Gantt & Williams
Two theorists credited for humanizing Scientific Management are Henry L. Gantt and Whiting Williams. Both men took a practice that treated workers like cogs in a machine and added a better understanding of the workers’ natures.
Henry L. Gantt
Gantt was originally a protégé of Taylor, and worked with him at both Midvale Steel and Bethlehem Steel.24 However, he modified Taylor’s Scientific Management to make it less rigid and rigourous and therefore more acceptable to the workers. He returned responsibility for much of the process to the workers. For example, he made workers responsible for their machines’ being able to function; they had to report to management if the machines were inoperable. He discarded Taylor’s time studies as being too time consuming to be worthwhile. Further, he gave bonuses to the supervisors if the workers were on task.25
The difference between Gantt’s attitude toward the common labourer is apparent is his own writings. While Taylor saw workers as in competition with management unless the principles of Scientific Management were applied, Gantt saw work as empowering.
“If the amount of wealth in the world were fixed, the struggle for the possession of that wealth would necessarily cause antagonism; but, inasmuch as the amount of wealth is not fixed, but constantly increasing, the fact that one man has become wealthy does not necessarily mean that someone else has become poorer, but may mean quite the reverse, especially if the first is a producer of wealth....As long...as one party—no matter which—tries to get all it can of the new wealth, regardless of the rights of the other, conflicts will continue.”26
Gantt’s most famous contribution to modern management theory is the Gantt chart, originally called the bar chart, but renamed in his honour. The Gantt chart is a scheduling system, with different related tasks that work together to achieve an end plotted according to the time they occupy in the process. Like many aspects of management theories, this concept has been bastardized. Gantt’s groundbreaking work, for which he is, unfortunately, not as well known, is the concept of “backcasting.”
Backcasting is the process of deciding upon a goal and determining what steps need to be taken to achieve that goal. The Gantt chart was intended to be used to plot out the steps required for a project, and to define their completion dates. For example, if a factory manufactures parts from steel, and requires 20 days to fill an order due 1 April, the steel that will be required to make those parts must be in the factory no later than 11 March. Obviously, in any manufacturing process, there will be dozens—if not hundreds—of component parts, as well as non-material supplies like labour. The planning of the availability of critical resources and the completion of critical sub-processes is what is so insightful in Gantt’s contribution.
Not everyone believes in the beneficial nature of Gantt’s interpretation of Scientific Management. Waring calls it a “volatile blend of English guild socialism and scientific management.”27 But Pollard sees Gantt as a small step in the bridge between classical and modern management theories.
“To his credit he realized, more perhaps than Taylor or Gilbreth, that the worker was a human being. His insistence on the basic day-wage as a minimum, and perhaps more important, on the acceptance of his philosophy by managements who wanted him as a consultant showed a consideration that was frequently lacking in early scientific management.”28
Whiting Williams was a proponent of Social Gospel. He was the Director of Personnel for the Hydraulic Pressed Steel Company when he left that position to be a worker, so that he could better understand them. He worked in mines, steel mills, shipyards, railroad yards, and an oil refinery. “According to Williams, the worker’s prayer was ‘Give us this day our daily job’ because a job meant bread, sustenance for the worker and his family. All persons—including managers—measured their individual worth and their value to society in terms of their job. The job influenced the social standing of a person, and how they earned their living influenced where and how they and their family lived. Without a job, a person was isolated not only economically, but also from the community and society.”29
Williams eventually became a consultant to management, where he adopted a unique approach. Under an assumed name, he would become a worker in the factory or mill of his client. He would work alongside the workers and get to know them, learning their problems and complaints. He would then deliver these to management.30 These days, employees complain about management teams who hire consultants to tell them what the workers are saying and they are ignoring, but in those days, there was such a gulf between management and labour that Williams was providing a necessary service.
Williams even attributed the overwhelming involvement of a town’s citizens in the Klu Klux Klan to the conditions in their working environment. After observing a town wracked by the “immoralities” of the Klan, he decided that “vice in the community is the result of the anger in the mill or factory.”31
Williams spent five decades in consulting, striving to bridge the gap between managers and workers. He and Gantt were at the forefront of a movement to humanize the workplace. The revolution in attitude toward the workplace—that it must be a place that supports the human spirit to some extent—paralleled developments in psychology, promoted by people like Maslow and Adler. In fact, Maslow, in addition to developing the Hierarchy of Needs, wrote extensively on the workplace environment.
These changes in attitude toward workers were demanded by a changing workplace environment. After World War II, the workplace changed, and the classical style of management was no longer an appropriate behaviour.
“One of the major, if not the greatest, problem facing management in the post-1940 period has been to find an effective substitute for the work drives of the 1930s and before. Unemployment, poverty, the fact that the boss could always sack and replace a worker easily ensured a motivation to work, albeit a negative one. The post-war economic and social revolutions have not only removed these spurs but have gone further and made them socially and morally unacceptable for the future.
“This alone was enough to make management’s job of securing effective performance more difficult than ever before. But the explosive growth of technology, the sider acceptance of the ideas of scientific management and the development of the very large business unit have conspired to make the individual at work and his contribution in so many cases so insignificant that a whole new range of problems add even more to management’s problems.”32
24. “Gantt, Henry Lawrence;” Biography.com; A&E Television Networks; 2000; (5 Dec 00).
25. Pollard, Harold R.; Developments in Management Thought; New York: Crane, Russak & Company, Inc.; 1974; pp. 34-36.
26. Gantt, H.L.; Work, Wages, and Profits, 2nd ed.; New York: Engineering Magazine Company; 1916; p. 33.
27. Waring, Stephen P.; Taylorism Transformed: Scientific Management Theory since 1945; Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press; 1991; p. 13.
28. Pollard, Harold R.; p. 38.
29. The Evolution of Management Thought; New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.; 1987; p. 167.
30. “Charles Whiting Williams (1878-1975)”; http://www.oberlin.edu/~archive/WWW_files/williams_b.html; Oberlin College Archives; http://www.oberlin.edu/~archive/OCA_info.htm; 12 Apr 95; (10 Dec 00).
31. Zerzan, John; “Rank-and-File Radicalism within the Klu Klux Klan of the 1920s.” http://www.spunk.org/library/pubs/ajoda/37/sp000788.txt; Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed 37: Summer 1993; (10 Dec 00).
32. Pollard, Harold R.; p. 257.