In theory: Efficiency and productivity

Emma De Vita's weekly look at management-speak.

Efficiency and productivity - two words that are music to every manager's ears, and for which we need to thank American engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor, born in Victorian times.

In 1911, Taylor published The Principles of Scientific Management, and a management revolution was born. Taylor, who has come to be known as the 'father of management', has since inspired generations of management eggheads - and some of his principles are still in use today.

If ever you find yourself feeling little more than a tiny cog in a huge and impersonal organisation, blame Taylor. He was one of the first people to take a scientific approach to work, inflicting 'time and motion' studies on unsuspecting workers, whose every physical action was logged and timed to discover the most efficient way of carrying out a task. Once this had been identified, the person who was best suited to doing the particular job was found and taught exactly how to do it. Little more than machines, these workers would be directed and overseen by managers who, unlike their staff, were actually allowed to use their brains to devise how best to keep things moving as efficiently and productively as possible. Workers worked and managers managed: the 'us and them' approach was born.

If you think this all sounds inhumane and mechanistic, then you would be right. Taylor took an exceedingly condescending approach to workers. Yet, without him, many say, mass production and modern capitalism would not have happened.

Where does this leave the voluntary sector manager? It's probably not best to institute Taylor's principles of scientific management undiluted. Don't hunch over your colleagues' desks with a stopwatch, timing how long it takes them to process an invoice. Don't institute a managers-only floor, or tell your admin staff how long it should take to compose and type an email, nor which is the best way to make a cup of tea. If you do, you might find yourself with your own revolution on your hands.

- Emma De Vita is a senior section editor on Management Today.


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