We don’t yet have a whole alphabet of management theories, but we are on our way. It all started with Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y. Then, towards the end of his life, McGregor added a Theory Z, which was revived some years later by William Ouchi, describing the adoption of Japanese ideas of management in the United States.
Here are simple caricatures of the three theories.
‘I hate my work, I only do it for the money, i don’t want to think for myself, indeed, I’d rather just do as little as I can.’
So my boss will favour carrot and stick incentives, presuming I need to be compelled to do the job I’m paid for.
‘I like to work, it’s part of my life, i want to do well, and I will work hard if given the responsibility and recognition I deserve.’
So my boss will give me the responsibility I earn and reward me with the recognition I deserve.
Theory Z assumes …
So my boss will work hard to convince me of the benefits of my endeavours and enrol me as a committed employee.
Ever since McGregor
Having got to the end of the alphabet, new theories have turned backwards. There is a Theory W – in fact several versions. There are also a Theory U and Theory T (there is a rather nice paper on these ideas around Utopian and Tragic overlays to McGregor’s original work here.)
The point is that, ever since McGregor, once strong assumption has prevailed. In our modern world, Theory X is dead. Nobody wants to be managed by being told what to do.
This blog is not about Politics
I had the whole story clear in my mind, and then, as I started writing, I came to realise that some might recognise Theory X in present UK Government attitudes to welfare. Let’s put that debate to one side.
This blog is about Management
Is there a role for Theory X in the modern workplace? Of the hundreds of people I have discussed this with in seminars and training sessions, I have encountered nobody who professes to prefer Theory X management. But my sample is biased. I train leaders and managers, and mostly in white collar industries and services.
So how do people – perhaps literally ‘at the coal-face’ prefer to be managed? The truthful answer is ’I don’t know.’ But what I do know is that all leadership theory is predicated on the simple assertion that leaders need followers.
The concept of ‘Situational Leadership’ presupposes that different people like to be led in different ways – at different times. So how plausible is it that nobody prefers to be told what to do sometimes, and that we can never need a little bit of a push or pull to get us to really perform.
Theory X and Time Management
Time management is a favourite topic of mine. I am fascinated by the different ways we can get things done. When you have an important but un-pleasant and complex task, how do you ‘make yourself’ do it? For many of us, the answer draws upon classic time management guidance:
- set a deadline
- promise yourself rewards
- break the task into simple chunks
- discipline yourself to do one at time
Theory X, anyone?
So here’s the deal
Theory X is as useful a model of motivation as all of the others. The secret is to apply it respectfully, and only when it suits the situation.