From Taylorism to Integrative Systems:
A Progressively Viable Synthesis
Art Madsen, M.Ed.
Merely two years ago, The Wall Street Journal paid homage to Frederick Winslow Taylor whose revolutionary concepts reformed the slipshod and casually designed industrial management systems of his day (WSJ Bookshelf, June 13, 1997, A17). Managers, some eighty-five years after his death, are still examining and revising many of the basic principles on which his "scientific management" system was predicated. It would be entirely too hasty to dismiss the impact of Taylorism in a few cursory phrases. More appropriate would be an approach which demonstrates the usefulness of Taylor's thinking within the context of several organizational models, the last of which seems to be emerging as the most efficient to date for many globally situated industrial applications.
Far from discrediting Taylor's innovations, this paper intends to discuss the implications of Taylor's ideas of functional specialization as they contributed, firstly, to development of the bureaucratic models of Fayol and Weber, subsequently to the Matrix approach, and, lastly, to some of Fieldler's organizational engineering concepts. Brief inclusion of several cases, notably Levi-Strauss, Dupont, Boston Consulting Group, and Michigan Bell System, among others, will further clarify the role which Taylor's innovations seem, in the eyes of many theorists, to have had within the industries under discussion as they developed strategies for improving operations. Gradually, an argument will be posited which demonstrates the progressive nature of organizational development, culminating in the contemporary 'integrative systems approach' widely accepted today as representing the most viable synthesis of thinking in management and administration.
Taylor's theories were not without their flaws and shortcomings. After meticulously measuring the mean output of factory workers, applying rigorous mathematical formulas to his data and establishing precise production quotas and norms, Taylor and his adherents, such as Gantt, Gilbreth and Towne, would often depart from their findings by as much as 30%, and, realizing that workers could not maintain a day-long predictable pace, would allow a 'performance slush factor' into their calculations (Lundgren, 1974, 34, and WSJ, June 13, 1997, A17). Critics of Taylorism found that this margin of error factor undermined the very essence of scientific management and led movements to borrow the best of his thinking, but eliminate the model's weaker points. Indeed, it is crucial to note that Taylorism incorporated some eminently worthy points such as his 'time and motion' studies which modified the entire mutualistic labor/patronage/paternalistic approach predating Taylor (Rumm, 1989, 490-491). In fact, strikes, disputes, inefficiencies, "soldiering" (i.e. intentional work slow-downs) and other adverse phenomena were held to a relative minimum in factories where scientific management was implemented. Naturally, the means of implementation, or the degree to which this model was enforced, impacted worker satisfaction. In many instances, the rigorous application of Taylor's principles proved counter-productive. Toward 1920, his model in its purest form had been largely abandoned, after altering, or at least disguising, the class-struggle dilemma and the Robber Baron mentality which had prevailed theretofore.
Structurally, according to Kehoe's York University management theory notes, Taylor contributed the notion of "one best way" to perform a function, the "optimum speed" at which the job was to be accomplished, and his theoretical paradigm emphasized wage incentives as well as training instructions for specific functions within the tooling and machine industries of the late 1800s (Kehoe, 1998, 1). These were valuable contributions upon which future theorists were to build.
From an organizational standpoint, both Weber and Fayol, when designing their bureaucratic models, used many of his principles particularly, according to Lundgren (1974, 66) and other authors, those related to high specialization and separation of operations. Max Weber, it should be recalled, developed the general concepts of bureaucracy which focused on hierarchies of command; but his model also 'assigned' and circumscribed functional activities, in addition to the social aspects of managerial operations (Gore, 1964, 32-33). Henri Fayol, by way of contrast, emphasized unity of command and direction. He also strengthened, beyond Taylor's original concepts, the legitimate nature of management's authority, highlighting the interests of the group over those of the individual (Kehoe, 1998, 1). Much of this thinking, stemming from the fairly harsh production/work ethic imposed by Taylor, could be construed as injurious to the basic rights of workers and lower-echelon personnel. However, as Rumm points out in his Doctoral Dissertation describing a pre-Taylor Du Pont Explosives Factory, and New Hampshire's Amoskeag Mill operation in Manchester well before the turn-of-the-century, workers did not hesitate to organize unions, to strike, or to demonstrate violently if they felt they were intrinsically wronged (Rumm, 1989, 490-491). Indeed, the same anti-management phenomena occurred well into the 1930s and 1940s, even as Fayol and Weber gained some degree of prominence and acceptance.
It could be validly argued that Taylorism's theoretical approach (i.e. adoption of scientific measurement), if not its actual implementation, buoyed much of the logic behind the functionalist bureaucratic models of Weber, and, in a narrower sense, of Fayol. Together, a trend toward building what has become known as the classical management model emerged. It involved a chain of command, often referred to as a 'scalar process', and Taylorian delineation of functional authority.
In a word, the classical model incorporates communication from the top down. General Motors used it for decades prior to fragmentation of authority into their various divisions. Only when all else fails will lateral communication be tried. There seems to be a centralized manager-dependent planning process and, perhaps as is to be expected, lower level employees follow -- in true Weberian fashion -- written memoranda or instructions (Kehoe, 1998, 1).
In the 1950s, paperwork and employee evaluation were so in vogue that firms, following the classical model, measured performance routinely. For example, the Michigan Bell system used for evaluating managerial performance was expanded by AT&T to assess -- scientifically -- more than 10,000 employees in 1958, building on Taylor's concepts of enhancing efficiency. It was called the Management Progress Study and led to the promotion of efficient employees at mid and upper levels. It was an outgrowth of the Early Identification of Management Potential (EIMP) testing initiated originally by Jersey Standard (Gellerman, 1968, 125-127).
Nonetheless, there was a certain inflexible logic to this classical model which had more manual labor at the bottom of the hierarchy, with increasing planning and abstract functions as the top of the hierarchical pyramid was approached. There were several limitations to this system, obviously, and theorists, such as Barry Slade who merely stumbled onto new discoveries, formulated the Evolutionary, Match and Mismatch Matrix models of group-oriented management (Lundgren, 1974, 208-210).
By the time the matrix models gained prominence in the 1970s and 1980s, a number of permutations had become popular. The concept of the 'parent organization' became more fluid than in Taylor's day. Project groups spun-off from the central management core and assumed a certain level of autonomy (Lundgren, 1974, 208-210 and David, 1987, 205), but were subject to new external and internal factors or variables which had not been an element in the turn-of-the-century thinking of Taylor's day. These new matrices allowed for creative and technical innovations featuring non-repetitive functions. They seemed, and still seem, well adapted to development of cyber-technology. Yet, the point where these matrices meet parent organization boundaries are often sensitive zones of power, maneuvering and authority plays.
One of the most sophisticated matrix models is known, after its founding-firm, as the BCG Matrix (Boston Consulting Group). This group's 'product' is financial analysis and their matrix enables them to assess "relative market share" and "industry growth rates" in an alternating pattern allowing inter- and intra-group comparisons. Their internal organizational structure facilitates such analysis, as explained by Fred David in his Concepts for Strategic Management (1987, 215-218). Interestingly, and by way of contrast, Kehoe's management theory notes do not display the Matrix Models as constituting a developmental link to historically accepted systems (Kehoe, 1998, 1-3).
For purposes of this paper's thematic thrust, however, the embryonic notions of functional operations initiated by Taylor are, in fact, reflected in the full range of matrix systems because of the high degree of specialization required by project spin-off groups. Barry Slade was fortunate in hitting upon the right structural formulation when pressured to produce a project-oriented result (non-flammable children's clothing). Lundgren's account of this developmental milestone is quite compelling (1974, 210). Many of Slade's innovations were used by such prominent firms as Levi-Strauss and Wendy's International, Inc. (David, 1987, 227). They have adopted many of the sophisticated elements of matrix project-centered management styles, in part an extension of Taylor's early systemic observations.
Although traditional course syllabi indicate that the post-matrix trend seems to veer off in the direction of group dynamics (Lewin, Coch and French as cited in Kehoe, 1998, 2), the neo-humanists and Likert attempt demonstrating that some of the leadership principles of Fred Fiedler (Lundgren, 1974, 345-349) stemmed, to a limited degree, from the scientific-functional-production model of Taylor. True, the rigidity of Taylor's system does not, at first glance, lend itself to the dynamics of adaptation; yet, it does posit the concept of the leader-follower on which Fiedler, a specialist in leadership theory, predicates his contingency model. Fiedler basically states, first, that if followers within the corporation trust and admire their leader-manager, then the entire firm benefits in terms of increased quality and productivity. Further, he found that if the task or objective is well-defined, avoids vagueness and is detailed in a precise way, then workers will respond favorably. Indeed, this second contingency-condition would appear to be a direct borrowing from Taylor, a 'borrowing' which has been more recently validated by Fiedler's own findings. The third condition, as summarized by Lundgren (1974, 346) and alluded to in Riggs et al. (1979, 42-43), upon which leadership, and hence corporate efficiency, rely is the extent of the enforceable power relationship between manager and subordinate. The leader's role must, according to Fiedler, incorporate these three contingency elements, at least one of which is traceable -- as part of the theoretical paradigm -- to Taylor's observations, in order to ensure optimal industrial production and harmonious operations.
Unlike the early days of paternal, mutualistic worker-manager relations (Rumm, 1989, passim), under Fiedler, the leader is accepted and obeyed, assuming the contingencies itemized above are honored. Both leadership skills and situation-sensitive variables are part of his formula. Additionally, although this portion of his model may not be derived from Taylor, even in part, Fiedler insists on what he terms "organizational engineering." This concept revolves around 'non-Taylorian' principles of changing the situation rather than changing the perhaps troublesome personnel. It involves the path of least resistance and stems in part from the realization and application of behavioral principles, derived from the Maslow hierarchy of needs, not addressed in depth for our immediate purposes. These considerations, viewed in unison, comprise the Fiedler contingency model, one which has earned a respectable reputation in the field of management theory.
There have been subsidiary leadership models advanced by other theorists, such as Ernest Dade whose 1967 survey is well known. He and others seem to have relied on more statistical (and less behavioral) information than Fiedler (Riggs et al., 1979, 43). Dade established that the typical corporate executive could reasonably control a 'median' of eight to nine subordinates, although two-thirds of these executive leaders could control between 5 and 11 employees. These findings, quoted briefly in Riggs et al. (1979, 43), have basically supportive implications for the Fiedler contingency model and, viewed in conjunction with it, bring a few remnants of Taylor's scientific process back into even quite contemporary paradigmatic thinking. The Fiedler-Dade leadership contingency scheme fits partially into the scientific mold and perhaps dominantly into the neo-humanist behavioral line of thinking, outlined in Kehoe's notes (1998, 2-3).
Strategic management postures are affected, in actual point of fact, by the full range of models presented thus far in this paper. Most of them have retained some elements of Taylorism, which cannot be totally discredited in light of the foregoing thoughts. Indeed, although Taylor's thinking was infamously misapplied in even cruel and absurd locations such as Nazi Death Camps (WSJ, June 13, 1997, A17), it has experienced in recent times a resurgence of at least superficial interest, due to the radically important reforms it initiated and in view of its usefulness in the century-long succession of management theory models since its inception. Strategic management, thanks to the full spectrum of theorists since Taylor, has been able to modify entire industrial processes with success, while operating management has functioned under classical and post-classical principles to improve efficiency and productivity (Hussey, 1974, 116-117). Closing the gap between management's expectations and the company's requirements seems to be 'what it's all about.' The foregoing models contribute to that objective and use some of the pioneering principles of Frederick Taylor developed decades earlier. The 'ultimate goal', whatever it may be for a given factory or firm, is achieved through a composite process set forth in Humble (1973, 77), employing a melange of Taylorism, Classic Theory, Matrices, and Fiedler's Contingency Model. In a sense, the stage is set for what has become known as the integrative systems approach, now implemented by 'forward-thinking' firms.
If there is a single short-coming of Taylorism and successive managerial models, it's that they do not adequately take into account the actual environment in which modern firms operate (Kehoe, 1998, 3). Surely, the models which have been discussed recognize the dynamics of competition, of personnel turn-over, and of fluctuating financial markets, but there are dozens of unpredictable, sometimes even quasi-ethical variables which enter the picture. The integrative systems model provides a viable, 'synthetic' response to the complexities of doing business in an ever-changing EEC, North American, Latin American, African or Asian environment. It is a model eminently adaptable to the acknowledged trend toward globalization and seems to incorporate all the advantages of flexibility, in addition to those of intrinsic structure.
Once the elements within an organization have been identified, it is possible to arrange them and integrate them according to the principles of management science and the behavioral sciences. There may be sub-systems, particularly in a monolithic firm like IBM or Coca-Cola, but these can be prioritized and classified as well. Decision-making, identification of objectives, authority patterns and technological compartmentalization can all be combined into an integrated systems approach, interlinked with overlays and double checks and balances. Classical theory, incorporating many elements of Taylor's scientific management work, as polished by his colleagues, is included int he systems approach, along with human relations and more current knowledge from the neo-humanist and behavioral schools of management thought, notably Lewin, McGregor and Likert upon whom we have not touched extensively (Lundgren, 1974, 61-65 and Kehoe, 1998, 2-3).
Because the systems approach is effective, using as it does the tenets of modular integration, it is being discussed professionally on the threshold of the new millennium. Chesley and Wenger, writing in the California Management Review (Spring 1999, 54-73) speak of balance and cohesion in management systems. They recognize and acknowledge that, to transform an organization and improve it, a "strategic conversation" or dialogue must occur, creating a cyclical and well-reasoned model capable of change. Components such as "innovation and learning" and the "customer perspective" are built into the integrative model they propose along with Kaplan and Norton (cited in Chesley and Wenger, Spring 1999, 63), whose ultra-contemporary work at the Harvard Business School is well reputed.
Within the context of what appears to be a systems approach, Rappaport (HBR, March/April 1999, 91-101) speaks of a "hierarchy of performance measurement" which would seem to combine the theoretical paradigms of Fayol and Weber with the incentive approach of Taylor. Yet, it goes well beyond these factors as it merges old concepts with new perceptions of achievement, productivity and profit. The fact, however, that Rappaport and Chesley are publishing in the area of integrative, adaptive systems theory is a reality that leaps before the eyes, as does -- hovering just beneath the surface -- the presence of Taylor's observations and contributions a century ago. He cannot be held in total disrepute; on the contrary, unpalatable as some of his principles may have been, he made a tangible and irreversible impact on the field of management theory.
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........... "Frederick Taylor, Early Century Management Consultant", Wall Street Journal, June 13, 1997, A17. WSJ Article