Robert Owen: pioneer of personnel management.
Robert Owen (1771-1858) was an early industrialist--perhaps best known for his model textile factory and village at New Lanark New Lanark, Scotland: see Lanark. in Scotland.
Conditions in early factories were extremely harsh, with very hazardous working conditions for all employees. Long working hours (normally at least 13 hours per day, six days a week) were the norm, with children as young as five or six working under the same conditions as adults. Factory owners placed more importance on the care of their expensive machines than on the well-being (or otherwise) of their expendable employees. Owen's strength was that he saw his employees as every bit as important to the success of his enterprise as the machines he owned. By examining working methods and conditions, and seeking to improve these, he is justifiably jus·ti·fi·a·ble
Having sufficient grounds for justification; possible to justify: justifiable resentment.
jus claimed as a father of personnel management.
Owen the factory owner
By the age of 19, Owen was joint owner of a textile factory in Manchester. Being new to the responsibilities of management, he learnt about the workings of the factory by observing his employees as they carried out their work. He wrote:
"I looked very wisely at the men in their different departments,although I really knew nothing. By intensely observing everything, I maintained order and regularity throughout the establishment, which proceeded under such circumstances much better than I had anticipated."
In 1799, Owen (with a group of partners) purchased the New Lanark mill from his father-in-law David Dale This article is about David Dale. For other uses, see David Dale (author).
David Dale (1739 – 1806) was a Scottish merchant and businessman, famous for establishing the influential weaving community of New Lanark. . Even though Dale was recognised as a progressive employer, conditions in and around the factory were still very poor. Children from five or six years old were employed through contracts with the local poor house, and working for 15 hours per day was common. Owen immediately withdrew from accepting any further children from the poor house and raised the minimum age of employment to 10. He also banned the beating of children.
Although a paternalistic pa·ter·nal·ism
A policy or practice of treating or governing people in a fatherly manner, especially by providing for their needs without giving them rights or responsibilities. employer, Owen was a business person above all else. He made no changes to employment conditions which could not be justified on economic grounds--all social improvements at New Lanark were funded through the profits of the factory. To achieve this, he required improved productivity from his workforce through changes to the working practices and methods of the factory.
For a workforce that was already working very hard, this was not popular. Owen (uniquely for the time) realised he had to gain the trust of his employees in order to get them to cooperate with the changes to the working environment he wished to achieve. He did this (in the language of today) by persuading `champions'. He wrote:
"I ... sought out the individuals who had most influence among [the workforce] from their natural powers or position, and to these I took pains to explain what were my intentions for the changes I wished to effect."
Owen further won the trust of his employees when, in 1808, America passed a trade embargo embargo (ĕmbär`gō), prohibition by a country of the departure of ships or certain types of goods from its ports. Instances of confining all domestic ships to port are rare, and the Embargo Act of 1807 is the sole example of this in on British goods. Most mills closed and mass unemployment occurred. Unlike other mill owners of the time, Owen kept his employees on full pay just to maintain the factory machinery in a clean, working condition.
This approach of fair management proved to be successful, and as returns from the business grew Owen began to alter the working environment. Employment of children gradually ceased (as no further children were indentured in·den·ture
1. A contract binding one party into the service of another for a specified term. Often used in the plural.
a. A document in duplicate having indented edges.
b. from the poor house) and those still in employment were sent to a purpose-built school in New Lanark. The housing available to his workers was gradually improved, the environment was freed from gin shops and crime decreased. The first adult night school anywhere in the world also operated in New Lanark. Finally, Owen set up a shop at New Lanark, and the principles behind this laid the basis for the later retail cooperative movement cooperative movement, series of organized activities that began in the 19th cent. in Great Britain and later spread to most countries of the world, whereby people organize themselves around a common goal, usually economic. .
Owen the innovator
Owen's innovations, however, did not merely extend to improving working conditions for his employees. The Industrial Revolution (which began in the mid to late 1700s) led to a belief in the supremacy SUPREMACY. Sovereign dominion, authority, and preeminence; the highest state. In the United States, the supremacy resides in the people, and is exercises by their constitutional representatives, the president and congress. Vide Sovereignty. of machines. Owen opposed this growing view by seeking to humanise v. 1. Same as humanize.
Verb 1. humanise - make more humane; "The mayor tried to humanize life in the big city"
alter, change, modify - cause to change; make different; cause a transformation; "The advent of the automobile may work.
"Many of you have long experiences in your manufacturing operations Manufacturing operations concern the operation of a facility, as opposed to maintenance, supply and distribution, health, and safety, emergency response, human resources, security, information technology and other infrastructural support organizations. of the advantage of substantial, well-contrived and well-executed machinery. If, then, due care as to the state of your inanimate inanimate /in·an·i·mate/ (-an´im-it)
1. without life.
2. lacking in animation.
adj. machines can produce such beneficial results, what may not be expected if you devote equal attention to your vital machines, which are far more wonderfully constructed."
As already indicated, Owen was one of the first to `manage' rather than order his workforce, and the first to attempt to gain agreement for his ideas rather than impose them on others (a worker could not be sacked for disagreeing with Owen). Additionally, he required his managers to behave with some autonomy (the first example of empowerment at work?); Managers (or Superintendents) were selected carefully and trained to be able to act in Owen's absence.
Owen developed an aid to motivation and discipline--the Silent Monitor system--which could be described as a distant ancestor ANCESTOR, descents. One who has preceded another in a direct line of descent; an ascendant. In the common law, the word is understood as well of the immediate parents, as, of these that are higher; as may appear by the statute 25 Ed. III. De natis ultra mare, and so in the statute of 6 R. of appraisal schemes in practice today. Each machine within the factory had a block of wood mounted on it with a different colour--black, blue, yellow or white--painted on each face. Each day the superintendents rated the work of their subordinates and awarded each a colour that was then turned to face the aisle so that everyone was able to see all ratings. The intention of this scheme was that high achievers were rewarded and slackers were motivated to improve.
Owen the reformer
The factory at New Lanark was spectacularly profitable, with returns of over 50% on investment, and Owen held this to be proof of the validity and importance of his theories. Strengthened by his profitability, he tried to persuade other manufacturers to follow his example in employment practices. This was first attempted through those of influence who visited New Lanark (estimates put the number of visitors at an incredible 20,000 between 1815 and 1825) and then, in 1815, via his attempt to introduce a bill to legislate To enact laws or pass resolutions by the lawmaking process, in contrast to law that is derived from principles espoused by courts in decisions. on working conditions in factories.
The aim of the bill was to ban the employment of those under 10, to ban night shifts for all children, to provide 30 minutes education a day for those under 18, and to limit the working day to 10 1/2 hours. This would have been enforced by a system of government factory inspectors. The bill failed to be introduced in its intended form, as its opponents argued that it would be bad for business and that in any case most employers were voluntarily doing what the bill would require. By the time it was finally introduced in 1819 the legislation was limited to banning the employment of those under nine.
In 1823, disillusioned dis·il·lu·sion
tr.v. dis·il·lu·sioned, dis·il·lu·sion·ing, dis·il·lu·sions
To free or deprive of illusion.
1. The act of disenchanting.
2. The condition or fact of being disenchanted. with his failure to successfully introduce far-reaching employment legislation, but still enthusiastic about his ideals, Owen left for America, where he founded New Harmony New Harmony, town (1990 pop. 846), Posey co., SW Ind., on the Wabash River; founded 1814 by the Harmony Society under George Rapp. In 1825 the Harmonists sold their holdings to Robert Owen and moved to Economy, Pa., where their sect survived into the early 1900s. in Indiana. This, along with other projects, failed due to internal disagreements and bad planning. He returned to England, where in 1834 he founded (and briefly chaired) the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union and continued to push for social reform and the growth of the cooperative movement. Robert Owen died aged 87 in 1858.
Owen in perspective
Owen occupies a curious position in the history of management thinking. Dismissed by his contemporaries and now little recognised apart from the linking of his name with that of New Lanark, his vision and foresight (graphics, tool) Foresight - A software product from Nu Thena providing graphical modelling tools for high level system design and simulation. place him as the pioneer of management practices which are taken for granted Adj. 1. taken for granted - evident without proof or argument; "an axiomatic truth"; "we hold these truths to be self-evident"
obvious - easily perceived by the senses or grasped by the mind; "obvious errors" today.
Although many influential people visited the sites of New Lanark and New Harmony, the ideas he propounded failed to win him immediate followers followers
see dairy herd. . There is much debate about the reasons behind this. The New Lanark factory was obviously very profitable (although as Frank Podmore Frank Podmore (5 February 1856 - 14 August 1910) was an English author, founding member of the Fabian Society, and writer on psychic matters.
Born at Elstree, Hertfordshire, Podmore was the son of Thompson Podmore, headmaster of Eastbourne College. argued, almost any personnel policy could have been profitable that because profits in the cotton spinning industry at the time were so large), but still none of his factory-owning contemporaries adopted his ideas. Possibly the radical nature of his views contributed to this--if he had instead advocated a step-by-step approach towards improving working conditions and relations with employees instead of an `all-or-nothing' approach, then he might have been more successful.
Although it is not too surprising that resistance to his ideas came from factory owners (who may indeed have felt they had much to lose from following them), antipathy was also expressed from across the political spectrum. Some of the most long-lasting criticism was expressed by Marx and Engels in their Communist Manifesto Communist Manifesto
Pamphlet written in 1848 by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to serve as the platform of the Communist League. It argued that industrialization had exacerbated the divide between the capitalist ruling class and the proletariat, which had become . The label of "Utopian" that they applied to Owen is one by which he is still well known. The Manifesto expressed the view that his ideas could not work in practice; his success at New Lanark was, they argued, due to luck rather than judgment.
Against these negative views must be set the experiences of those followers Owen did inspire. Although Owen's own partnership with Quakers and non-conformists at the end of his time at New Lanark failed (due to their wish to impose religious instruction on all), it was this sector of society that produced those who were most influenced by his ideas; they included Titus Salt Sir Titus Salt, 1st Baronet (20 September 1803 – 29 December 1876), born in Morley, near Leeds, was a manufacturer, politician and philanthropist in Bradford, West Yorkshire, England. , George Palmer George Palmer may refer to:
The foresight he demonstrated in areas such as motivation of employees, industrial relations industrial relations
Relations between the management of an industrial enterprise and its employees.
the relations between management and workers and management by observation was appreciated only a century later in the work of FW Taylor and Mary Parker Follett, amongst others. In 1949, Urwick and Brech wrote of Owen:
"Generations ahead of his time, he preached and practised practised
expert or skilled because of long experience in a skill or field: the doctor answered with a practised smoothness
Adj. 1. a conception of industrial relations which is, even now, accepted in only a few of the most progressive undertakings."
Owen's lasting contribution may be best seen in the fact that for modern employers not to meet the practices he advocated is unthinkable.
Works by, and about, Robert Owen
A new view of society London: np, 1817 The life of Robert Owen London: Effingham Wilson, 1857 Robert Owen, Frank Podmore London: Appleton, 1906
These items are not available from the Management Information Centre.
The editions cited here are those held in, and available for loan to members from, the Chartered Management Institute's Management Information Centre. These may not always be the first edition.
Leading change: overcoming the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom, James O'Toole, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995 Makers of management: men and women who changed the business world, David Clutterbuck and Stuart Crainer London: Macmillan, 1990 Evolution of management thought, Daniel Wren New York: John Wiley, 1987 Making of scientific management: volume ii management in British industry, Lionel Urwick and Edward Brech London: Management Publications Trust, 1949