Crisis Management
Early on, some of the dry plates Eastman distributed were faulty. Without skipping a beat, he recalled everything and replaced them, using up all of his new business’s financial reserves. He recognised the value of reputation above all else:
‘Making good on those plates took our last dollar. But what we had left was more important – reputation’
3. Humanistic Management
At around the time when Frederick Winslow Taylor wanted to apply the principles of science to management, to create scientific management, Eastman took a different tack. It was a tack that would not become mainstream until Elton Mayo effectively knocked Scientific Management over and replaced it, in the 1930s, with Humanistic Management. In 1899, he started distributing a ‘wage dividend’ to all his workers, rewarding them all for their efforts in proportion to the dividend paid on the company’s shares. In 1919, he went further, handing a third of the company’s assets to his employees, and instituting life insurance, a disability benefit scheme, and a retirement plan.
4. Brand Recognition
The name Kodak is a made-up work – not a contraction, a translation or an acronym. It just sounded good to Eastman, who thought the K sound was strong (many English language comedians will also say that the K sound sounds funny – but not as funny as Q). He also chose the distinctive yellow and red colours of the logo. And the cherry on the cake was an innovative slogan, ‘you push the button, we do the rest’ that promised a new level of simplicity.
5. ‘Trust us’ marketing
That slogan is the basis of a style of marketing that is now commonplace: you can trust us, we’ll take care of it.
‘Don’t leave home without it’
‘If only everything in life was as reliable as a…
‘You give us 22 minutes, we’ll give you the world’
‘It does what it says on the tin’
You identify the brands.
6. Black-box Service Offering
No longer did people need to understand the equipment they were using. To take a photo, you needed a simple camera and a roll of film. Technologists would sort out the optics and the chemistry for you. We now live in a world where everyone from politicians to crazed loonies derides aspects of science, without stopping for a moment to wonder how a mobile phone can possibly make a voice and visual link to somebody thousands of miles away, access a billion articles, take still and moving photos, as well as add up your shopping basket, store your shopping list and ring an alarm when it is time to go.