Theory X takes a cynical view.
What motivates employees to go to work each morning?
Many people get great satisfaction from their work and take great pride in it; Others may view it as a burden, and simply work to survive.
This question of motivation has been studied by management theorists and social psychologists for decades, in attempts to identify successful approaches to management.
Social psychologist Douglas McGregor of MIT expounded two contrasting theories on human motivation and management in the 1960s: The X Theory and the Y Theory. McGregor promoted Theory Y as the basis of good management practice, pioneering the argument that workers are not merely cogs in the company machinery, as Theory X-Type organizations seemed to believe.
The theories look at how a manager's perceptions of what motivates his or her team members affects the way he or she behaves. By understanding how your assumptions about employees’ motivation can influence your management style, you can adapt your approach appropriately, and so manage people more effectively.
Your management style is strongly influenced by your beliefs and assumptions about what motivates members of your team: If you believe that team members dislike work, you will tend towards an authoritarian style of management; On the other hand, if you assume that employees take pride in doing a good job, you will tend to adopt a more participative style.
Theory X assumes that employees are naturally unmotivated and dislike working, and this encourages an authoritarian style of management. According to this view, management must actively intervene to get things done. This style of management assumes that workers:
X-Type organizations tend to be top heavy, with managers and supervisors required at every step to control workers. There is little delegation of authority and control remains firmly centralized.
McGregor recognized that X-Type workers are in fact usually the minority, and yet in mass organizations, such as large scale production environment, X Theory management may be required and can be unavoidable.
Theory Y expounds a participative style of management that is de-centralized. It assumes that employees are happy to work, are self-motivated and creative, and enjoy working with greater responsibility. It assumes that workers:
This more participative management style tends to be more widely applicable. In Y-Type organizations, people at lower levels of the organization are involved in decision making and have more responsibility.
Theory X assumes that people dislike work; they want to avoid it and do not want to take responsibility. Theory Y assumes that people are self-motivated, and thrive on responsibility.
In a Theory X organization, management is authoritarian, and centralized control is retained, whilst in Theory Y, the management style is participative: Management involves employees in decision making, but retains power to implement decisions.
Theory X employees tend to have specialized and often repetitive work. In Theory Y, the work tends to be organized around wider areas of skill or knowledge; Employees are also encouraged to develop expertise and make suggestions and improvements.
Theory X organizations work on a ‘carrot and stick’ basis, and performance appraisal is part of the overall mechanisms of control and remuneration. In Theory Y organizations, appraisal is also regular and important, but is usually a separate mechanism from organizational controls. Theory Y organizations also give employees frequent opportunities for promotion.
Although Theory X management style is widely accepted as inferior to others, it has its place in large scale production operation and unskilled production-line work. Many of the principles of Theory Y are widely adopted by types of organization that value and encourage participation. Theory Y-style management is suited to knowledge work and professional services. Professional service organizations naturally evolve Theory Y-type practices by the nature of their work; Even highly structure knowledge work, such as call center operations, can benefits from Theory Y principles to encourage knowledge sharing and continuous improvement.
Enough theory. Which approach do you prefer?
Do you work most effectively when your boss controls every part of everything you do? Or would this drive you mad, so that you'd just do what he or she wanted (and nothing more), look for another job, and then leave? Or would you prefer a boss who helps you to do your best, increasingly trusts your judgment, allows you to use your creativity, and step-by-step gives you more control over your job?
Would you work more effectively for a Theory X or Theory Y manager?
Learn from this! As it is for you, it will be for many of the members of your team!
That said, different members of your own team may have different attitudes. Many may thrive on Theory Y management, while others may need Theory X management. Still others may benefit from an altogether different approach.
Mix and match appropriately.
Understanding your assumptions about employees motivation can help your learn to manage more effectively. In order to understand McGregor’s theories in more detail, we suggest the following reading:
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