Theory X and Theory Y
Understanding People’s Motivations
What do you think motivates your people to come to work each morning?
Do you believe that they get great satisfaction from their work and take pride in doing the best possible job? Or do you think that they see work as a burden, and simply turn up for the money?
These assumptions about your team members can have a significant influence on how you manage them.
In the 1960s, social psychologist Douglas McGregor developed two contrasting theories that explained how managers’ beliefs about what motivates their people can affect their management style. He labelled these Theory X and Theory Y. These theories continue to be important even today.
Understanding Theory X and Theory Y
Theory X and Theory Y were first explained by McGregor in his book, “The Human Side of Enterprise,” and they refer to two styles of management – authoritarian (Theory X) and participative (Theory Y).
If you believe that your team members dislike their work and have little motivation, then, according to McGregor, you’ll likely use an authoritarian style of management. This approach is very “hands-on” and usually involves micromanaging people’s work to ensure that it gets done properly. McGregor called this Theory X.
On the other hand, if you believe that your people take pride in their work and see it as a challenge, then you’ll more likely adopt a participative management style. Managers who use this approach trust their people to take ownership of their work and do it effectively by themselves. McGregor called this Theory Y.
The approach that you take will have a significant impact on your ability to motivate your team members. So, it’s important to understand how your perceptions of what motivates them can shape your management style.
We’ll now take a more in-depth look at the two different theories, and discover how and when they can be useful in the workplace.
Theory X managers tend to take a pessimistic view of their people, and assume that they are naturally unmotivated and dislike work. As a result, they think that team members need to be prompted, rewarded or punished constantly to make sure that they complete their tasks.
Work in organisations that are managed like this can be repetitive, and people are often motivated with a “carrot and stick” approach. Performance appraisals and remuneration are usually based on tangible results, such as sales figures or product output, and are used to control staff and “keep tabs” on them.
This style of management assumes that workers:
- Dislike their work.
- Avoid responsibility and need constant direction.
- Have to be controlled, forced and threatened to deliver work.
- Need to be supervised at every step.
- Have no incentive to work or ambition, and therefore need to be enticed by rewards to achieve goals.
According to McGregor, organisations with a Theory X approach tend to have several tiers of managers and supervisors to oversee and direct workers. Authority is rarely delegated, and control remains firmly centralised. Managers are more authoritarian and actively intervene to get things done.
Although Theory X management has largely fallen out of fashion in recent times, big organisations may find that adopting it is unavoidable due to the sheer number of people that they employ and the tight deadlines that they have to meet.
Theory Y managers have an optimistic, positive opinion of their people, and they use a decentralised, participative management style. This encourages a more collaborative, trust-based relationship between managers and their team members.
People have greater responsibility, and managers encourage them to develop their skills and suggest improvements. Appraisals are regular but, unlike in Theory X organisations, they are used to encourage open communication rather than control staff.
Theory Y organisations also give employees frequent opportunities for promotion.
This style of management assumes that workers are:
- Happy to work on their own initiative.
- More involved in decision making.
- Self-motivated to complete their tasks.
- Enjoy taking ownership of their work.
- Seek and accept responsibility, and need little direction.
- View work as fulfilling and challenging.
- Solve problems creatively and imaginatively.
Theory Y has become more popular among organisations. This reflects workers’ increasing desire for more meaningful careers that provide them with more than just money.
It’s also viewed by McGregor as superior to Theory X, which, he says, reduces workers to “cogs in a machine,” and likely demotivates people in the long term.
It’s easy to assume that we’d all like to be Theory Y people, but consider two things:
- possibly you need to be a little bit of both, depending on the specific situation, or the specific staff member, and…
- sometimes it pays to step back and check where you are on this spectrum.
If you’d like to talk about any aspect of this short article, get in touch with us at Prime Strategies anytime. There’s no right or wrong here – just food for thought, and discussion, maybe?
Get In Touch
- Business Advice
- Business Consultant
- Business Growth
- Business leadership
- Business Management
- Business networking
- Business Plan
- Business Planning
- Business Promotion
- Business Skills
- Business Support
- Sales & Marketing
- Sales Skills
- Staff Management