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Douglas McGregor (1906 -1964) was a lecturer at Harvard University became the first Sloan Fellows Professor at MIT. His Theory X and Theory Y was detailed in "The Human Side of Enterprise", published in 1960.  Essentially Theory X and Theory Y describe two opposing management perspectives of people at work:

Theory X is described as the traditional view of "direction and control". Theory Y implies a more self directed workforce. One that takes interest and aligns their goals of the organisation with their own aspirations.

Theory X assumes that: -

  • The average person dislikes their work and avoids it unless supervised
  • Employees must be coerced, controlled and directed to ensure organisational objectives are achieved
  • Threats & punishments exist within the organisation
  • Staff prefer to be "managed" so they can avoid responsibility
  • People are not ambitious there are more driven by security

Theory Y - the opposite extreme: -

  • Employees are ambitious, keen to accept responsibility and exercising self-control and direction
  • Employees will, in the right conditions, work toward business goals. Commitments being reward enough
  • Employees exercise imagination and creativity given the chance, leading to opportunities for greater performance
  • Staff will, under the right conditions, accept responsibility and even seek more


McGregor's work sometimes seems as relevant today as it was at creation despite nearly 50 years history! if this seems to align with your organisation may we recomend the Shift happens questions Click here  - Inspiring and terrifying all at the same time!