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Theory X and Theory Y Management

TaoM August 3, 2020

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In the 1950s, a distinction was made between the underlying beliefs about workers – Theory X and Theory Y.  Depending on which you believe, it would influence your behavior as a manager, causing you to either be more controlling or more empowering. 

Theory X was a representation of the assumptions or implications of Taylorism (listen to episode 3.1) – that workers, in general, refuse to work unless rewarded or punished.  Theory Y represented an opposing view, that workers actually embrace or welcome the opportunity to work.   

Theory X: More Control

Theory Y: More Empowerment
Have to be controlled, forced, and threatened to deliver what’s needed

Need to be supervised at every step, with controls put in place

Need to be rewarded or threatened to produce results; otherwise they have no ambition or incentive to work
Seek and accept responsibility and are motivated to fulfill the goals they are given

Perform better when given freedom of choice, and action

Consider work a natural part
of life and solve work problems imaginatively

The argument was made that for processes that tend to be more repetitive, Theory X was probably more effective.  Likewise, for work where craft (or thinking) was needed, Theory Y would be more suitable. 

But that turns out to be untrue.  

In this episode I will provide a brief vignette in which you can hear the difference between the styles, and also share with you some of the very interesting history of this research, including the work done by Rensis Likert.

Likert was famous for his survey techniques and how he isolated a set of managerial attitudes and topics that are at the core of the Theory X and Y divide.

Key Insights and Your Homework:

  1. Do you see and hear managers talking about employee’s and their attitudes towards work using the Theory X perspective, as if the worker is the problem, and all other factors are a constant?
  1. Theory X posits that workers are inherently not motivated.  Who needs greater motivation to go into work each day, the Theory X manager, or the worker who works for a Theory X manager?
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