Taylorism is a set of principles governing the management of work. It is more formally referred to as scientific management.

The goal of Taylorism is to increase the efficiency of work practices, typically well-defined production work. This makes sense considering it was developed by a mechanical engineer, Frederick W. Taylor.

He focused on the human aspect of production at a factory where he started as a machinist and worked his way up to chief engineer. His research led him to develop principles including:

  • Enforcing standardisation of work practices
  • Selecting a specific ability level of worker for the role
  • Eliminating the need for craftsman-like practices
  • Workers do the work, not think about it – thinking’s for managers

Taylor’s thinking made more sense in a time when industrial productivity had significant room for improvement. It has been the subject of challenges to bureaucracy more recently:

Taylor’s theory is known as “the one best way”. It advocates that every job could be reduced to a scientifically detailed, simple, repeatable and mechanical set of activities that even the most stupid, unwilling worker could do. (Source: Corporate Rebels, The First Sign of a Global Human Management Revolution)

Critics believe Taylorism is not suited to modern productivity challenges. As industrial productivity has been optimised to near perfection, the world economy is now more dependent on knowledge work.

The increased importance of knowledge work calls for moving away from Taylorism to a more flexible approach. One that would let workers operate in a world filled with volatility, complexity and disruption.