Recent Trends in Human Resource Management

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Scientific Management progression in HR

HR Administration and Human Relations are the things talked about and written about whenever the management of worker and work is being discussed. They are the things the HR Department concerns itself with. But they are not the concepts that underlie the actual management of worker and work in industry. This concept is Scientific Management. Scientific management focuses on the work. Its core is the organized study of work, the analysis of work into its simplest elements and the systematic improvement of the worker’s performance of each of these elements. Scientific Management has both basic concepts and easily applicable tools and techniques. And it has no difficulty proving the contribution it makes; its results in the form of higher output are visible and readily measurable.

Indeed Scientific Management is all but a systematic philosophy of worker and work. Altogether it may well be the most powerful as well as the most lasting contribution America has made to Western thought since the Federalists Papers. As long as industrial society endures, we shall never lose again the insights that human work can be studied systematically, can be analyzed, can be improved by work on its elementary parts.

Like all great insights, it was simplicity itself. People had worked for thousands of years. They had talked about improving work all that time. But few people had ever looked at human work systematically until Frederick W Taylor to do so around 1885. Work was taken for granted; and it is an axiom that one never sees what one takes for granted. Scientific Management was thus one of the great liberating, pioneering insights. Without it a real study of human beings at work would be impossible. Without it we could never, in managing worker ad work, go beyond good intentions, exhortations or the “speed up”. Although its conclusions have proved dubious, its basic insight is a necessary foundation for thought and work in the field.

It is one concept that has penetrated the entire world. It is practiced in India and in Soviet Union, in Argentina and in Sweden. The Germans have made pseudo-metaphysics out of it; they call it “rationalization.” The critics of America everywhere think that they are attacking the “real America if they attack Scientific Management”. When America started, after World War II, to give assistance to Western Europe’s attempt to improve productivity, they thought that is meant primarily the exportation of scientific management techniques. America preached that “productivity is an attitude” and stressed the importance of mass distribution, of capital investment, of research. But what they actually did was to send over industrial engineers equipped with Scientific Management tools and imbued with its philosophy. And where the European industrialist on the whole turned a deaf ear to their recommendations of mass distribution, capital investment or research, he took to Scientific Management techniques with alacrity. For, in common with the rest of the outside world, he had come to believe – though wrongly – that Scientific Management was the essence of America’s industrial achievement.

Yet, Scientific Management, too, has been stagnant for a long time. It is the oldest of our three approaches to the management of workers and work; it rose together with the new profession of engineering in the last decades of the nineteenth century. It also ran dry first. From 1890 to 1920 Scientific Management produced one brilliant new insight after the other and one creative new thinker after the other – Taylor, Fayol, Gantt, the Gilbreths. During the last thirty years, it has given little but pedestrian and wearisome tomes on the techniques specialties. But on the whole there have been oceans of paper but few, if any, new sights. There has been a great deal of refinement; yet the most mature and most cogent statement on Scientific management is still the testimony Taylor gave before a special Committees of the House of Representative in 1912.

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