The Machine-Age Rule Book
There was no thick file, but the “rule book” of machine age management was
based on a number of key principles:
• Command and Control
Management was exercised on people through a kind of benign dictatorship.
Inspired by military role models, the manager told people what to do and then
• One Right Way
The instructions of management were assumed to be right. The role of those
who were managed was not to question or suggest alternative approaches.
There was a belief in one right way to undertake tasks.
• Subjugation not Subversion
The machine age was built around subjugation. Contrast this with the positive
encouragement of what would have been regarded as plain subversion in
some of today’s more innovative companies.
• Labour not Human Resources
The workforce was “labour,” hired hands with no stake in the organization.
Labour was generally in plentiful supply and the company did not owe them
anything, though they were expected to demonstrate loyalty to the company.
• National not Global
Perspectives were generally national, sometimes regional, and rarely
• Security not Insecurity
While employees were not offered recognition or responsibility, there was an
unspoken contract built around security. Companies had a feel of
permanence, dominating towns and their markets. The future seemed
predictable and their place in the future even more predictable.
F W Taylor
If there was any one creator of the machine-age rule book, Frederick
Winslow Taylor (1856 – 1917) should probably take the credit. Today, the
name of the American inventor and engineer is now known by only a few
practicing managers. And yet, his work forms the cornerstone of much of the
management practice of the twentieth century. The man may be forgotten, but
his legacy lives determinedly on and, once described, would be instantly
recognized by most managers.