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Taylor to Semler

Updated: Apr 3

The Origins

Fredrick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915) was a thought leader of his times. Working in a factory as a low skilled worker and pursuing college education in the evenings, he went on to become Chief Engineer, an author, management consultant and subject matter expert on organization structures and scientific management principles. Being in the industrial era, he thought ahead of his time and even introduced concepts of what is now regarded as the “Matrix Organization”

His management thinking was largely around standardization of processes and methods and compliance to those processes. Management’s responsibility therefore is to drive discipline and adoption.

During the years of mass industrialization, this technique worked very well and was widely adopted across several countries much after Taylor left the world.

The Shift

The world has since moved from Industrialization to Information and Data to now Digitization. The world has also seen shifts in behaviour post the 2 world wars. After the second world war, many countries were in the throes of desperation and fighting among other things famine, economic loss, leadership crisis, etc. As strong leaders emerged in various parts of the world, they used Fredrick Taylor’s management principles to re-build the countries and therefore his legacy prevailed much longer than one would have thought. As economies improved and the cold war ended, people’s perspective shifted from survival to standard of living. With Data and Digitization, clearly, people around the world want quality of life.

With quality of life as a core “outcome”, management thinking has shifted from Industrialized “command and control” to other forms such as Management by Objectives, Balanced Score Card and Enterprise Agility to name a few. The industrialised days of thinking was about giving orders – either from the management or from the mandated rules.

The new ways of thinking is not about where you take orders from but “can you take orders from the situation” while taking a common sense approach to decision making.
This thought process has a strong human-centric approach and therefore lays emphasis on the “quality of life” needs of the modern generation.

Several companies across the world ranging from public sector, private sector and even government departments have adopted progressive thoughts to move on from Taylor’s principles – certainly not in disrespect, but adapting to the changing needs of the industry.

Shifting to a management process that focuses on quality of life is easier said than done, especially in capitalist economies that have thrived due to their emphasis on market domination. These same economies are seeing the shift with big tech companies adopting practices that significantly address quality of life of their employees.

The Way Forward

The world has also been given a few lessons through the pandemic and people today have been reminded of words such as Trust, Empathy, Empowerment and Self Management - even in large organizations.

Management thinkers too, are evangelising these widely. Authors of Blue Ocean Strategy and Blue Ocean Shift, Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne refer to “humanness” in their book. Ricardo Semler’s practices have been encapsulated into Semco Style Institute’s Framework. Corporate Rebels have published a number of living success stories and identified 8 trends that drive management thinking.

For the foreseeable future, it appears, companies driving a corporate culture towards respecting quality of life will always show up as “Trending”. With AI/ML likely to change the workforce and re-skills job seekers, companies that adopt a human centric approach will see better alignment between individual interests of employees and organizational interests. This will eventually result in better business results and most importantly, driving better quality of life for clients.


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