Frederick Taylor, Max Weber and Henri Fayol are three historical figures, well known within the field of business for their challenging views on business and administration policies and principles. While all three men lived and developed their theories during the Industrial Revolution, what they believed and what they did about it has great relevance in the modern workplace.
Frederick Taylor is attributed with changing common perceptions of management. Frederick Taylor devised a theory known as scientific management. Taylor felt that businesses were generally far too reliant on one or two very skilled individuals and that there would be much greater benefit and longevity in teams or groups of ordinary men working to a scientifically-devised theory. That theory was best on the one best practice, devised through timed observation. Taylor essentially devised the principle that teams would be based around sound, stable processes and that team members would maintain these processes, freeing up managers to concentrate on activities of continuous improvement.
Taylor was also credited with introducing the first time and motion studies. Taylor's approach broke down complex tasks into shorter, simpler sub-tasks and built processes around them. He also believed that working to the one best practice would engender a co-operative team environment, working against the autocratic working conditions that were the norm in the era. Taylor's scientific approach is still reflected in modern quality management practices, including the principles of Six Sigma, which analyze and address process inefficiencies through data-driven decisions.
Max Weber took an interest in the way in which the workplace of the era was becoming driven more by technology than by traditional, emotional thinking. To support, and optimize efficiency in this area, Weber developed principles that would become known as the ideal bureaucracy. While Weber himself saw the potential downsides from being overly-bureaucratic, he also recognized the need for structure and process in the workplace.
Many of Weber's recommendations remain best practices, to this day. He proposed a robust structure or hierarchy of roles with clearly defined accountabilities (comparable with the job descriptions of today). He expected detailed written records of all transactions, thorough training and that management should be driven by stable, identifiable rules (mirroring the concept of SMART objectives, to a certain extent). He also predicted (very accurately) that unless carefully managed, bureaucracies would struggle to manage individual cases – something that remains a big problem in the developed world today.
Henri Fayol also focused on bureaucracy to a certain extent, but was more occupied with the core functions required for good management. Fayol's theories focused on five key areas of management practice, namely:
1 – Forecasting and planning
2 – Organizing people and resources
3 – Directing others
4 – Co-ordinating people and processes
5 – Controlling resources
To complement this, Fayol also developed fourteen different principles of administration, some of which contradicted Weber's impersonal view of the workplace. Fayol saw much more merit in the contribution of individuals and that the way in which teams worked together was a critical part of productivity.
When taken very literally, some of Taylor, Weber and Fayol's theories apply very specifically to the working conditions of the era, but when considered in a broader context, the merit of their work applies just as much today as it did then. While there are exceptions (the modern devotion to matrix management largely contradicts Fayol's administrative structure), their theories are surprisingly relevant many years after they were first devised, testament to the fact that sound thinking never really ages.