FW Taylor on improving productivity

Do you ever despair about the inefficiency of your organisation – or of the way you spend your own time? If so then our first great leadership thinker, FW Taylor, has some ideas that can help you break through to be more productive.

FW Taylor – Who’s he?

Frederick Winslow Taylor focused his thinking on the improvement of work and productivity in the emerging workplaces of the industrial revolution. I’ll let Peter Drucker introduce him to you:-

“He was the first man in recorded history who deemed work deserving of systematic observation and study. On Taylor’s ‘scientific management’ rests, above all, the tremendous surge of affluence in the last seventy-five years in the developed countries. Taylor was the Isaac Newton of the science of work and laid the first foundations to which not much has been added since”

Recognise any of this?

Taylor called his approach to work and productivity ‘Scientific Management’. It was a large body of work but some of the key principles are:-

  • Design work based on the scientific study of the tasks.
  • Scientifically select employees with regard to their aptitude for the task.
  • Actively train each employee for the task which they are responsible.
  • Provide detailed instruction and supervision of each worker in doing the task.
  • Divide work between workers who do the tasks, and managers who plan and supervise it.
  • Motivate employees with financial rewards geared to the work

We’re all ‘scientific managers’!

Even though Taylor conceived his ideas in a very different world, much of today’s management practice goes back to his work. Job descriptions, the functional division of responsibilities, workplace training, employee selection, Gantt charts, time and motion studies, budgets and even the very role of management itself can be traced back to his thinking.

Taylor’s workplaces, with their emphasis on tasks, had little place for the needs or motivations of people. Even in his day this view of the world was controversial but, even in the 21st century knowledge economy, most organisations that I see still manage tasks first and lead people second.

As the series develops we’ll see how later thinkers built on Taylor’s thinking to develop our understanding of the role and importance of understanding and motivating human beings – both in groups and individually – to lead successfully.

How can FW Taylor help you today?

Sat at your desk, with a cup of tea in his hand, FW Taylor might well ask you the following questions:-

  • What do you do that someone else should do?
  • What do you currently do that no-one should ever have to do?
  • What can’t you progress because you are waiting for something from others?
  • Who around you is creating problems for you because they are unsuited to the role that they are performing? (Include yourself in this one!)

Pick the answer to the above questions which seems to have the most impact on your productivity, and take the first step to resolve it.

Do it today – FW Taylor would be proud of you!

How we use Taylor’s thinking in our work

Getting the right people focused on the right things is at the heart of all our work. It sounds obvious (which it is) and easy (which it isn’t) so we help people do this through:-

If you think we might be able to help, click on one of the links above to read more – or click here to get in touch.

Learn more about FW Taylor

Take a look at:-

Wikipedia is always a great place to start for a quick and simple summary of his life and work

Gareth Morgan’s ‘Images of Organisation’ includes a summary of the contribution and limitations of Scientific management. (Sage ISBN 978-0761906346)

More detail can be found in Daniel Nelson’s ‘Frederick W. Taylor and the Rise of Scientific Management’. (Univ Wisc Press ISBN 0-299-08160-5)