Management: Type X vs. Type Y

For the first fifty years of industry in the United States there was very little in the way of social science.  This prohibited the ability to analyze human proficiency in the workplace with any amount of accuracy.  It was widely accepted that, due to human nature, the majority of employees were lazy, unwilling to accept responsibility, lack ambition, gullible, resistant to change, not very bright, you get the point.  This made the role of management obvious: make the inefficient workforce produce by whatever tactics worked.  The results were motivation, control, direction and modifying behavior.  This was done in an active capacity through reward and punishment.  The role of management was to get things done through other people.  This was done through either a “hard” or “soft” approach, but ultimately a “strong but fair” management was the norm.  This is commonly referred to as Theory X.


The chart above is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Click here for a short video explaining the pyramid. We have all seen this before, this is what motivates people.  One has to meet the lower level needs before wanting higher level needs.  If we apply this to motivating employees in the workplace, the first two needs have already been met.  Social needs (belonging) have become the main motivators of personality.  Management knows of the existence of these needs, but often assumes incorrectly that they represent a threat to the organization.  Many studies have demonstrated that a tight, close-knit, cohesive group will, under proper conditions, be far more efficient and effective than an equal number of separate individuals in achieving organizational goals.  Repressing the employees’ need for belonging begins to manifest itself in their behavior, but this is an effect, not the cause.

Enter Theory Y.  The core principles are as follows:

  1.  Management is responsible for organizing the elements of productive enterprise – money, materials, equipment & people – in the interest of economic ends.
  2. People are not by nature passive or resistant to organizational needs.  They have become so as a result of experience in organizations.
  3. The motivation, the potential for development, the capacity for assuming responsibility, the readiness to direct behavior toward organizational goals are all present in people.  Management does not put them there.  It is a responsibility of management to make it possible for people to recognize and develop these human characteristics for themselves.
  4. The essential task of management is to arrange organizational conditions and methods of operation so that people can achieve their own goals best by directing their own efforts toward organizational objectives.

Application of theory is a slow process.  You can’t just change everything overnight and expect it to run smoothly.  A few aspects that have worked are:

  • Decentralization and Delegation: These are ways of freeing people from too close control of conventional organization, giving them a degree of freedom to direct their own activities, to assume responsibility and to satisfy their egoistic (esteem) needs.
  • Job Enlargement: This concept, pioneered by IBM and Detroit Edison, is quite consistent with the Theory Y.  It encourages the acceptance of responsibility at the bottom of the organization; it provides opportunities for satisfying social and egoistic needs.
  • Participation and Consultative Management: Under proper conditions, participation and consultative management provide encouragement to people to direct their creative energies toward organizational objectives, give them some voice in decisions that affect them and provide significant opportunities for the satisfaction of social and egoistic needs.
  • Performance Appraisals: Approaches which involve the individual setting “targets” or objectives for themselves and a self-evaluation of performance.  The individual is encouraged to take a greater responsibility for planning and appraising their own contribution to the organizational objectives; this helps to realize egoistic and self-actualization needs.

The ingenuity and the perseverance of industrial management in the pursuit of economic ends have changed many scientific and technological dreams into commonplace realities.  So much has been improved in the efficiencies of industry, accepting the recent research in social science and applying the findings to the workforce will yield similar results in marked efficiency and a better attitude toward the organization and work in general.

This was the first of a multi-part management series I am working on. Stay tuned for part 2.

Jim Turner – Design Manager

Gould Design, Inc.