Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

McGregor's Theory X/Y and Job Performance: A Multilevel, Multi-Source Analysis

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

McGregor's Theory X/Y and Job Performance: A Multilevel, Multi-Source Analysis

Article excerpt

"[A new theory] is discovered, explored for a while, and then usually abandoned when the going gets rough or uninteresting." (Ring, 1967: 120)

McGregor's ideas about Theory X and Theory Y were first articulated in his article, "The Human Side of Enterprise," (McGregor, 1957) and were expanded upon in his book with the same title (McGregor, 1960). More than forty years later, Miner (2003) surveyed subject matter experts (past presidents of the Academy of Management and editors and journal review board members of two prominent publications, AMJ and AMR), to ascertain their familiarity with and their rated importance (theoretical utility and practical relevance) of 73 organizational behavior (broadly defined) theories. Miner (2003) found that McGregor's (1957; 1960/1985; 1966; 1967) (hereafter, for brevity, cited as McGregor, 1960) Theory X and Theory Y was tied for second place as the most well-known theory' in organizational behavior out of the universe of 73 theories. However, the impact between X/Y attitudes and job performance has never been empirically substantiated. Yet, McGregor's (1960) assumption that employees perform better under managers who advance self-direction and self-motivation is widely-accepted and espoused by managers in organizations and management writers.

There are two highly plausible reasons why prior research has not empirically supported McGregor's (1960) Theory X and Theory Y (or, for brevity, Theory X/Y) with regard to job performance. First, there has been a failure to distinguish between Theory X/Y attitudes and Theory X/Y behaviors. The three prior studies that have made this distinction were recently conducted solely to develop construct-valid measures of both X/Y attitudes and X/Y behaviors (Kopelman et al., 2008; Kopelman et al., 2010; Kopelman et al., 2012). Second, the methodological approach employed in previous substantive studies examined the incorrect unit of analysis: rather than using an across-individual correlational design, a multilevel, multi-source individual/workgroup analysis was needed. The current research is the first inquiry to establish an empirical relationship between McGregor's (1960) Theory X/Y assumptions and job performance using a multilevel, multi-sourced methodology which controls for within-group variance by employing hierarchical linear modeling.

In one of the two prior, unsuccessful attempts to link Theory XA7 attitudes to job performance, Fiman (1973) did not distinguish between X/Y attitudes and X/Y behaviors, and upon examining across-individual data, found a correlation with individual job performance of r = -0.01. Similarly, Michaelsen (1973) reported across-individual level correlations of co-mingled X/Y attitudes and behaviors and found a correlation of r = -0.07. As a result of these two initial non-supportive studies, researchers subsequently turned their attention to testing Theory X/Y as it pertained to various non-performance-related variables, such as leader satisfaction (Brown and Ladawan, 1979a), ethical perceptions (Neuliep, 1996), decision-making style (Russ, 2011), and leader-member exchange (Sahin, 2012), to name just a few correlates. More recently, Thomas and Bostrom (2010) examined the relationship between X/Y behaviors and team ratings of performance. The sample, however, w as comprised solely of virtual teams with no group, or face-to-face interactions. X- and Y-type behaviors were conveyed electronically via emails and faxes (providing no opportunity for managerial X/Y attitudinal and behavioral information to be conveyed nonverbally). Results were not significant and indicated that X-type verbal statements (including commands and confrontations) were positively associated with performance (r = 0.23) as were Y-type verbal statements (r = 0.15), yielding a net result of r = -0.04. Using virtual "teams" eliminates face-to-face interactions between manager and subordinates and consequently the development of relationships among group members and group leader. …

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