Frederick Winslow Taylor
(1856 - 1915)
Principles of Scientific Management

[F.W. Taylor father of Scientific Management]
Yonatan Reshef
School of Business
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta

In the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first (Taylor: 7).

Principles of Scientific Management (download the whole book in text format)

Taylor's focus of attention was plant management. He argued that labor problems (waste, low productivity, high turnover, soldiering, and the adversarial relationship between labor and management) arose from defective organization and improper methods of production in the workplace. Production, he contended, was governed by universal and natural laws that were independent of human judgment. The object of scientific management was to discover these laws and apply the "one best way" to basic managerial functions such as selection, promotion, compensation, training, and production.

Taylor advocated using time and motion studies to determine the most efficient method for performing each work task, a piece-rate system of compensation to maximize employee work effort, and the selection and training of employees based on a thorough investigation of their personalities and skills. Taylor also promoted changes in the organizational structure of the firm, such as replacing the single omnipotent foreman in charge of all aspects of production and personnel management in a given department with several foremen, each of whom would be trained in the knowledge and skills of a specific functional activity (e.g., productivity, machine repair, quality assurance).

The gist of the problem. Taylor believed that under the traditional management each worker was to become more skilled in his own trade than it was possible for any one in management to be, and that, therefore, the details of how the work should best be done must be left to him (p. 63). Unfortunately, four problems existed that rendered this situation untenable for society: First, management used rules of thumb to decide on what constitutes a fair day of work (p. 22), work procedures, personnel matters, etc. Second, being self-centered, workers abused managers' trust in two ways (pp. 17, 19, 20, 50). According to Taylor, "the natural instinct and tendency of men is to take it easy, which may be called natural soldiering" (p. 19).  "To ward off a rate cut was one reason to soldier.  To thumb his nose at the boss, protest wages deemed too low, or husband shop work otherwise apt to run out were others" (Kanigel, 1997: 164). Third, even those employees who wanted to perform to the best of their capabilities were forced to conform to an informal, group-made norm that was always lower than their optimal performance (p. 13).  This Taylor labeled "systematic soldiering," where the whole shop conspired to restrict production (p. 20). Fourth, any man phlegmatic enough to do manual work was too stupid to develop the best way, the 'scientific way' of doing a job, hence the vast amount of waste in the workplace (p. 63). 

An important brick in the intellectual edifice of Taylor's scientific management is the "rabble hypothesis:"

  1. Natural society consists of a horde of unorganized individuals;
  2. Every individual acts in a manner calculated to secure his self-interest (especially in times of economic scarcity). In itself this may not be detrimental to an organization.  However, when viewed in the context Taylor portrayed of crafty workers who tried to squeeze more money for less effort, it is clear why self-interested workers are a menace.
  3. Every individual thinks logically, to the best of his ability, in the service of this aim. This is why the best incentive to induce workers to work harder is money.

What then should management do with employees? (See pp. 36, 140):

  1. Science, not rule of thumb
  2. Harmony (playing by the rules of the game designed by management), not discord (p. 15)
  3. Cooperation, not individualism (p. 36)
  4. Maximum output, in place of restricted output (soldiering)
  5. The development of each man to his greatest physical capability (pp. 39, 55, 57, 59)

We begin to see that Scientific management has a strong HRM component.

Taylor strongly believed that the successful manager was a manager who controlled every aspect of the production process. To achieve this, managers should:

These principles constitute a dynamic of deskilling & work bureaucratization . Importantly, the drive for deskilling was initiated not by Taylor but by larger factories and more specialized machines.



Frederick W. Taylor. 1985. (Originally 1911). Principles of Scientific Management. Easton: Hive.

Robert Kanigel. 1997. The One Best Way: Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency. Penguin.

Bruce E. Kaufman. 2004. The Global Evolution of Industrial Relations: Events, Ideas and The IIRA. Geneva: ILO.

Elements of Fordism

Taylorism provided the technological and intellectual foundations for Fordism -- a system whereby giant factories employ thousands of mainly unskilled workers and specialized machines to turn out huge quantities of a single product (emphasis should be put on interchangeability of parts and ease of assembly).
  1. Production system - rested on work that was organized hierarchically, on a continuous flow technology, on high-volume production of standardized consumer goods, targeted standardized and uniform markets, acknowledged working class consumption, displaced a division of labor more centered on craft production, created unskilled production jobs, emphasized high level of specialization, demanded no learning experience and, therefore, offered little on-the-job training.

  2. Personnel Departments - maintained industrial peace and ensured that the labor process operated effectively and smoothly. Importantly, personnel departments were removed from the key corporate strategy-making within the business. Personnel managers were given no initiating role; they were regarded as being basically reactive, responding to the demands made by trade unions. No strategic HRM at that point in time.

  3. Collective Bargaining - meshed with Fordism as a mechanism insuring that consumption power was tied to productivity growth.

  4. Homogeneous Customers - large numbers of potential customers have essentially identical and well-defined wants for a long list of products.

    A combination of reduced profit levels (inability to sustain increased wages together with falling productivity), increased international competition and fragmented consumption patterns brought an end to Fordism in North America.