Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Further Development of a Measure of Theory X and Y Managerial Assumptions

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Further Development of a Measure of Theory X and Y Managerial Assumptions

Article excerpt

McGregor's (1960) The Human Side of Enterprise is widely seen as one of the most influential management books ever written (Bedeian and Wren, 2001; Miner, 2003). McGregor (1960) was among the first management writers to focus on the assumptive world (or cosmology) of managers and to elucidate the effects of managerial assumptions on employee work behavior---effects that occurred despite managers being unaware of this phenomenon.

In its briefest form, McGregor's (1960) theorizing reflects the following six ideas. First, managers make assumptions about employees in work organizations, even if they are unaware of doing so. Second, two broad categories of managerial assumptions can be identified: a pessimistic view (which McGregor (1960) labeled Theory X), and a more optimistic view (Theory Y). Third, there are three component dimensions pertinent to these assumptions, namely whether people are seen as (a) inherently lazy versus industrious, (b) possessing a limited versus important capacity for useful contributions, and (c) being untrustworthy versus being responsible. Fourth, differences in managerial assumptions result in predictable patterns of managerial behaviors (such as close supervision and limited delegation of authority versus more general supervision and broad delegation). Fifth, managerial practices influence employee motivation and work behavior. Sixth, because managers are typically unaware of the self-fulfilling nature of their assumptive worlds, there is often a misperception of cause and effect. The manager who holds Theory X beliefs may unwittingly engineer a low level of employee motivation and (ironically) lament to a colleague that "you can't get good workers nowadays."

The lack of follow through with regard to McGregor's (1960) ideas can plausibly be attributed to the paucity of valid measures of the central constructs. Unfortunately, McGregor (1960) conducted no systematic research on his theorizing, and as noted by Miner (2002) and Schein (2011), McGregor's (1960) work remains essentially untested. In Miner's words, "[t]here are very few direct tests of McGregor's formulation in the literature ... Furthermore, McGregor ... [did not] attempt to make his variables operational in any kind of measurement procedures" (2003: 261). Perhaps this explains why Miner (2003) in his review of 73 established organizational behavior theories found McGregor's (1960) Theory X/Y tied for 2nd place in terms of recognition, but only 33rd in terms of importance. McGregor's (1960) theorizing continues to be relevant in three regards: in business school courses; among academic researchers; and among practitioners. A review of 31 recent organizational behavior, management and leadership textbooks (a convenience sample) found that McGregor's (1960) Theory X/Y was cited in 22 texts (70%), the mean discussion being about three pages. Reflective of continuing academic interest, more than 15 academic studies have been conducted during the past three years (since 2009)--e.g., Clem and Mujtaba, 2010; Inamori et al., 2011; Sahin, 2012; and Schein, 2011). Also, a number of practitioner-oriented publications have referenced McGregor's (1960) work in the past few years (e.g., Clayton, 2008; Cummins and Worley, 2008; Hardre et al., 2009; Martin, 2009), and consulting and organizational development firms continue to use assessment tools based on Theory X/Y (e.g., Teleometrics' Managerial Philosophies Scale; the Assessment Business Center's Management Styles Questionnaire; and Eden Tree's Is your manager an X or a Y?).

Recently, Schein noted McGregor (1960, 1966) attempted to persuade colleagues through stories and case examples, "making a great deal of the fact that the empirical discovery of these concepts rested on many observations of many actual managers." (2009: 144) Complicating matters, McGregor (1960; 1966) identified a number of management practices he saw as consistent with Theory Y assumptions: participative leadership, MBO plans, performance appraisals, and Scanlon Plans. …

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