Monday, 30 July 2012

Douglas Murray McGregor's : Theory Y & Theory X

Theory X & Theory Y

Douglas  McGregor  was a  management professor at MIT  Sloan School of Management and president of Antioch College  from 1948 to 1954. He also taught in IIM Calcutta . In his book The Human Side of Enterprise, he talked about two theories called Theory X and Theory Y. McGregor identified an approach of creating an environment within which employees are motivated via authoritative, direction and control or integration and self-control, which he called Theory X and Theory Y.


Theory X is an authoritarian style where the emphasis is on “productivity, on the concept of a fair day's work, on the evils of feather-bedding and restriction of output, on rewards for performance … [it] reflects an underlying belief that management must counteract an inherent human tendency to avoid work”. Theory X is the style that predominated in business after the mechanistic system of scientific management had swept everything before it in the first few decades of the 20th century.

Following are the assumption made by  Theory X style of management :

  • An average employee intrinsically does not like work and tries to escape it whenever possible
  • Since the employee does not want to work, he must be persuaded, compelled, or warned with punishment so as to achieve organizational goals. A close supervision is required on part of managers. The managers adopt a more dictatorial style
  • Many employees rank job security on top, and they have little or no aspiration/ ambition
  • Employees generally dislike responsibilities
  • Employees resist change
  • An average employee needs formal direction

Managing your X theory boss

Working for an X theory boss isn't easy - some extreme X theory managers make extremely unpleasant managers, but there are ways of managing these people upwards. Avoiding confrontation and delivering results are the key tactics. Following points should help in managing Theory X managers :-

  • Theory X managers are primarily results oriented - so orientate your your own discussions and dealings with them around results - ie what you can deliver and when
  • Theory X managers are facts and figures oriented - so cut out the incidentals, be able to measure and substantiate anything you say and do for them, especially reporting on results and activities
  • Theory X managers generally don't understand or have an interest in the human issues, so don't try to appeal to their sense of humanity or morality. Set your own objectives to meet their organisational aims and agree these with the managers; be seen to be self-starting, self-motivating, self-disciplined and well-organised - the more the X theory manager sees you are managing yourself and producing results, the less they'll feel the need to do it for you
  • Always deliver your commitments and promises. If you are given an unrealistic task and/or deadline state the reasons why it's not realistic, but be very sure of your ground, don't be negative; be constructive as to how the overall aim can be achieved in a way that you know you can deliver
  • Stand up for yourself, but constructively - avoid confrontation. Never threaten or go over their heads if you are dissatisfied or you'll be in big trouble afterwards and life will be a lot more difficult
  • If an X theory boss tells you how to do things in ways that are not comfortable or right for you, then don't questioning the process, simply confirm the end-result that is required, and check that it's okay to 'streamline the process' or 'get things done more efficiently' if the chance arises - they'll normally agree to this, which effectively gives you control over the 'how', provided you deliver the 'what' and 'when'.


Theory Y is a participative style of management which “assumes that people will exercise self-direction and self-control in the achievement of organisational objectives to the degree that they are committed to those objectives”. It is management's main task in such a system to maximise that commitment

Following are the assumptions made by Theory Y style of management :-

  • Employees can perceive their job as relaxing and normal. They exercise their physical and mental efforts in an inherent manner in their jobs
  • Employees may not require only threat, external control and coercion to work, but they can use self-direction and self-control if they are dedicated and sincere to achieve the organizational objectives
  • If the job is rewarding and satisfying, then it will result in employees’ loyalty and commitment to organization
  • An average employee can learn to admit and recognize the responsibility. In fact, he can even learn to obtain responsibility
  • The employees have skills and capabilities. Their logical capabilities should be fully utilized. In other words, the creativity, resourcefulness and innovative potentiality of the employees can be utilized to solve organizational problems

Many people interpret Theory Y as a positive set of assumptions about workers. A close reading of The Human Side of Enterprise reveals that McGregor simply argues for managers to be open to a more positive view of workers and the possibilities that create enthusiasm


Though these theories are very basic in nature, they provide a platform for future generations of management theorists and practitioners to understand the changing dynamics of human behavior. Taken too literally, Theories X and Y seem to represent unrealistic extremes. Most employees (including managers) fall somewhere in between these poles. Recent studies have questioned the rigidity of the model, yet McGregor's X-Y Theories remain guiding principles to the management to evolve processes which help in organizational development. A mix of practices which ensure a healthy blend of systems and the freedom to perform at the work place is likely to motivate the employees more. This mix of practices calls for induction of technology into HR. How we can practice Talent Management in all types of organizations will indicate how well we have understood & deployed these theories X and Y in our real time environment

Really want to check whether your company follows Theory X or Theory Y style of management or You your self is Theory X  worker or Theory Y worker. Visit Theory X & Theory Y


  1. Amazing explanation. Makes it very easy to comprehend.
    Way to go!!!

  2. Good write up..... Very impressive

  3. Excellent presentation of a difficult topic to present.