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Introducing Taylor to the knowledge economy

Paton, Steve (2013) Introducing Taylor to the knowledge economy. Employee Relations, 35 (1). pp. 20-38. ISSN 0142-5455

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Abstract

The knowledge economy and the knowledge work that fuels it have created much debate in relation to the types of workers it requires and how they should be managed. The central issue is that “knowledge workers” are only valuable while possessing a body of knowledge to utilise in the process of their work. The management of workers with knowledge runs counter to the more mainstream Taylorist systems based on the assimilation of knowledge into the organisation. The purpose of this paper is to theoretically analyse the usefulness of Scientific Management as a management system for controlling knowledge work. Through a review of relevant literature this paper compares the main principles of scientific management with the theory of knowledge work in an attempt to understand their relationship. This paper finds that: despite the need for workers to retain knowledge the main principles of scientific management can still be applied; and the application of Scientific Management to knowledge work will result in an increasing division of knowledge, as opposed to division of task, which compliments the trend towards increasing occupational specialisation. This article proposes that Scientific Management should be considered as a useful tool to manage knowledge work. This view runs counter to more mainstream accounts where Scientific Management and knowledge work are seen as incompatible. This paper partially fills the gap in understanding of how knowledge workers should be managed and is useful to academics seeking to characterise knowledge work and practitioners seeking to manage in the knowledge economy.