An analysis of 'bloody Taylorism'Watch this thread
Foxconn Technology Group has so far become one of the largest and most profitability manufacturers in the electronic industry, which produces almost 40 % of the electronics items in the world. However, it attracted considerable public attention not for its high efficiency of the production process and good quality products, but due to a series of suicides in 2010 in the China, leading to an international outcry. Since then, an increasing number of scholars began to doubt the applicability of the management mode that is known as the scientific management by the upper level of managers, adopted by Foxconn. Taylor (2004) believes that the fundamental purpose of scientific management is to seek maximum labour productivity, and the highest working efficiency is by the common prosperity of employers and employees. Therefore, the most important means to achieve the highest efficiency is to use scientific, standardised management methods instead of experience management. This essay is to argue that the although Taylorism can be used to partly explain the management practices and working conditions of Foxconn in China, it still has some disadvantages and needs to combine with other theories, such as organisational culture.
Scientific management raised by Frederick Taylor, which is also called Taylorism, was one of the earliest attempts to successfully combine science, standardisation and management. It is a theory to analyse and inspect the working procedures of firms in order to maximise the outputs by improving the efficiency of the economy. Grachev and Rakitsky (2013) claim that the most significant attribute of Taylor’s scientific management is that it is pre-shaped by the industrial and political environment. It seeks maximum efficiency which is based on common prosperity for employers and employees. Taylor (2004) himself summarised that the central issue of scientific management is to improve labour productivity, and the method used to achieve the highest efficiency is to apply scientific management instead of the traditional management. Taylor's scientific management is the essence of accurate research and scientific knowledge to replace the individual's judgments, opinions and experience (Wagner-Tsukamoto,2008). In addition, comparing scientific management compared with the traditional management, the prior one is relying on developing operational procedures in a scientific way and improving management, while the other is to struggle for physical strength and time; the first one is stimulated by money, but the other depends on hunger policy (Phillips and Ilcan,2003). Briefly speaking, Taylorism is a procedure to divide work into different tiny possible skilled elements, and each small task should be standardised to achieve maximum efficiency.
According to Bluedorn (1983), the main contents of scientific management include 1. Make work quota; 2. In order to increase labour productivity, workers must be equipped with first-rate workers; 3. Implement standardised management; 4. Separate the planning function from the executive function and change the original empirical work method into a scientific working method; 5. Adopt different piecework systems; 6. Both workers and employers must come to a "spiritual revolution"; 7. Carry out exception principle on management control. These seven measures are designed to ensure that management can achieve its fundamental goal, that is, to improve efficiency. In the case of Foxconn, which is a production-intensive enterprise, the single product profit margins are very low, so, the only way to make the firm obtain considerable profits is to produce enough high-quality products in a limited time. Based on the case study, this article will be divided the contents of scientific management into three parts to analyse Foxconn's management practices and working conditions, named the scientific design, standardisation, and economic man separately.
The biggest breakthrough of Taylorism is that it is the first theory to develop management following an empirical management to scientific management transform in history, and Lucas, Kang and Li (2013) mention that science in Foxconn reflected scientific targets of work and differential piece-rate management so that the company can reach high production efficiency.
As one of the largest electronic components factories around the world, Foxconn’s products not only need to satisfy the high demand of customers but also need to ensure the high-quality of products, so as to maintain the long-term and effective cooperation with the client. Furthermore, because Foxconn adopts standardised management Mode, empowering Foxconn can ensure high-quality products with such effective measures. Kemp (2013) defines standardisation as a standardised system by which workers can master standardised operational methods, use standardised tools, machinery and materials, additionally, the working environment is standardised. After adopting production line, every employee is only responsible for a particular process, or even only responsible for a certain action, such as silicon wafer testing, the only action during the work is focusing on the silicon wafer on the line to test if it is satisfied with production standards. In order to make sure that everyone uses the correct method of operation, each action the workers take during the operation period need to carry on scientific research, and to replace the traditional empirical method. To make the action more efficient, each step should be divided into many actions, and then the action is broken down into motes, which means that action is composed of several elements of action, and then study the necessity and rationality of each mote, remove those unreasonable elements of action. Then the necessary components will be retained, according to the principle of economic rationalisation, hence to form a standard operating method by improving and merging steps (Jones, 2000.). Working-based standard action has been fixed, workers are only engaged in the implementation of functions, in accordance with the provisions of the standard in the actual operation, but cannot do it on their own. The reason that why workers are not being replaced by the machine is that they are more efficient than machines in this part or make lower cost than machines. Combining product quotas and differential wage uniforms, workers have to do better than machines in order to get the desired pay (Wagner-Tsukamoto, 2007). This step-by-step process of all subdivisions has been well-defined, so that every action is completed perfectly, accompanied by time constraints and foreman supervision, the quality of the product can be ensured.
The management model of a company largely depends on the personal experience of his leadership. As Terry Guo was in the military service, he introduced the toughness of the army into corporate management, resulting in the militarization of management (Ngai and Chan, 2012). The companies like Foxconn, whose production process is relatively low and staffs are immaturity, are undoubtedly suitable to adopt this high order, low-level relationship system. In this mode of management, employees must unconditionally follow the instructions of their superiors, who will strictly monitor each production process (Derksen, 2014). According to Taylor's view of the "economic man", he believes that the main motivation of workers is economic, and what are the workers most concerned about is to improve their own income. Based on this view, the stringent requirements raised by the foreman for front-line staffs in the production of quantity and quality are to get win-win results, that is to say, employees produce more high-quality products to get more compensation. Meanwhile enterprises can achieve the profit-maximizing goal as well. However, this severity of this hierarchy completely ignores that the staffs have more physical and psychological basic needs, excluding the economic requirements, thus leading to the tragedy of a series of suicides and the phenomenon of ultra-high flow rate, and these are precisely the aspects of Taylorism that cannot be explained.
Due to the scientific management can only explain Foxconn's high reputation for high efficiency and quality, and cannot explain the tragedy of the serial suicides that made it famous in 2011, the concept of organisational culture will be cited to remedy this defect (Xu and Li, 2013). Organisational culture is an organisation's unique cultural image composed of its values, beliefs, rituals, symbols, ways of doing things, etc. Briefly, it is the daily operation of the enterprise in various aspects. In the case of Foxconn, its organisational culture is the supremacy of interests, which means that all the actions should see to seek more profits as the starting point (Su and Yang, 2010.). The organisational culture is the soul of the enterprise, and its core is the spirit and values. Therefore, the staffs live as a machine and lose emotion under the Foxconn’s value, and employees will doubt the value of their own existence, which is one of the reasons that Foxconn has maintained a very high turnover rate. Chan (2013) also pointed out that Foxconn's work environment is very good, providing canteens and accommodation, and even equipped with gym and other living facilities, but under the organisational culture of supremacy of interests, employees merely want to complete the quota tasks to get the appropriate reward, without carrying out any unnecessary life activities. In addition, Taylorism emphasizes individual output benefits, and each person in the front-line of Foxconn is an independent existence to be responsible for a specific process, thus there is no the concept of collaboration. Even within the same dormitory, staffs are still short of communication, which also led to the enterprise lack of cohesion and a sense of belonging. Therefore, enterprises should be in the pursuit of high efficiency, based on the establishment of a cohesion of the people, and truly reflect the needs of employees of the corporate culture.
Scientific management is a theory of management that adapts the science and standardization to management practices in order to improve the economic efficiency. Although Taylorism cannot analyse all the measures in the Foxconn, it still proves that Foxconn gains a big success in its production efficiency and high-quality goods by using the scientific methods mentioned in Taylorism, such us work quota, standardised management and excitant payment system. However, it ignores the pursuit of workers in the spiritual perspective, so scientific management should be fulfilled by other theories, like organisational culture, which analyse the company value in the spiritual level. In the future, both Taylorism and Foxconn should not only blindly pursue profit maximization and production efficiency, but also pay more attention to the essence of the real composition of the company, that is, the spirit of the pursuit of their own employees.
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