Why I’m All About Theory Y

June 19, 2019

Exceptional managers create a positive culture by trusting their teams

I love learning and trying new things. I hate the status quo. I get really frustrated when someone says, “I can’t”, “We can’t,” or “It’s too complicated.” I am open about my interest in new ideas and as a result, I have family, friends and colleagues sharing books, articles or experiences they think I would like.

Recently, a friend and blog subscriber shared a great article with me, Google tried to prove managers don’t matter. Instead, it discovered 10 traits of the very best ones. I love what Google started in the early 2000s and continues to do today – they fearlessly test business hypotheses and learn.

Google is not waiting for new academic research; it’s *creating* research. They are not taking history and the status quo as a given of organizational best practices. Instead, they challenge themselves to prove what works and then implement what they learned, with the hope that their efforts spur new managerial best practices.

Assumptions about motivations

The article also resonated with me because I’m reading Aaron Dignan’s book, Brave New Work. Dignan makes a fundamental point that I wholeheartedly agree with: “Workers show up based on the way they are treated.” He goes on to explain that Douglas McGregor, a researcher at MIT in the early 1960s, explored the question: What assumptions do we have about people’s motivations? He broke the choices into Theory X and Theory Y, where:

Theory Y

  • X = I dislike work and I will avoid it if I can
  • Y = I find work to be natural and fulfilling, and I take pride in my work

I fall into Theory Y, and McGregor found that most people fall into Theory Y. But most organizations build policy and procedure assuming people operate according to Theory X.  How does this manifest itself?

  • X = Team members must be prompted, rewarded or punished in order to do their work
  • Y = Team members work in a trust-based environment, empowered with responsibility

So when I read the Google article, it’s not surprising that what seems so obvious is actually hard, because leaders would need to believe those who work with them are Theory Y. They would need to *trust* that their employees are Theory Y, until proven otherwise. But all too often, I see policy and procedures that assume people dislike work and will do anything to avoid it if they can. What has happened to our trust in each other?

I do not believe that people are innately Theory X. In fact, I believe people are good, talented and you can trust them to do the right thing. That said, I believe the second you identify Theory X, you need to address it, so as not to disrupt the positive culture for all who are Theory Y.

These are what I see as the best traits in exceptional managers:

  • Caring – about the people, not just the job/function
  • Trusting – you think the best of people, until someone gives you a direct reason not to
  • Results-oriented – you’re focused not just on the outcome, but the process of getting there
  • Having a vision – You explain what you intend to achieve and are willing to adjust as information emerges
  • Listening – To your market, your team and your family – they are all part of the equation you have to manage
  • Learning – You are curious and apply what you hear

Your turn to trust

So much of the time, we are moving too fast or focusing on a singular objective. We forget to step back and say, at the end of the day, we are all just people. People working toward a common goal, but in our own way, wanting to succeed, make a contribution, and make a difference – trust me. But more importantly, trust your people.

Thanks to my friend who forwarded the article – I loved it.

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Al Chiaradonna