Maybe Frederick Taylor’s real last name was Walton. Or perhaps he had a distance cousin names Sam Walton. Either way, Taylor’s ideas on scientific management have truly become part of the American culture: “(Taylor) helped instill in us the fierce, unholy obsession with time, order, productivity, and efficiency that marks our age.” As Barbara Ehrenreich shows in Nickel and Dimed, the old American adage that hard work and sweat will lead anyone to success is, by Taylor’s reasoning, false. Sadly it is not how hard you work. It is rather, Taylor believes, how well you work in the time you have, in the system you are in, with the tools available, and with consideration to those around you and the function(s) they are performing.

Taylor’s practice of absolute efficiency and productiveness is perhaps better represented by Wal-Mart than by any other American retail organization. Indeed, Wal-Mart perhaps the modern day representation of scientific management in practice (at least in the retail industry). Ehrenreich, a one-time Wal-Mart employee herself, offers multiple examples of the rigid importance of time and efficiency in the organization: two 15-minute breaks (but not a minute more!) during the day; organizing shirts by specific labeling codes; assigning each employee to a specific section of the store with specific roles. She does not even mention the tight schedule Wal-Mart holds its suppliers to, or the one-cent margins they squeeze out of the same suppliers. Wal-Mart’s just-in-time (JIT) inventory management system is also a marvel considering it can enforce a 99% service level of on-time order from suppliers (http://www.inventorymanagementreview.org/2006/04/walmart_increas.html).

            In one regard, as an organization that follows a specific and rational approach to organizational management, Wal-Mart must indeed be admired. Its goal as a corporation, maximizing profits and shareholder wealth, is met in an entirely rational fashion. Whether or not the goal of max profits is rational is irrelevant. What is important is that the means of obtaining that goal are rational. Wal-Mart as an organization is incredibly formalized, as Ehrenreich illustrated by explaining the orientation process, and has very specific goals. This allows the company to invent very rational means, such as paying minimum wage and squeezing every possible cent out of suppliers, to accomplish those goals in a very formal, efficient method transferable across geographic regions.


2 Responses

  1. Yes, I agree that Wal-Mart is a fully rational system, with absolutely no variance. As I was reading Nickel and Dimed I was shocked about the way the employees were treated. They were truly machine cogs. Ehrenreich was judged not by her personality or intelligence, but how quickly she could return clothes to the proper department. At the employee orientation when they talked about unions and claimed that they were “evil” I felt as though for Wal-Mart, the less intelligent and informed their employees are, the better. From the beginning they try to cut off the social part of work by making it against the rules to chat, even while doing a task with a co-worker.

    I think that Wal-Mart may take the rational system perspective a little too far. It appears to me that they are attempting to completely dehumanize their employees, rather than striving to find a system that works for both them and their people.

  2. You can embed that link in the text. Looks nicer and is more user-friendly.

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