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Job Design for Managers: Taylor’s Scientific Management Method

Updated on September 18, 2012

Given the importance of motivating employees based on their needs, expectations, and desire for equity, it’s no surprise that many organizational behavior professionals often spend a significant amount of time thinking about job design. Job design is the process of linking specific tasks to specific jobs, and also deciding how those tasks should be performed (in terms of techniques, tools, and rules). Jobs should be designed in a manner that promotes the achievement of organizational goals by motivating employees to perform at a high level.

One of the earliest approaches to job design was laid out by Frederick Taylor in his 1911 The Principles of Scientific Management. Taylor’s premise behind scientific management was that for any given job, there is an “optimal” or “best” way to structure that job to maximize performance. He also developed two principles to help managers structure jobs appropriately. The first is job simplification, which means deconstructing work into the “simplest individual components.” Just like everything around us is made up of atoms and molecules, in Taylor’s theory, each piece of work has tiny individual components. For example, the production of a piece of clothing could be divided into individual steps like “cutting fabric,” “sewing together,” and “adding designs.”

The second principle, job specialization, is related to the first. Once these “simple tasks” have been determined, employees should be tasked to perform these specific tasks and focus on them exclusively – hence, specialization. One employee specializes in cutting the fabric, one employee specializes in sewing the fabric, and so on.

Determining the best way to perform each task is not easy, but can be done through time and motion studies, which analyze body movements to determine the fastest or most efficient way employees can perform a given task. Based on the results, managers can then set realistic expectations and performance goals for employees.

One of the flaws in scientific management is that it only focuses on extrinsic motivation – that is, it only uses factors like pay/compensation to motivate employees to perform. It is now known, of course, that intrinsic motivation is an important factor too. Employees who are only there for the paycheck are likely to “jump ship” more often than employees who actually enjoy their work.

While the scientific management method can be beneficial in “assembly-line” settings like factories or fast food restaurants, it has its drawbacks. Creativity is important in any business setting, and the scientific management approach deemphasizes creativity. Since it by nature requires employees to follow strict protocols and engage in the exact same behaviors day in and day out, it often precludes employees coming up with new ways to solve problems and increase efficiency. Furthermore, the “rigidity” can be demoralizing to employees if they start to feel like drones or machines.

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