Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Douglas McGregor's Theory X and Y: Toward a Construct-Valid Measure *

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Douglas McGregor's Theory X and Y: Toward a Construct-Valid Measure *

Article excerpt

Douglas McGregor's landmark book, The Human Side of Enterprise (1960), changed the path of management thinking and practice. Questioning some of the fundamental assumptions about human behavior in organizations, he outlined a new role for managers: rather than commanding and controlling subordinates, managers should assist them in reaching their full potential. At the foundation of McGregor's Theory Y are the assumptions that employees are: (1) not inherently lazy, (2) capable of self-direction and self-control, and (3) capable of providing important ideas/suggestions that will improve organizational effectiveness. Thus, with appropriate management practices, such as providing objectives and rewards and the opportunity to participate in decision making, personal and organizational goals can simultaneously be realized. In contrast to Theory Y, McGregor posited that conventional managerial assumptions (which he called Theory X) reflect essentially an opposite and negative view--viz., that employees are lazy, are incapable of self-direction and autonomous work behavior, and have little to offer in terms of organizational problem solving. Hereafter, we refer to McGregor's theorizing as Theory X/Y.

Indicative of McGregor's impact, Miner's (2003) review of 73 established organizational behavior theories found that Theory X/Y was tied for second in terms of recognition and in 33rd place with respect to importance. By the time The Human Side of Enterprise was republished in 1985, it had become a classic with the book jacket reading like a Who's Who in Management. Drucker hailed it as "ever more relevant, more timely, and more important." Townsend called it "the most powerful and useful book about people I've ever read." Kanter claimed it contained "profound and timeless truths." Waterman declared it "a classic text that is a fundamental touchstone for anyone in management and organizational development." Bennis wrote "... this book, more than any other book on management, changed an entire concept of organizational man and replaced it with a new paradigm that stressed human potentials, emphasized human growth, and elevated the human role in industrial society" (McGregor, 1985: iv).

However, as Miner noted in his comprehensive (2002) text on organizational behavior theories and research, "[t]here are very few direct tests of McGregor's formulation in the literature ... Furthermore, McGregor himself conducted no research related to his formulations, nor did he attempt to make his variables operational in any kind of measurement procedures" (2002: 261). In our view, McGregor's theorizing about the effects of individual differences in managerial assumptions has remained virtually unexamined due to the absence of prior construct validation research. Clearly, it is not possible to test McGregor's theory if the central construct--the assumptive world (or cosmology) of the focal manager--lacks a published, construct-valid measure. In light of this long overdue undertaking, the present research reports on the development and construct validation of a measure of Theory X and Theory Y assumptions/attitudes.

McGregor identified a number of management practices that he thought were consonant with Theory Y assumptions (such as participative leadership, delegation, job enlargement and performance appraisals). Consequently--and unfortunately in our view--tests of the efficacy of these management practices were often interpreted as a proxy for assessing the validity of McGregor's theorizing. Successful implementation of participative leadership, for example, is at best only tangentially related to McGregor's theorizing. Moreover, McGregor recognized that implementation of these practices with a Theory X mindset will be limitedly successful, with employees seeing such techniques as disingenuous manipulations (Heil et al., 2000; McGregor, 1966, 1967).

At the heart of McGregor's argument is the notion that managers' assumptions/attitudes represent, potentially, self-fulfilling prophecies. …

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