Theory X & Theory Y
In the material below, I have borrowed extensively from my friend and colleague Peter Scholtes, author of The Leader’s Handbook.
In 1960, Douglas McGregor articulated his famous theory of the workplace, arguing that changing kinds of work and workers demanded changing ways of thinking.
McGregor identified the traditional views about direction and control (in the 1960s) in the following way:
1. Most people have an inherent dislike of work and will avoid it if (s)he can.
2. Therefore, people in the workplace must be coerced, controlled, directed, or threatened with punishment to get them to put forth effort on behalf of their organization. (One still sees many of the old (POSDCORB) managerial expectations stated in position descriptions (Planning, Organizing, Staffing, Directing, etc.))
3. Most people prefer to be directed, wish to avoid responsibility, have relatively little ambition, and want security over all. (This belief was so prevalent in the late 1900s and early 20th century that A Message to Garcia became among the 10 most widely read documents in human history)
McGregor argued that those who view people and the workplace in this way will see carrots and sticks as the only way to get things done. Those who use carrots and sticks are implicitly subscribing to Theory X assumptions. When you see carrots and sticks being offered to effect changes in human behavior, consider what this says about the offerer.
McGregor’s experience taught him that people in general react in much different ways.
1. The expenditure of physical and mental effort in work is as natural as play or rest
2. People will exercise self-direction and self-control in the service of objective to which they are committed
3. Commitment to objectives is a function of the rewards associated with their achievement. The most significant of these rewards are ego and self-actualization (see Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for further information on these needs).
4. The average person learns not only to accept, but to seek responsibility. Avoidance of responsibility and lack of ambition are generally the result of experience in a hostile work environment, rather than the cause of it.
5. The capacity to exercise a relatively high degree of imagination, ingenuity, and creativity in the workplace is widely distributed in the population.
6. In today’s workplace, the intellectual potential of people is only partly used.
In future blogs, we will explore Maslow’s Hierarchy, team building, and shared leadership further.