Thursday, February 7, 2008

Graded blog option 4 - Christopher Walker

The principles of Scientific Management and You

We can see and feel the waste of material things. Awkward, inefficient, or ill-directed movements of men, however, leave nothing visible or tangible behind them. Their appreciation calls for an act of memory, an effort of the imagination. And for this reason, even though our daily loss from this source is greater than from our waste of material things, the one has stirred us deeply, while the other has moved us but little.” Fredrick Winslow Taylor

Scientific management's amazing appeal on paper is greatly contrasted by it's implementation, as are many other systems of management – SCRUM to mention one. The Scientific Principles of Management have another name: micro-management. In the above quotation, Taylor equates men to material resources – an immediate cause for concern.

Taylor's ideals are laughable; susceptible to the contamination of corruption and malformation in the hands of a corporation (or just a greedy employer). The main principles of Scientific Management: scientifically develop a method to replace old “rules of thumb”, select and train workers deemed suited for a job, develop an “open” relationship between workers and management, and develop wage incentives for the workers. All of this to combat: competitive wages, wasted potential, “excess time spend around the water cooler” or “soldiering”, loss of potential profits for the employer, and “de-motivators”.

Practically the men were made to take a rest, generally by sitting down, after loading ten to twenty pigs. This rest was in addition to the time which it took them to walk back from the car to the pile. It is likely that many of those who are skeptical about the possibility of loading this amount of pig iron do not realize that while these men were walking back they were entirely free from load, and that therefore their muscles had, during that time, the opportunity for recuperation. It will be noted that with an average distance of 36 feet of the pig iron from the car, these men walked about eight miles under load each day and eight miles free from load.” -Taylor

In the above quotation, it paints a picture in my mind – gunners waiting for the exact moment for the machine gun to cool off so they can begin firing again. I read this and think “How callous, cold, and calculating.”.

When reading this paper, I was appalled by Taylor's obtuse logic and lack of foresight. It was an easy guess that his methodology was compared to Ford's assembly line (before I confirmed it on Wikipedia) – Ford assembly line workers were plagued with boredom and I imagine a lack of dignity. There's no intimacy and reverence in your trade if you preform one simple task day in and day out. The assembly line workers become Sisyphus. Throughout the article, Taylor reassures the reader he is trying to help the proletariat as well as the employer. However, his philosophies ignore the humanity of the employee. For an example: my father graduated from Penn State, with honors, in Chemical Engineering. He's never worked a chemical engineering job. When I was younger, even after asking him why, I simply couldn't understand. He wouldn't have been happy. Taylor would have had my father “trained in the best of scientific methods” and inserted him into a monitored chemical engineering lab. Which brings me to another point – my ways are not your ways (so to speak). There is no true equality among men and I hope there never will be. It's a beautiful thing to see people do something they love, the way they love to do it.

Wage incentives (provided you follow along with your placement and training): “Do we only need to keep working because it pays rent? ” - Against Me! What We Worked For. People generally work forty hours a week, if they're lucky, and if they hate their job it can be a soul-numbing hell. Throwing more money at someone in this situation is only patronizing them.

The place I work for is headed by a boss who was a punk in the 1980's. He refuses to allow any kind of “scientific management” to enter our workplace. After hearing horror stories of bastardized management processes, I'm thankful. It's true, some things can be better implemented around the office to facilitate productivity (although I can complain when it afford me the opportunity to catch up on school work). However, the environment I work in allows for so much creativity. I've heard of management processes adding layers of bureaucracy and even allowing for a system of abuse. Unfortunately, my company is undergoing changes: performance reviews, changes in health care (now UPMC isn't in-network), budget planning, swipe cards (the digital punch card), and a newly hired office manager.

I'm graduating soon, this strikes a deep chord in my mind. I want freedom, dignity, responsibility, fair compensation, freedom from “time-crunchers” (micro-managers) and bureaucracy, I want to love what I do and be proud of what I do.


Adam Johns said...

I'm glad to see some outrage here! Which isn't to say that my reaction is exactly the same. Perhaps perversely, my main reaction to your first quote is to note how beautifully it's written: Taylor writes compellingly about ugly things, and while there's parts of this text which bore me (I'm sure I'll be hearing about lots of that tonight!) there are parts I honestly find to be compelling reading.

Rather than focusing on his rhetoric, though, you're zeroing in (rightfully) on his tendency to treat the worker as an automaton, at the very same time, strangely, as he treats the worker as an individual.

Hopefully we'll talk about Ford some - but you're right, lots of people, including prominent Marxists, have talked about Taylor and Ford jointly, under the umbrella "Taylorism-Fordism", as a way of discussing the American model of industrialism as a whole.

Nice post - I hope to hear some more outrage in class.

One Last Caress said...

He does treat the worker, strangely, like and individual -- much in the same way a carpenter takes care of his tools.