The Effect of Scientific Management Theory on the Work Design in the Contemporary Organisation

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Scientific management is a reference to an approach that seeks to improve economic efficiency through the application of scientific principles to the work design in an organisation (Taylor, 1917). This theory, is also known as Taylorism-a homage to its founder Frederick Taylor, has its genesis in the industrial revolution in the United States. Despite the obsolescence of this approach to organisational design in the 1930s, some of its themes remain relevant in today’s modern workplace design. Some of these themes include but are not limited to the efficiency as well as waste elimination, mass production, division of labour and specialisation, job analysis, as well as design, empiricism, and compensation. This research paper seeks to discuss the effect of scientific management theory on the work design in the contemporary organisation. Besides, the paper also seeks to refer to both flaws and strengths of scientific management as far as its effects on the design of an organisation are concerned.

The theory of scientific management is built on the pursuit of economic efficiency in the production process-an an important objective of the modern organisation. According to Taylor (1917), a high level of management control as far as employees’ work practices are concerned is necessary for quality purposes. He argued that having a greater managerial to worker ratio is key to the attainment of increased quality and productivity. His ideas concerning management control still hold significant sway in management practices. Managers, especially in process-focused production units need to exercise greater control over the workforce to discourage behaviour such as absenteeism, cutting corners, and soldiering which impact individual as well as organisational performance negatively. In this case, the management level staff acts as the quality control department checking the work rate, the output, and the overall efficiency of organisational design.

Nonetheless, this perception has several weaknesses; more recent research has discredited the perspective that greater management control on the process improves performance. Critics argue that greater supervision or control over workers may be counterproductive and undermine creativity in the workplace by limiting the initiative of employees as well as their empowerment to make tactical decisions (Waddell et al 2013). Furthermore, the detail-oriented nature of scientific management also can precipitate friction between low-level employees and their management level counterparts. This is because the watchdog role of the management may alienate them from the rest of the employees, thus resulting in an unconducive work environment characterised by distrust and suspicion.

Scientific management also influences modern organisational design, which stresses on the elimination of waste. As stated earlier, economic efficiency is an important tenet of the scientific approach to management. It is still an important concern for modern organisations as they seek to reduce operational costs and improve organisational performance. According to Taylorism, existing economic or production systems are inherently defective and wasteful, which leads to lost effort, time, as well as labour (Uddina& Hossain 2015). To remedy this, it is important that each organisation actively seeks to reduce defects in their output or any other form of inefficiency in the system. Waste management has important implications for modern organisational designs, which place a lot of emphasis on lean systems. In pursuit of efficiency, modern organisational design has adopted lean, six sigma, and other models that seek to reduce wastage. By reducing the wastage of resources, modern organisations can not only improve the bottom line but also achieve greater sustainability (Thompson, 2018). This is because waste often represents lost potential as far as productivity is concerned. After all, wasted time, information, energy, and labour could have been leveraged to improve performance in both individual and organisational context. Consequently, modern organisations seek to eliminate wastage by streamlining the supply chain, integrating information flow, and becoming leaner (Paramboor, 2016).

Compensation was also an important aspect of the scientific theory of management fronted by Taylor. He believed that monetary incentive was key to eliciting greater production on an individual level. Therefore, by rewarding labour, employers can improve morale, and, consequently, the performance of their workers (Mullins, 2014). The scientific theory of management was of critical traditional flat rate wages. It is argued that it provided no incentive for hard work. For instance, if a hardworking employee is placed beside a lazy one, people are likely to question the logic of applying extra effort if the pay is standardised across the board. This interpersonal bonding that deliberately restricts output was referred to by Taylor as ‘soldiering.’ It involves just doing enough not to get punished (Mitcham, 2015).

To remedy this, scientific management proposes a piece rate or payment based on production to ensure pay is reflective of output. The piece-rate approach to compensation is very popular, especially in the gig economy, since it ensures fair compensation or consideration for work done. By paying workers based on tangible results, the company not only encourages them to work optimally, but also ensures value for money is recouped. The principles of Taylor, however, neglected the role of non-monetary incentives such as better working conditions, healthcare benefits, career development, and flexible working hours on job satisfaction as well as organisational performance (McGaughey, 2014). Such factors have almost as much impact on employee morale, job satisfaction, and performance as monetary-based incentives. The monetary incentives proposed by Taylor are an important aspect of employee inducement, even though modern organisational designs tend to lean towards the non-monetary ones, which have shown a greater impact on perceived job satisfaction as well as individual and organisational performance.

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Job analysis and design, the two key pillars of modern human resource management, are also vital concepts that are often credited to scientific management. Taylor keenly observed time and the motion involved in the completion of an operation by workers. He argued that it was possible to come up with an optimal design that reduces wastage, matches workers with suitable roles, and improves overall performance. Such a process would entail subjecting the job, employees, as well as the organisation to scientific scrutiny (Gull, 2017). Tasks needed to be critically analysed, broken down, and an optimal methodology of completion designed. Modern organisations employ job analysis and design extensively to ensure the requirements of the job, as well as optimal procedures or methodology, are optimally laid out.

Taylor’s scientific method also sought to establish a job performance criteria which formed the basis for performance appraisal. According to the scientific theory of management, it is important to establish the criteria for job performance to act as a point of reference by employees as far as the required standards are concerned. Performance appraisal refers to continuous assessment of employee performance to judge their capabilities as well as the ability to deliver. Appraisal is an important component of modern human resource practice and is often done to track historical performance by employees and form the basis for promotion, termination, and other personnel decisions. Modern organisations monitor the performance of workers, provide necessary instructions, as well as supervision to ensure they adopt optimal and effective methods of working.

The scientific method also had important implications for specialisation and the division of labour. The theory holds that each individual has unique attributes that make them suitable for specific roles. The implication of this is that workers should be matched with jobs that reflect their capabilities or competencies as opposed to just random assignment (Ebert et al., 2017). These workers can then be trained to perform optimally in their various tasks. The modern organisation is designed to ensure the appropriate allocation of tasks based on individual competencies and their fit for the role.

There is a great emphasis on the division of labour and specialisation. Case in point, companies are organised in functional units representing labour specialisations such as finance, marketing, and legal. Such divisions ensure that each individual gets assigned appropriate roles and tasks. Additionally, modern organisational design also rewards expertise leading to specialisation among workers to increase their competence. For instance, in a police station, some officers are better suited for fieldwork while others suit into administrative roles. Such allocation of roles is based on personality, temperament, and competence. By assigning individuals into roles that take full advantage of unique individual characteristics and automating repetitive or routine tasks, modern organisations can improve workflow as well as organisational performance (Dumas et al., 2013). Moreover, modern organisations seek to train, coach and mentor their employees to improve their skills, which leads to greater job satisfaction and performance.

In conclusion, the scientific approach to management remains relevant and significantly influential in modern-day organisations. The strengths of the approach are clear from various aspects that have been adopted into work and organisational design of modern-day companies. The focus of most of today’s companies relates to the reduction of operational costs. This calls for increased efficiency in the form of elimination of wastage, which modern organisations have sought to achieve through lean systems and the six sigma method among others (Drury 2018). Besides, modern organisations also apply principles of division of labour and specialisation envisioned by Frederick Taylor to greater effect as far as employee morale, satisfaction, and performance are concerned. Concepts such as job analysis, job design, and performance appraisal founded on scientific principles are also important tenets of modern human resource management.

Today’s organisations seek to hire talent that fits the job description as well as the organisational culture to avoid friction and achieve optimal performance. Additionally, employees are often provided with additional on-job training, coaching, and mentoring to improve individual competencies and output. Furthermore, modern organisational design, just like the scientific method, also recognises the importance of compensation in securing employee commitment and performance as optimal levels. Nonetheless, while the scientific method views monetary compensation as determining the output of production, modern human resources are of the opinion that non-monetary tools are more important in employee empowerment and stimulating performance on an individual level (Burley, 2019). Therefore, despite being absolute almost a century ago, the scientific approach to management still offers crucial insight into the work and organisational designs of modern organisations which are designed with special emphasis on economic efficiency. 

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