Reforming efficiency

1. Efficiency reforming economy

What we have been doing to this point is to investigate the ways in which, at a cru- cial point in its emergence, the idea of management was formed around knowledge of the individual that it produced, conceived in terms of a political economy of the body. On the eve of the First World War the discourse in which this political econ- omy was transmitted became the first big management fad as a source of innu- merable new truths about work and its organization. The truths were not uncontested. Opposition came largely from unsystematic managers, often internal contractors (Littler 1982) who were averse to their present power being eroded by the planning departments that Taylor favored. Union opposition grew, especially from the American Federation of Labor (AFL), who supported the attempts by the International Association of Machinists to have Taylor’s practices banned.

The new system was adopted in military arsenals and in naval yards in the period leading up to America’s involvement in the First World War in 1917 (Taylor died in 1915). In Du Pont’s powder works, managers discovered the direct relationship between efficiency and safety. Interestingly, safety was not an issue that Taylor had considered. When two explosions occurred in Du Pont’s powder works on the eve of its First World War expansions, they not only hastened the firm’s shift from efficiency to safety but also raised the possibility of a link between increasing efficiency and diminishing safety.

The most notable arena of contest around Taylor’s ideas occurred in the legisla- ture. A special subcommittee of the US House of Representatives was established from 1911 to 1912 to inquire into the Taylor system, especially as it was imple- mented in the Watertown Arsenal (Aitken 1960). It was believed that industrial unrest was being created by the adoption of the system. One small result of the enquiry was that laws were passed banning the use of stopwatches by civil servants. Taylor was interviewed extensively about his system and, controversial as it was, used these interviews as a platform to promote his ideas.

Taylor was not a popular figure, even amongst the nascent community of man- agement scholars. Many of those who saw themselves as having labored for decades in similar endeavors, without the attention that Taylor attracted, were somewhat disgruntled with his fame, while others, more nimble in using elements of Taylor’s ideas and blending their own mix, made capital out of the fashion. Taylor’s intel- lectual predecessors amongst the engineering fraternity opposed scientific man- agement; they saw their own programs as suffering in the wake of its notoriety and as lacking the branding that Taylor had achieved. These were individuals such as Alexander Hamilton Church, Frank C. Hudson, Leon Alford, and Dexter Kimball who had been associated with proselytizing earlier approaches to systematic man- agement (Shenhav 1999: 114–16).

Some sought to reform Taylor’s ideas. An important reformer of orthodox strategies was Henry L. Gantt who developed welfare work policies (see Nelson and Campbell 1972). Other advocates of systematic management sought to put space between themselves and the controversies surrounding Taylor. Lillian Gilbreth, together with her husband Frank, sought to differentiate their program from Taylor’s, cleaning up the image of motion studies by taking out the emphasis on time, seeking to redefine it as benign and pro-worker human factor engineering (Gilbreth and Gilbreth 1916), at least in their presentation of it as a discipline to workers; for employers the efficiency arguments remained paramount. The Gilbreths introduced the therblig (their name reversed) as the basic unit for motion studies as a micro-measure of motion.

2. Efficiency reforming management, organization and work globally

Taylor’s ideas and those of his contemporaries such as the Gilbreths spread rapidly and globally; for instance, in 1910 Louis Renault visited F. W. Taylor and Ford in the United States and, on his return to France, his attempts to introduce some of Taylor’s ideas in his factory led to a major strike. In the post First World War era the rationalization of work became a major movement in Europe, and spread in different ways in different countries (see Maier 1970). Taylorism in France came in two waves. The first wave involved the adoption of the principles of Taylor by Louis Renault in 1912, with organizers trained by Taylor himself (Peaucelle 2000); the second was generated by France’s leading Taylorist Henri Le Chatelier, who translated Taylor’s work and introduced scientific management throughout state plants. One person influenced by the import was the French economic theoretician Henri Fayol, a key figure in the turn-of-the-century Classical School of management theory, who published Administration industrielle et générale in 1916 (Fayol 1949), emphasizing organizational structure in management and concepts of administra- tion. Fayol synthesized various tenets or principles of organization and manage- ment with Taylor’s views on work methods, measurement and simplification to secure efficiencies. He stressed management training to a far greater extent than Taylor, for whom management, at best, only saw to the implementation of scien- tific time and motion. Fayol’s work paralleled that of the French Taylorists until the 1920s when the two streams converged to create a new organization theory dedi- cated to improving organizational efficiency. The first generation of French Taylorist managers formulated their practice in a rhetoric that the heavily unionized and militant French workers could agree with. In a way, these Taylorist managers were storytellers able to translate their own rhetoric into French workers’ culture. Even as late as the 1950s, in the postwar reconstruction, Taylorism was still being developed in France (Besson 2000).

Taylorism was translated to the newborn state of the Soviet Union, whose founders were strong believers in Taylor’s scientific management. It is easy to understand that for Lenin and Stalin, Taylorism constituted a solution to their objectives of fast industrialization with a massive workforce drawn largely from the peasantry (Peaucelle 2000). Taylor’s ideas were also exported to Japan, where psy- chologist Yoichi Ueno, who later became the first Japanese management consultant and was a founder and first president of the SANNO Institute of Management, introduced Taylorism in 1912. Criticisms developed as well. While Taylor, the Gilbreths, and Fayol, among countless others who were less celebrated, created specific technologies of power, they did become subject to important critiques of dehumanization as early as the 1930s by the French scholar, Georges Friedmann (1946). Franz Kafka, in his Conversations, was to say of Taylorism that

Time, the noblest and most essential element in all creative work, is conscripted into the net of corrupt business interests. Thereby, not only creative work, but man himself, who is its essential part, is polluted and humiliated. A Taylorized life is a terrible curse which will give rise only to hunger and misery instead of the intended wealth and profit. (Janouch, 1971: 115)

However unpleasant was the Taylorization of work, the Taylorization of society went even further, shaping not only the time ‘spent’ in work but also the time that was allowed for recuperation from it.

3. Efficiency reforming society

The powerful stress on efficiency was instrumental in increasing the income of employees and their hours of leisure because it contributed to a shortening of the working day and an increased emphasis on rest pauses in that day. Increasingly, remuneration from work was being seen not only as income for present purchasing power and leisure but also as the basis for shielding the employee against the haz- ards of unemployment and retirement, and all the other eventualities of economic life, throughout a generation. New instruments of finance were being developed both to assist workers to insure their futures better and to plan their consumption now of income that they would earn later. Together with the rationalization of pro- duction there was a rationalization of credit that accompanied the rise of a wide- spread industrial system for the manufacture of goods, as Stuart Ewen (1976) has argued. Credit helped democratize consumption and extend its pleasures of seduc- tion from the lifestyles of the rich and famous to those of the poor but honest. A war was waged on working-class habits of thrift, seeking to channel consumption into home and recreation, using advertising to nullify customary habits and create new ones, fuelled by hire purchase, with a little present income put aside for future social insurance (Nyl 1995).

The shift to shorter hours and higher wages created the conditions in which employees could spend their wages and leisure time on consumer goods, with their desires fuelled by constant advertising, creating dissatisfaction with existing modes of life, discontent with what they had, and a will to consume that which they did not yet have but could obtain now and pay for later. Asceticism in the sphere of production, ensured by the new disciplines addressing the political economy of the body, supported a new kind of calculating hedonism in consumption, embodied, as Turner (1984: 102) suggests, in a new personality type, that of the narcissistic person (also see Lasch 1991). By the 1920s seductive images, signs, and slogans depicting lifestyles that could guide people’s consumption became widespread in the press and the radio. Department stores increasingly became tutelary sites. Lillian Gilbreth applied scientific management to the layout of department stores such as Macy’s after her husband’s death in 1924 (Graham 1998). In Michael Schudson’s words, with the advent of the department stores, ‘looking replaced doing as a key social action, [and] reading signs replaced following orders as a cru- cial modern skill’ (1984: 156–7). Increasingly, the legitimation for the relations of domination at work was the pleasure of consumption it afforded at home.

It was Lillian Gilbreth who was responsible for extending the sway of the effi-ciency movement from the workplace to the home, as she adapted Taylor’s ideas to kitchen planning, extending to the design of appliances and the architecture of the home. Lillian Gilbreth conducted experiments in the kitchen, developing a floor plan for kitchen spaces she called ‘continuous’. Anyone who has ever been involved in having a kitchen designed will have learnt about this continuous space in terms of the domestic triangle of cook-top, sink and fridge.1 Unnecessary motions and movements were to be eliminated through using flow process charts and micro- motion transfer sheets to organize the domestic space as efficiently as the work- space in the factory. From an efficient workplace one could return to an efficient household, especially in its nerve center, the kitchen, perhaps traversing the space between in one of Mr Ford’s automobiles. Efficient work made you free to consume what was increasingly advertised effectively.

Walter Dill Scott (1911) established the psychological bases for advertising, discussing human efficiency as a function of diverse factors including imitation, competition, loyalty, concentration, wages, pleasure, relaxation, etc. The latest gadgets and domestic devices were designed to be efficient, manufactured on effi- cient production lines, by efficient employees, using efficient machines, marketed through efficient advertisements on radio, billboards, magazines and newspapers, purchased through efficient hire purchase, and projected into the imagination through the efficient dream machine of Hollywood. Seductive images were beamed into the national (and then the global) subconscious from the depths of the imag- ination of the most talented writers, directors, and set designers, to be indelibly associated with desire, beauty and fulfillment. Imagine, desire, and realize all this and one could be truly modern. As Langdon Winner (1995) wrote:

These images projected novel possibilities for living in modern society. They told a story in which people’s orderly role in production was to be rewarded with an equally orderly role in consumption. Of course these efforts did not completely determine people’s lives. But the experience of societies such as those of contemporary Europe where con- sumerism does not yet dominate understandings of self, family and society helps us appreciate the artificiality of these strategies of social control. The advertisements and tableaux vivants always depicted the future as something whole and inevitable. People were to be propelled forward by larger forces into a world that is rational, dynamic, prosperous, and harmonious.

Much of the contemporary efficiency movement achieved its aims by disciplining not only the employee but also, in the post Second World War era, the customer (Ritzer 1993). First it was supermarkets; self-service rapidly spread to other areas, such as gas stations and banking, leading to an externalization of the costs of labor to customers, encouraging urban sprawl and blight, through the Wal-Martization of everyday life. Undoubtedly these routines shave a few dollars off average costs but in doing so they create a brutal and joyless aesthetic of cost saving, encourage urban congestion and reduce potentially enjoyable experiences, such as shopping, to treks through huge warehouses with all the charm of an aircraft hangar. Efficiency has been so naturalized as to be almost invisible, its logic so entrenched that we have a hard time identifying its impact:

Taylor’s thinking … so permeates the soil of modern life we no longer realize it’s there. It has become, as Edward Eyre Hunt, an aide to future President Herbert Hoover, could grandly declaim in 1924, ‘part of our moral inheritance’ … Taylor bequeathed a clock- work world of tasks timed to the hundredth of a minute, of standardized factories, machines, women and men. He helped instill in us the fierce, unholy obsession with time, order, productivity, and efficiency that marks our age … Taylor left a distinctive mark on American life and the world … he quickened the tempo of our lives, left us more nervous, speedy, irritable … all concur that if we obsessively value time, jealously guard what we have of it, and contrive to use it ‘efficiently,’ we must look to Taylor for the reasons why. (Kanigel 1997: 7)

With the McDonaldization of service delivery and the Wal-Martization of consump- tion, as rationalized workers became rationalized consumers, the meta-routines of efficiency established in work percolated into the broader society. The ultimate promise of modern society was held to be individual, material satisfaction powered by restless motion and desire. The American Dream became an endless road movie running from one identikit mall to another (Winner 1995), in which a dream of efficiency dominated waking as well as working life and, in some, raised dystopian nightmares.2

Source: Clegg Stewart, Courpasson David, Phillips Nelson X. (2006), Power and Organizations, SAGE Publications Ltd; 1st edition.

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