Which is Better, 1 or 2?

Theory X / Theory Y

There is an interesting and old theory in industrial organizational psychology that looks at the paradigm with which managers view their employees. It takes that world view and then attempts to determine if it has any appreciable impact on the performance of the employees being managed. For those interested in details the theory was crafted by a fellow named Douglas McGregor and he titled the concepts Theory X/Theory Y.

One Of The Most Useful Analysis Of Employee Motivation

The industrial organizational scholars of the day initially balked at the theory and its findings. It was deemed overly simplistic, non-predictive, and of relatively low pragmatic value. Be glad you were not one of these “scholars of the day” because they were wrong. It can instead be argued that this study is one of the most useful analysis of employee motivation ever. And yes, the outcomes were simple. Simple, in this case, is a complement.

Theory Y Folks Had A Fundamental View Of Their Employees As Being

The moral of this social science story is that the best categorization for managerial attitudes involves two groups: Theory X and Theory Y. Theory X folks, as they were termed, had a fundamental view of their employees as being inherently lazy, unmotivated, and very likely to shirk responsibility if left unattended. Theory Y folks had a fundamental view of their employees as being hard working, self-motivated, and driven by a sense of accomplishment and achievement.

The Results Are Always Roughly Repeatable

So what was the impact of the managers’ paradigmatic perspective on the success, or lack thereof, of their respective employees? It was impressive. Theory X managers’ employees showed repeated, consistent, and significant lower performance measures than their Theory Y counterparts. Since this theory has been around for some time it has been repeatedly tested in a wide variety of situations and the results are always roughly repeatable.

More Recent Research Has Shown

The real question about this research was what can be done with it. It was assumed that Theory X managers were hardwired and that the only role for this research would be in selecting managers. More recent research has shown that Theory X managers can be “repositioned” into Theory Y managers with some training, education, and exposure to Theory Y management concepts. It seems unlikely that core attitudes are all that flexible but rather that their approaches to management are less fixed and the feedback from these approaches will impact these attitudes over time.

So what are you – Theory X or Theory Y? Figure it out and consider a change in attitude, if necessary, and you will see a more productive staff. Beware: this is not an overnight solution. The dramatic differences between X and Y managers’ approaches take time to morph. But as they do the rewards are reaped.

Finally you have an answer to the eternal optometric question: which is better, 1 or 2? The answer is “Y.”

Maidir te,
John McDaniel, OD, MLHR

John McDaniel
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