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.

Efficiently Inefficient

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Is training Wal-Mart employees even efficient?

Frederick Taylor, the father of scientific management, would be perplexed to look at Wal-Mart as an organization. Taylor believed an organization could scientifically analyze the tasks of its workers to streamline processes to maximize output and minimize input. Wal-Mart strategy of low-cost goods using new technology to minimize costs, including its economies of scale and just-in-time inventory management, is the envy of the operational management world. As part of our Bucknell management education, we have studied Wal-Mart from numerous angles, but Barbara Ehrenreich colorfully paints a picture of what a low cost strategy does to an organization’s workers in her book Nickel and Dimed (accurately subtitled On Not Getting By in America). She also points out that an organization that is centered on cutting costs, wastes so much of its own time. But can the strategies of America’s largest private employer be wrong? Continue reading

Explaing Our Economy in “-isms” and “-izations”

Thanks to Henry Ford and his meticulous methods to increase the productivity of workers on his assembly line, the economy transformed from one of craft production to one of mass production. In addition to “Fordism,” the past 100 years in the US economy can be explained by using “Levittownization,” “McDonaldization,” and “WalMartization.”

Ford perfectly implemented Taylor’s ideals of rational organizations in order to provide cars to the masses. Taylor’s scientific management proposed that scientifically determined procedures would allow employees to work at peak efficiency, in return for top wages. In addition to standardized labor, Ford added specialized machines, interchangeable parts, and conveyor belts. In 1914, after the assembly line had brought Ford much success he came up with a new idea in order to cut down on the wear and tear of workers; he began paying employees $5.00 a day (more than doubling the average worker’s pay) and cut the workday down from nine hours to eight. By standardizing the product, Ford was able to cut costs substantially (from $780 in 1910 to $360 in 1914) giving the common man the opportunity to buy a car.

As Ford had minimized the per unit cost of a car in the early 1900’s, William Levitt did so with the price of houses in the 1950’s. Levitt’s vision of suburbia transformed America to how we know it as of today. Before WWII home building was a part of the dying art of craft production, each home having a unique design. As soldiers returned from war, families dreamed to own their own homes away from the congested cities. Levitt made these American Dreams happen by standardizing home building. In Levittown, there were two styles of homes offered and could be built at a rate of 18 in the morning and 18 at night. For $100 down, a family could have a house outfitted with heat, a garage, a washer, and a stove.

In the 1950’s the common man could already own a car and a house affordably, and soon he would also be able to go out to eat, all on a tight budget. Ray Kroc founded McDonalds in 1955 and it spread like wild fire across the United States. McDonalds did for the food industry what Ford and Levit had done for the automobile and housing industries, and what Sam Walton would shortly do for retail.

WalMart is the most recent company to revolutionize the United States’ economy. The company is able to offer affordable retail products and groceries to many Americans.

Wal-Mart’s prices are about 14 percent lower than other groceries’ because the company is aggressive about squeezing costs, including labor costs. Its workers earn a third less than unionized grocery workers, and pay for much of their health insurance.

Each employee executes a specific task that allows the company to run efficiently. Competitors often have a tough time matching the prices of WalMart because it is difficult to keep their costs down.

Ford’s model gave rise to giant organizations built upon functional specialization and minute divisions of labor. These companies are each rational organizations as Weber has defined. Each has a clear hierarchy with defined goals, and workers have specialized tasks. But how “rational” (using the layman’s definition of the term) are the employees? Barbara Ehrenreich describes how difficult it is to work for such a company in Nickle and Dimed. Every day performing a monotonous specialized task all for a mere minimum wage. Is there really nothing else? What will it take for these workers to break the cycle? And, are companies like WalMart and McDonald’s just making it harder for minimum wage workers to get out?

Commercialization of Human Feeling

Drawing on concepts from Chapter 1 in our text, Organizations and Organizing, I would like to draw attention to a specific topic Scott and Davis address.  The two authors cite information on the “commercialization of human feeling” (found on page 4-5 of the text).  This idea has had an increasing importance with the dominance of the service economy.  Salespeople, flight attendants, and waitresses are among many occupations who have been victims to commercialization of human feelings, which derives from organizational structuring and its damaging effects.  “Alienation, overconformity, and stunting of normal personality development” are just a few examples of negative effects that result from the structuring and rationalizing of organizations. Flight attendants are expected to carry a smile on their face at all times, no matter what the circumstances may be.  Similarly, salespeople are also expected to be very outgoing, friendly, and forceful, regardless of how they are really feeling.  As the text suggests, can masking your true feelings have negative or harmful effects?  Or is it simply just a task that people accept when they enter into particular service occupations?

After reading select chapters of Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed it was apparent how the commercialization of human feeling played out.  In a particular selection I read, Ehrenreich took a job as a waitress in Florida.  Though she was exhausted, poorly nourished, and unhappy, she was forced to put a smile on her face in order to make money to survive.  This is a fairly easy concept for anyone to understand, whether they have served as a waitress or not.  When we go out to eat, whether it’s a fancy establishment or a fast food chain, we except friendly and accommodating service.  Frowning, unenthusiastic, rude servers reflect on the entire establishment and determine whether customers will come back again, along with how much they may tip.  Back to the question posed at the end of the previous paragraph, did Ehrenreich’s false display of emotions harm her?  To an extent I believe it did.  Forcing happiness leads her to greater frustration and anger after work.  Her personality outside of work became almost synonymous to her personality at work.

Although Ehrenreich’s job at Wal-Mart was in retail and not a service job, there was still a strong sense of commercialization of human feeling.  Her tasks were monotonous and she was overly structured according to the “Wal-Mart ways”.  Her mind-numbing tasks of sorting and hanging clothes left her tired and frustrated with the system.  As she states, “What my life holds is carts-full ones, then empty ones, then full ones again” (p. 186).  She was also instructed to act in accordance to the Wal-Mart philosophy and the three pillars: “service, excellence (or something like that), and she can’t remember the third” (p.125).  Once again we must ask, did this affect her outside life?  Clearly everyone’s job will affect their life, but is it possible to say that low-income jobs, whether they are service, retail, etc., have a stronger affect on one’s outside life and personality than those of high-income jobs?

Answering the previously asked question, I would have to say that both sides are equally represented when it comes to the influence of their occupation.  However, I can say with confidence, that low-income jobs often affect a person in a negative way.  To say that commercialization of human feelings stunts normal personal development seems too extreme of a consequence.  Sure frustrations, or on the opposite side praise and happiness, from work relay into how you act and feel afterwards, but I don’t believe that it would stunt one’s development.  I believe that for someone to be truly unhappy or miserable that they must at one point have been happy, because they must have something to compare their current status to.  Drawing from the roots of commercialized human feelings, structured organizations in a low-income world mean small, repetitive tasks, and these tasks lead to frustration, boredom, or unhappiness (or all three!) and contribute to outside afflictions.  To conclude, masking true feelings and being forced into an overly structured organization can cause work personality to trickle into normal personality.  We find this issue (with negative effects) especially in low-income jobs.  It is important for employers to create a better working environment in order to avoid this problem.  Otherwise, they will have to suffer the consequences of a less productive, bored employee.