Taylorism, or “My Steam Engine is Broken”
May 13, 2015 2 Comments
Business and Industry in this country is screwed up, I suspect you’ve noticed that. There a fair number of reasons for that. One of the big ones is that the regulatory agencies are completely out of control.
In my field, industrial electrics, there are procedures that are all but essential to troubleshooting but one can no longer use them because you cannot comply with OSHA rules and implement them. So, we all, even the best of us, have to grope around in the dark, almost randomly changing parts based on our experience, and hoping we get lucky. Eventually. we do, but it’s often slow and frustrating because we know there are better ways. That’s one way.
Another is that the lawyers and the accountants have taken over, and so we are restricted to doing things that will reflect on the monthly or quarterly (at most) bottom line. You don’t build a great company by making a profit in this quarter and the devil take the next, we’ll worry about that, then. You build a great company by doing thing the right way at the right time, not patching things together to get through the day. And with the lawyers so deeply involved, anything approaching honesty, or even admitting you might have made a mistake, will cost you your job, and likely your career.
It’s rather like letting the umpires and scoreboard operators run baseball, regardless of the owner, players, and spectators. It just doesn’t (and can’t) work very well.
Then there is management philosophy. If you’ve ever worked for an old-line manufacturing corporation, you likely noticed the sign over front gate, the one that said:
Thinking is neither allowed nor encouraged
Do as you’re told!!
Yeah, me too. frustrating wasn’t it? In large measure, it comes from what is called Taylorism, and there is another book that is on my wish list about it. In truth, if you are building 50,000 widgets, just alike, it works fairly well. It would be wiser to automate the whole line, and use your people for better purposes, though. Here’s a piece of the write up:
In the early 1900s, the US was swept up with a drive for improved ‘efficiency’ in every field of endeavor; a drive that was sufficiently significant to earn its own title, the Efficiency Movement. This movement is seen today as a part of the wider Progressive Era – the early twentieth-century drive to clean up corruption in politics, break up industrial monopolies and generally to allow the cleansing waters of modernism to flow through the mucky stables of late nineteenth-century American civic life.
Unfortunately, some aspects of the Efficiency Movement – particularly Frederick Winslow Taylor’s ideas about Scientific Management, often referred to as Taylorism – are still lodged in the modern corporation’s subconscious. These industrial-era, managerial behaviors are still affecting corporate behavior today – in ways that are entirely inappropriate to the knowledge economy.
Personally, I’ve come to the conclusion that only thinking people can do work to my standards, and so that is part of my selection process, even above credentials. What I do is tell my supervisors what needs to be done, who they have to help them, what material they have, and when it needs to be done, and let them run. They can, of course, talk to me if they need to, but it’s their mission to get it done, safely, on time and on budget. Their career depends on it, and I’m not particularly interested in excuses.
In other words, I think the employee’s brain is at least as important as his back, but I’m kind of lonely sometimes.