Frederick Winslow Taylor lived from 1856 to 1915

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Michael Barone, a Fox News Channel contributor, recently wrote an article called Who’s to Blame for Union Woes? This article is somewhat accurate as he points out that unions still operate as if Frederick Taylor thinking still dominates businesses and government.  The problem Michael Barone misses is that Tayloristic thinking still dominates management thinking too!

Manufacturing and service still follow the premise of Frederick Taylor that the functional separation of work is a good thing.  You don’t have to look far for the evidence . . . functionally separated sales, operations, front, offices, middle offices, back offices, etc. sewn together by entrapping technology that seals in the waste.

Management is responsible for the design of the work.  And with management focused on costs by outsourcing, sharing services and reducing unit costs we have lost our competitive position in the US.  The management paradox is that a focus on costs always increases them making us less competitive as other countries create value.  Unions may have embraced yesteryear thinking of Tayloristic thinking, but it is management that continues the outdated design.

Unions were created by management taking advantage of workers.  First for working conditions and later for reducing salaries while executive salaries have sky-rocketed.  This management thinking has created a gap where in order to get more profit in the private sector we have to milk the worker . . . the ones that actually do the work and create value for customers.

Undercover Boss (TV show) provides evidence that executives and management don’t know much about the work and make decisions, plans and projects without knowledge.  Management making decisions without knowledge creates much waste and poor decisions like the banking crisis.  Management with incentives and no knowledge are destined to create poor work designs and decisions.

I do agree with Michael Barone that unions have “clung to an adversarial model,” but that model is perpetuated by management.  If workers mindsets are to change to create a better tomorrow than so does managements.  The bottom-line is that management must change too.  We need to embrace the worker to help to solve tomorrow’s problems, not persist to call them “the problem.”

If union membership is down to 6% as Mr. Barone says, then when they are all gone . . . what will management’s excuse be?

Join me for the International Deming Conference in New York City on March 21 – 22.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for  Download free from “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at [email protected].  Reach him on Twitter at LinkedIn at

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