Peak Performance and the Downfall of Taylorism
Today, business school professors still assign readings from Taylor’s groundbreaking final book, Principles of Scientific Management. According to business historians, Taylor was the first business leader to introduce three core principles of project management and leadership that we still use today under the names:
• Process redesign
• Work out
Throughout his writing and consulting, Taylor emphasized the benefits of standardized processes and measured performance. While not framing his ideas as specifically against organized labor, Taylor often noted that firms who applied his principles would effectively negate the need for unions by offering shorter workweeks and larger salaries.
Corporate and government leaders latched on to Taylor’s ideas, especially since they appeared to apply scientific techniques to the measurement of individual performance. Unfortunately, leaders taking Taylor’s principles to the extreme often created untenable working conditions for laborers, who struggled to meet the rigid goals set by shop bosses.
Colleagues of Taylor’s ultimately revealed that their measurements of human output were often adjusted by as much as a third to accommodate the differences between individuals. Without today’s technology to measure the minute details of a worker’s day, researchers on Taylor’s teams used their best guesses to set production goals for their client companies.
Disappointed in the inability of Taylorism to deliver its promised results, business leaders shunned Taylor, who died in 1915. However, scholars and managers influenced by Taylor’s core ideas would revolutionize business over the following decades, specifically by developing his nascent project management principles. One innovation in particular would change the role of managers in organizations forever...
Read on to part 2 of this series to find out more.