Lessons from History; Taylor and Shifting Responsibilities

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In 1912, in a testimony to the House of Representatives Committee, Frederick Taylor said that the new, scientific way of management, brought new burdens and duties that

are so unusual and so great that they are to the men used to managing under the old school almost inconceivable.

The four new duties were: gathering knowledge of the work carried out; studying the nature and characteristics of the workmen; bringing the scientifically trained workmen together; and finally, sharing the work that used to be carried out solely by the workmen. Of this last duty, Taylor said,

First, the workman does something, and then a man on the management’s side does something, and then the workman does something; and under this intimate, close, personal cooperation between the two sides it becomes practically impossible to have a serious quarrel.

Fast forward one hundred and one years and we find managers looking for a new way of working. They see, for example, other companies with great results. That, they think, is what we want. However, great results come from a new system of management and a new system of management brings new burdens and duties. (Like Taylor’s managers, ours, too, must understand  the worker. And like Taylor’s managers, ours, too, must work in such a close manner that serious quarrels are close to impossible, or at least the cancerous un-spoken conflicts that typify our technical age are close to impossible.)

In my experience, many managers want their teams or companies to become high, or at least better, performers, but most don't grasp that this requires a change in duties. Hope lies, however, in the fact that when confronted with this, many managers are able to accept these new duties. Some, of course, see the price of better performance as too high - you can't blame them for that, and in some cases they may very well be right.