Transitioning From Theory X To Theory Y

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Douglas McGregor of MIT’;s Sloan school of Management is well-known for coming up with the concept of Theory X and Theory Y. Since its creation in the 1960s, this theory has been an integral part of many management, human resources or organizational behavior courses. This theory presents two diverse views related to motivation in the workplace.

Theory X assumes that people are lazy in general and will shirk work and responsibility as much as possible. Since these people want to avoid work, they need to be supervised very close at all times, and managed at a granular level. Such people will need a very hierarchical and authoritarian organizational structure. They will not deliver any results without harmed with punishment or job loss.

Theory Y believes that people are self-motivated and given a chance will always strive to work more efficiently and perform better. Theory Y people enjoy their job and will take on more responsibility solely for the satisfaction of performing a task well. They are inherently creative, intelligent and multifaceted though they may not get that kind of recognition.

Some organizations may promote a particular kind of culture. But it is also possible that both examples can be found within the same organization. There may be managers who practice a particular kind of management style irrespective of the overall organizational culture. In a large organization, a particular manager’;s style may not even be clearly evident.

The Agile method of software development can be likened to the Theory Y style of resource management. Agile is built on the tenets of open communication and collaboration and considers everyone at par. It promotes a flat structure where people from all levels of the organization are able to come together and work toward developing a product. Scrum, an Agile methodology, allows teams to self-organize and set their pace without enabling rigid deadlines. Teams share the responsibility of the outcome of their work without any fear of consequences. Scrum teams take great pride and satisfaction in their work, and take on greater challenges every time.

Many organizations have achieved phenomenal success using Scrum and Agile methodologies, and these are a modern example of the success of Theory Y. Transitioning from Theory X to Theory Y may not be easy for any organization. This will require a shift in mindset which will have to come from the top. People who are used to work under the tight control and rigid structure of Theory X might be bewildered if suddenly asked to practice Theory Y. Proper training will be needed to enable employees to assimilate to Theory Y.

Adopting an open culture does not mean that there is no organizational hierarchy. A change in mindset may be needed, and some roles may need to be redefined. Proper planning is crucial for any company to develop a roadmap to attain the desired state. This is why many organizations hire coaches and experts certified by the Scrum Alliance when they first transition from an archaic culture to Agile. A skilled Agile or Scrum coach can plan and execute a step wise transition. Such a person will also be able to train the work and set expectations. A process owner is needed to make sure that teams conform to guidelines.

Even after a decade into the 21st century, McGregor’;s theories are indicative to understand employee motivation.