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Updated Apr 17, 2024

The Management Theory of Frederick Taylor

Taylor’s management theory focuses on simplifying jobs to increase efficiency, collaboration and progress toward company goals.

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Sean Peek, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
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Management theory conceptualizes tools, frameworks and guidelines to motivate employees and accomplish goals. Frederick Taylor, an American mechanical engineer in the late 1890s and early 1900s, prioritized the improvement of industrial efficiency. His management theory, published in the 1911 book “The Principles of Scientific Management,” focused on simplifying jobs to increase efficiency.

Although many management theories have come and gone since Taylor’s was published, his method continues to have merit in several capacities. Even if all facets aren’t a fit for your company, you can adapt parts of his theory to increase team collaboration and drive progress toward shared goals.

The management theory of Frederick Taylor

graphic of people conversing while inside of gears

Taylor’s scientific management theory, also known as classical management theory, emphasizes efficiency. However, according to Taylor, employers should reward workers for increased productivity rather than scold them for every minor mistake.

“The principal object of management should be to secure the maximum prosperity for the employer, coupled with the maximum prosperity for each employee,” Taylor wrote. “The words ‘maximum prosperity’ are used, in their broad sense, to mean not only large dividends for the company or owner, but the development of every branch of the business to its highest state of excellence, so that the prosperity may be permanent.”

Taylor’s theory focuses on four principles that he saw as key to increasing company efficiency and achieving “maximum prosperity” for both the business and its employees:

  1. Each element of work can (and should) have a science to it.
  2. Employers should select, train and develop employees using a scientific approach.
  3. Employees and employers must collaborate.
  4. Employers should divide work and responsibilities among employees.

As seen in the third principle, Taylor believed in the importance of team collaboration, with trust given to employees to carry out duties to the best of their abilities and the responsibility of training and optimizing processes given to managers. His theory had clear objectives: “Science, not rule of thumb. Harmony, not discord. Cooperation, not individualism. Maximum output, in place of restricted output. [And] the development of each [person] to [their] greatest efficiency and prosperity.”

Criticisms of Taylor’s management theory

Taylor’s pro-employee approach to efficiency was ahead of its time. His general principles have gained traction in today’s business climate, in which workers have shunned toxic work environments and prioritized work-life balance. [Check out our worker job satisfaction study to see what else matters to employees these days.]

While Taylor’s theory makes for more efficient workers, it does have some flaws. For example, many of the subtasks Taylor favored may be considered menial by some employees and could cause workers to feel like they’re part of an assembly line instead of creative contributors. Some critics have argued that Taylor’s writings are robotic and impersonal, while others have noted his framework’s lack of growth potential for individuals with advanced skills.

Whenever his theory broke down in practice, Taylor would attribute the error to improper application, such as managers’ unwillingness to depart from inefficient traditional procedures and or their expectations that employees complete more work for the same pay. However, when Taylor’s practices are executed properly, improved productivity is still a valuable result. Depending on your industry, his theory could be a great addition to your business.

Bottom LineBottom line
The basic principles of Taylor’s management theory may seem robotic and cold, but their value is evident in the win-win scenarios it aims to create for employers and employees.

Tips for implementing Taylor’s management theory

To succeed with Taylor’s management theory where other companies have faltered, we recommend carefully implementing his scientific principles into your business’s workflow and adjusting your practices as needed. Here are some tips for successful implementation.

Break down assignments into subtasks.

Managers who embrace Taylor’s theory should break down large tasks into several smaller ones rather than assign an entire project to one individual. These subtasks are meant to make the process more organized and efficient, with multiple employees working on one assignment and each individual taking care of their own piece.

Assignments can be broken down into several levels. Managers can divide a months-long project into natural phases, with designated project managers who then assign subtasks to employees on their teams with specialized roles. Those employees may choose to manage their own subtasks by creating corresponding daily action items that move toward project completion or achieve an overall goal.

These assignments rely on another critical part of Taylor’s theory: collaboration. When you facilitate open communication among managers, project managers and employees, it keeps all parties involved in project updates and ensures questions are answered. [See the most effective apps for internal communication to help your company succeed in this area.]

Delegate responsibilities, and train workers.

According to Taylor’s theory, executives should measure the most efficient way to complete a given task, and then delegate the subtasks only to employees with the proper skills and abilities to complete those tasks. Management should train those workers in whatever method was identified to complete the assignment most efficiently.

In many businesses, workers’ roles tend to be specific and fixed, and their tasks are basic and repetitive. As a result, employees may feel insignificant if they complete the same chore for hours on end. In Taylor’s view, each worker plays a crucial role in a company’s success, and setting expectations can transform employees’ attitudes. When leaders delegate tasks to employees, each staffer should understand how vital they are to the success of the project and why their skills were chosen over those of their peers.

In addition, when managers delegate tasks to someone who needs additional training, transparent, two-way communication is necessary to achieve the desired results. Rather than hiding gaps in knowledge or choosing to do sloppy work, employees are responsible for asking questions to ensure they fully understand their assignments. Conversely, the manager remains responsible for providing training and troubleshooting, as well as for building a positive relationship with employees that welcomes questions and feedback.

FYIDid you know
Under Taylor’s management theory, employees chosen for specific tasks may see their selection as a type of reward and affirmation of their skills, expertise and value to the team.

Monitor performance.

graphic of two colleagues talking in front of a large graph

There is no point in administering new processes if you’re not going to evaluate how successfully they work. It is equally vital to measure employee performance. To achieve Taylor’s goal of maximum prosperity, you need to determine what is and isn’t increasing efficiency for your business and your workforce. Supervisors must ensure that each worker on their team is doing their job efficiently. If a more productive practice is discovered, workers should be retrained to implement it in their work.

For example, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed many businesses to reexamine procedures, especially regarding in-office attendance. The “We’ve always done it this way” reasoning lost its ground when global shutdowns occurred and decision-makers realized many types of employees could complete their work, often with better efficiency, at home. After shutdowns ended, businesses evaluated how their operations had changed and, based on what they saw, prioritized work-from-home productivity and increased employee satisfaction over inefficient in-person procedures.

Allocate work between managers and employees.

Taylor believed in a hierarchy of three levels, with the most powerful workers on top. According to his model, each level has precise responsibilities and specific instructions. Both managers and employees respect and adhere to those above them and do only what is assigned to them.

While divisions of labor won’t always appear equal, leaders should strive to allocate tasks to specialized roles and clearly state expectations — and the value of the employee’s work toward the company’s overall goals — to ensure collaboration and optimal performance.

Did You Know?Did you know
Frederick Taylor is considered one of America's first management consultants.

How Taylor’s theory applies to SMBs

While Taylor’s scientific management theory won’t work for every business or industry, it does provide advantages for certain organizations. Remember, an all-encompassing method may not work in today’s business world, especially for companies where employees and managers value flexibility, room for growth and the ability to change disciplines.

These industries are well suited to Taylor’s theory:

  • Food service: The food service industry may lend itself to the assembly-line criticism, but that system is actually beneficial for this industry. Employees with specialized skill sets — like making dough, wrapping egg rolls or decorating cakes — can excel while contributing to the business in a single vertical.
  • Retail: Like food service, the retail industry often relies on specialized employees to track inventory, stock shelves, interact with customers and create visual displays.
  • Customer service: According to Taylor’s hierarchy, call and live chat centers typically operate with senior management overseeing many employees. Management remains responsible for analyzing numbers and identifying opportunities to improve productivity and efficiency.
  • Manufacturing: Taylor’s ideas served as a foundation for Henry Ford’s manufacturing assembly line, which is perhaps the best example of using specialized skills in a repetitive method and monitoring the results. Manufacturing organizations that employ technicians to operate a single machine can focus on training, development and continuous efficiency improvement.

By combining Taylor’s principles of harmonious collaboration and role specialization with existing approaches that prioritize workplace satisfaction, business owners can use Taylor’s management style to ensure their firms are operating efficiently.

Alternatives to Taylor’s management theory

Taylor’s management theory is only one of many management models that could suit your needs. Here are alternative theories that might align more closely with your business approach and your company’s goals.

Weber management theory explained

German sociologist Max Weber believed bureaucracy was the most efficient business structure. Weber’s management theory, also known as the bureaucratic theory, advocates for transparent power distribution enforced by strict rules. He believed such a system was necessary for large corporations to maximize their productivity and achieve results.

While bureaucracy today is often associated with frustrating, tedious processes and endless red tape, the ideal bureaucracy Weber envisioned emphasizes equality and transparency with open lines of communication and a simple rationale for the division of tasks. Much like “the American dream,” Weber’s management theory advocates for employee advancement through merit rather than connection or privilege.

Mintzberg management theory explained

Henry Mintzberg’s management theory focuses on developing a structure that leverages employees’ strengths to improve organizational workflow and resolve conflict. To offset his belief that effective management skills can’t be learned, Mintzberg created simplified business structures emphasizing the importance of allowing workers to develop their skills, thus improving efficiency across the company. 

Mintzberg’s five organizational structures are ad-hocracy, entrepreneurial organization, machine organization, divisional organization and professional organization.

Kanter management theory explained

The Kanter management theory, developed by Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter, encourages managers to instill a positive outlook through six key changes to boost employee morale and increase productivity. Kanter’s theory states that the actions of the organization’s leaders greatly influence employees’ behaviors and attitudes.

To that end, Kanter proposed focusing on strengthening the organization as a whole rather than investing in individual employees’ professional development. The six keys to helping leaders create a positive work experience for their employees and encouraging change in the workplace are to show up, speak up, look up, team up, never give up and lift others up.

Follett management theory explained

Mary Parker Follett was an author, lecturer, social worker and one of the most influential management consultant experts in classical management theory. She developed the Follett management theory to focus on improving employee engagement. Follett believed that managers who empower employees and collaborate with them, rather than dictating to them, are more effective leaders.

Through Follett’s management theory, managers are urged to prioritize employee engagement by encouraging cross-team collaboration, becoming more flexible and adaptable to allow for agile problem-solving, championing employees, and expressing gratitude for the value and expertise that each individual brings to the company.

Sammi Caramela contributed to this article. 

author image
Sean Peek, Senior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
Sean Peek co-founded and self-funded a small business that's grown to include more than a dozen dedicated team members. Over the years, he's become adept at navigating the intricacies of bootstrapping a new business, overseeing day-to-day operations, utilizing process automation to increase efficiencies and cut costs, and leading a small workforce. This journey has afforded him a profound understanding of the B2B landscape and the critical challenges business owners face as they start and grow their enterprises today. In addition to running his own business, Peek shares his firsthand experiences and vast knowledge to support fellow entrepreneurs, offering guidance on everything from business software to marketing strategies to HR management. In fact, his expertise has been featured in Entrepreneur, Inc. and Forbes and with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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