Motivated or Lazy?
You don’t lead by hitting people over the head—that’s assault, not leadership. — Dwight Eisenhower
How do you see people, naturally motivated or lazy? Do you think the average person inherently dislikes work and will avoid it at all cost or do you assume that if people are treated fairly and positively that they will perform at a higher level? The way you answer these questions may tell a lot about how you manage people and the likelihood of your success.
These two different approaches to management are often referred to as Theory X and Theory Y based upon the research of Douglas McGregor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. In his book titled The Human Side of Enterprise he identified two fundamental models of management contrasting the differences in workforce motivation applied by managers.
Theory X is based on an authoritarian or perhaps more traditional style of management. These managers assume that people are lazy and are not motivated on their own to work. This type of manager sees it as their role to force or coerce the worker to perform work and people are largely viewed as a cost to the business. Managers who subscribe to this approach tend to see people as the following:
- The average person is lazy, dislikes work and will avoid it if at all possible.
- Most people have to be intimidated, controlled, directed or threatened to get them to work toward organizational goals.
- The average person needs to be overseen, will avoid responsibility, is not ambitious and simply seeks security.
- Workers will take every opportunity to slack off, will not achieve their potential and require close supervision.
Managers who practice Theory X are often autocratic and controlling and believe they need to drive people to make them do their work. These managers tend to micro-manage, are extremely task oriented and not largely interested in developing relationships with their subordinates. Little effort will be expended toward developing a positive work environment and recognition and appreciation is rarely shown. Workers in this environment tend to be motivated by fear and feel unappreciated.
A significant aspect to Theory X management is that people are the first to blame, not the process. If something is not working as expected it is assumed that the employees are at fault and should be observed, reprimanded and perhaps even have their employment terminated.
Theory Y on the other hand is based on a more enlightened view based on a model of human need for higher order achievement. These managers believe that if workers are treated fairly and positively with respect for them as individuals that they will perform at a higher level. Mangers who subscribe to this approach see people as the following:
- People are naturally motivated to achieve as more of their basic needs are met.
- People will exercise self-direction and self-control to achieve organizational objectives.
- The average person is willing to accept and seek responsibility as part of their quest for self-fulfillment and seeks recognition for accomplishments.
- Most people have the capacity for imagination, ingenuity and creativity and produce more when engaging these skills.
Managers who practice Theory Y are often more participative when making decisions. They value input and the results of collective thinking and value relationships. They tend to see and treat people as individuals and encourage each person to fully apply themselves to the situation at hand. These managers tend to empower their people and trust them to do good work. They tend to see employees as important assets to be invested in and important to the business. Employees in these environments tend to feel appreciated, motivated and part of something larger than themselves.
A significant aspect to Theory Y management is that when problems arise the manager and the employee attempt to examine the issue together as a team and examine where both people and process could improve.
Current research and common experience indicates that Theory Y management will lead to better results. People feel that they are part of something larger and are encouraged to achieve more for the benefit of the business and their own self-fulfillment. They are encouraged to engage the more positive side of human behavior and focus more of their energy on accomplishing the mission.
At times there may be a role for Theory X management when in an extreme turnaround situation or something of that nature, but generally this approach produces inferior results. That is not to say that people should not be held accountable for their results. Quite the opposite. However, with appropriate structures in place Theory Y will outperform Theory X on most occasions.