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McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y

Douglas McGregor put forward the concept that people’s management behaviour is dependent upon their view of human beings and work.

People who espouse Theory X would believe that the average human being dislikes (all) work and will avoid it if they can; that because of this, people must be coerced to put in the required effort, offered inducements and threatened with punishment. Theory X goes on to hold that the average human being seeks to avoid responsibility, is not ambitious and seeks security before advancement.

People who hold to Theory Y, on the other hand, believe that for most people work is as natural as play; that people have capacity for self-control: that motivation also arises from the higher order needs such as self-esteem and achievement and that people, if properly managed, will be more than willing to take on responsibility. Finally, theory Y holds that people can be creative and team spirited and that few organisations make use of the abilities that people have.

Such beliefs, McGregor said, give rise to very different styles of management – as may seem obvious today.

Theory Y may seem very idealistic but McGregor did argue for a situational approach in its application of Theory Y. He argued that one should that take account of the nature of the people, the organisation, the leader him or herself and the social or political environment.

One also has to say that there are very many managers alive and kicking today who appear to have a very profound belief in Theory X – to the detriment of many companies and their customers.

"Experience plus reflection equals learning" - John Dewey