Douglas McGregor

Douglas McGregor (1906 - 1964) was a psychology professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology whose 1960 book The Human Side of Enterprise had a profound influence on management practises. In the book he identified two approaches to motivating workers, which he called Theory X and Theory Y.

Theory X and Theory Y

According to McGregor, most managers tend to subscribe to Theory X, in that they take a rather pessimistic view of their employees. A Theory X manager believes that his or her employees do not really want to work, that they would rather avoid responsibility and that it is the manager's job to structure the work and energize the employee. The result of this line of thought is that Theory X managers naturally adopt a more authoritarian style based on the threat of punishment.

In contrast, a Theory Y manager believes that, given the right conditions, most people will want to do well at work and that there is a pool of unused creativity in the workforce. They believe that the satisfaction of doing a good job is a strong motivation in and of itself. A Theory Y manager will try to remove the barriers that prevent workers from fully actualizing their potential.

Maslow's hierarchy

McGregor's work was based on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. He grouped Maslow's hierarchy into "lower order" (Theory X) needs and "higher order" (Theory Y) needs. He suggested that management could use either set of needs to motivate employees but that better results could be obtained by meeting the Theory Y needs.

Theory X and Theory Y are still important terms in the field of management and motivation. More recent studies have questioned the rigidity of the model, but McGregor's X-Y Theory remains a guiding principle of positive approaches to management, to organizational development, and to improving organizational culture.

Human Side of Enterprise 25th Anniversary Printing by Douglas McGregor, 1985. Originally published - 1960.

Biography from Antioch College, where McGreggor served as President (1948-1954).

This biography is an edited version of McGregor on the Wikipedia site. By John Hunter Sep 2004.