There is a long list of businessmen and women that can be considered champions of their craft. For some, it was inventing a new product or service, or even making a dramatic improvement on an existing one. For others, it was devising a new way of running a business, increasing productivity or finding a new way of engaging with consumers and staff. Still others have been able to develop entire new ways of conceptualizing the art and science of business, forever changing the way things are done in backyard garages to Fortune 500 boardrooms.
One such man was Frederick Winslow Taylor, who carved himself a place in history as one of the world’s first and foremost management consultants. Born to a family of Quakers in Pennsylvania, Taylor would go on to devote his life to studying the efficiencies and inefficiencies in our workplaces. This led Taylor to formulate a system that he called scientific management, which he hoped would result in a workplace that produced the ultimate in efficiency.
In a nutshell, Taylor’s work boiled down to four main principles, which he outlined in his famous book, The Principles of Scientific Management, published in 1910. The principles in question make a good deal of sense, but probably weren’t thought of in terms of strategy until after he thoroughly explored and explained them. For example, his first principle — replace work methods with new methods, based on scientific study of a given task — seems fairly straightforward. Of course a business owner would want his or her workers using the most efficient method of completing work. But for many, it’s likely that it was never thought of as a part of an overall business strategy.
The remaining principles that Taylor devised are as follows:
- Select and train employees scientifically to ensure they’re producing at maximum efficiency
- Instruct and supervise employees carefully, and make any needed corrections or suggestions
- Equally divide workload so that maximum efficiency can be achieved
During Taylor’s time at several companies, including Philadelphia’s Enterprise Hydraulic Works, Midvale Steel Company, and Manufacturing Investment Company, he was able to perfect his system and refine his principles. His final professional stint, with the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, was where Taylor partnered with Mausel White to develop a system for heat-treating chrome-tungsten tool steel, which also brought him worldwide acclaim.
What Taylor’s system was truly able to figure out was how business managers could and should find the right individuals for specific positions, and to actually spend the time and resources necessary to train them. Before Taylor’s system, many positions would be filled by anyone who was willing to take them, and with little supervision and training, the amounts of lost productivity would have been staggering.
Imagine walking into a McDonald’s with an employee working the cash register who was suffering from crippling social anxiety? Or a fry cook who wasn’t properly trained on how to use the fryer? Taylor aimed at these types of inefficiencies and urged the business community toward practices to minimize or negate them.
Due to Taylor’s efforts in the late 19th and early 20th century, modern firms and businesses are able to perform at enhanced speeds and efficiencies than they ever would have before. By implementing the systems developed by Taylor through his scientific study of the workplace, productivity has gone up, as have the average worker’s skills and wages, particularly during the early and middle part of the 1900s.
Taylor eventually succumbed to pneumonia and died in 1915, at the age of 59. “The writings and lectures of Frederic Winslow Taylor formed the basis of the recent reorganization of methods of handling labor In many of the largest industries in the country,” wrote the New York Times a day after his passing in March 1915. “His life work was chiefly devoted to the simplification of industrial processes to reduce costs and increase outputs.”
And that, as the New York Times put it, was a very easy way to sum up Taylor’s contribution to business and the economy. It’s difficult to quantify exactly what he did for the common workplace, as each and every business may or may not use his principles to guide their workflow. But it can’t be understated what the man’s ideas have meant for the modern business.