“Company Culture: Then and Now”

Where it all started and where we should be heading.

Then and Now

Scientific Management or “Taylorism” is a theory that was designed by Frederick Winslow Taylor – an American mechanical engineer who sought to improve industrial efficiency. Taylor’s ideas were highly influential in the Progressive Era (1890s – 1920s) and were especially focused on the productivity of labour.

“The Scientific Management system is based on a perpendicular pecking order, and productivity being broken down into segments representing all tasks and actions required – warranting that the need for expertise and training were minimal.”

This theory, designed to optimise organisational performance, created a cold ‘transactional’ relationship between employer and employee where leaders high up in the hierarchy did the thinking while workers were treated as impassive, blank machines that did the doing.

While this theory certainly enabled corporations to rise into highly profitable entities, the hierarchical, rigid style of leadership soon cracked and crumbled partially due to the demoralising and unhappy working environments it created.

“Today, this ‘mass production’ style of culture and the insistence of many leaders to control the thinking and behaviour of employees still exists and is greatly influenced by the inability of organisations to transform in the face of change.”

Employees should ultimately feel a sense of belonging within their working environment where a community of fellow humans collectively work towards the same harmonious goals.

The hard reality is that even though we know this, in many cases the work environment is still very unnatural, cold and disconnected.

Employees are often still categorised and treated in segments within a pyramid system that makes a harmonious community and much less any collaboration virtually impossible.
In our current economy, we’re still riding on the tail end of the “information age”.
So, we have the knowledge and the intent to employ people not only for their physical skills, but more so for their unique ideas and human characteristics – such as emotional intelligence.
Yet, it still comes as a surprise that when treated like machines, whose productivity levels are constantly being prescribed, judged and monitored – these unique, highly skilled employees become resentful, irrepressible and a big disappointment.
Though numerous surveys conclude that leaders are aware of the need for better culture, little is being achieved in practice.

Organisations that are still working pyramid style where leaders control their people by measuring and prescribing every aspect are being crushed by their innovative industry colleagues who are leading not with strategy, but with culture.

Step by Step…

Troublesome working environments can be transformed by letting go of the industrial revolution (Taylorism) approach and implement the approach of taking things slowly and one step at a time.

Although this approach may seem counter-productive when the objective is to achieve change on a large scale, it is essential mainly because:

  1. We are dealing with ‘human complexities’, and
  2. we are in ‘the connection age’ where social-crowd-sourcing and things going ‘viral’ is at the order of the day when we’re trying to achieve anything.

This means that leaders must:

  • learn to maximise output with less traditional resources and time and
  • instead rely on creative thinking individuals and teams.

While it is beneficial to consult senior management when devising a strategy for change and innovation, pushing a culture strategy down from the top will never work.

“Management by ‘terror’ could never result in substantial and sustainable change happening.”

By incorporating people representing every sector of a company in a round table scenario will ensure a more natural transformation and build a strong tribe celebrated for their diversity and contribution.


By Rachel Labuschagne