Workplace Law

June 11, 2002

July 9, 2002

August 20, 2002


A brief history on the philosophy of management

The quest to optimize work-force output has gone on since the first days of civilization. Records indicate the ancient Egyptians and Romans brought management principles to both farming and military operations.

It wasn't until the industrial revolution began in the mid-1700s that "industrial management" took root. The management gurus of the day first focused on timing work. The top industrialists of the day succeeded in raising the living conditions of their workers while reorganizing operations to become evermore efficient.

In 1911 the first management guru, Frederick Winslow Taylor, wrote a book called "Scientific Management." While he didn't originate many of the concepts, he brought scientific study to them. Taylor believed that by identifying a science for each element of work, a company could then select, train and develop workers so as to optimize output.

He was one of the first to talk about the division of labor between management and the rank and file, and the development of cooperation between the ranks. As a result of his work, a piece rate system for production was developed as an incentive scheme.

It is important to understand that when scientific management was developed, there were no safety laws, minimum wage laws, rights to collectively bargain and so forth. Business owners were squarely in control. Because of onerous working conditions, the first mass strikes occurred during this time. Labor unions such as today's AFL-CIO formed to better workers' conditions.

Management practices have always been driven by theories of motivation. The theory of motivation during Taylor's day is referred to as "Theory X." Under Theory X, it was presumed that people chose to work as little as possible and that the only motivating factor was what they got paid.

Taylor believed the group effort only brought the level of productivity down to the lowest common denominator. The hard worker had no incentive to do so. Taylor reasoned the larger the organization, the greater the tendency of a worker to "devote a considerable part of his time to studying just how slow he can work and still convince his employer that he is going at a good pace."

Very simply, at the beginning of the 20th century, the belief was that the average worker would work as little as possible to maintain his job and the average employer would pay as little as possible to maintain his worker. Fortunately, Taylor did realize that management was responsible for turning this around.

According to Taylor, "each man should daily be taught by, and receive, the most friendly help from those who are over him, instead of being, at the one extreme, driven or coerced by his bosses, and at the other left to his own unaided devices. ... This close, intimate, personal cooperation between the management and the men is of the essence of modern scientific or task management."

Taylor's studies revealed that companies who brought in the concept of Scientific Management were more productive and as a result, many of them were able to triple their workers' pay.

As you can imagine, "Scientific Management" has been criticized for treating human beings like machines and assuming that workers are motivated by money alone. Under Theory X, managers have to constantly police their staff, who they cannot trust, and who will often refuse to cooperate. Under such a system there is no possibility of any real achievement or creative work.

As we collectively rose out of poverty, and created a working middle class, the carrot-and-stick theory of motivation was no longer universally applicable. Business theorists came along and stated that people have a natural desire to learn and work, and that management prevents them from doing so. Of course, the "Theory Y" approach was criticized in large part for being soft and slack.

The transformation to modern day management is credited in large part to psychologist Abraham Maslow. Maslow believed it is our natural tendency to want to learn and create things. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line this intrinsic ability is thwarted and lost. Maslow's paper, "A Theory of Human Motivation," written in 1943, claimed there were five basic human needs: physiological needs of food and shelter; safety needs; belonging needs; ego needs; and self-actualization.

Management experts such as Dr. W. Edwards Deming, Peter Drucker and Peter Senge attribute much of their learning to Maslow's insights. Maslow recognized that once survival needs are met, people are motivated by the need for security. This is one of the greatest benefits unions allegedly supply. Not only a fair day's wage, but also a secure job.

Because of today's labor shortage, the concepts of survival and security are no longer highly motivating factors (though they may still be in other parts of the world.) Today's workers have a need to belong, and the desire to satisfy their egos with their work. At the highest end, people ask themselves, "Is the work I am doing in alignment with my spiritual values? Is this why I am on this planet in the first place? Are these the gifts I have to offer?"

Today's organization will have a mix and match of these psychological desires. It will have its highly compensated, high-esteem executives, as well as minimum-wage workers. A one-size-fits-all theory of management simply won't work. Management needs to understand that what motivates them, won't necessarily motivate the people who work for them. For example, if the work force is mostly concerned about job security, chances are they are not going to be comfortable with taking many risks.

Times have considerably changed since the beginning of last century. In 1902 the average life expectancy was 47 years. The average wage was 22 cents an hour. The average worker made between $200 and $400 per year. One in 10 U.S. adults couldn't read or write; only 6 percent of Americans had graduated from high school.

In 1880, 58 percent of men 75 years or older worked; the figure today is 8 percent. The factory workweek averaged 60 hours a week, 6 days a week. There was no unemployment compensation. Approximately 35,000 workers died every year and 500,000 workers were injured on the job.

In 1998 there were 5,000 on-the-job deaths. According to economist Dora Costa of MIT, the lowest paid 10 percent of workers in 1890 worked 2 hours more per day than the highest paid 10 percent (11 hours vs. 9 hours). Today the best-paid 10 percent work an hour more than the poorest paid 10 percent (8.5 hours vs. 7.5 hours). One hundred years ago there was no such thing as leisure. Today, workers believe leisure is the important thing and the purpose of work is to make it possible.

These are rapidly changing times and management theory, strategies and tools will be rapidly changing with them. Our mission is to help you keep pace with these changes.


Phin is an attorney and the author of numerous books, workshops and HR tools. He can be reached at (800) 234-3304, don.phin@sddt.com or www.donphin.com.


June 11, 2002

July 9, 2002

August 20, 2002