Blog Post

KM and Theory X thinking

Posted to Gurteen Knowledge-Log by David Gurteen on 17 February 2010



KM and Theory X thinking
WeblogGurteen Knowledge Log
Knowledge LetterAppears in the Gurteen Knowledge Letter issue: 116
Posted DateWednesday 17 February 2010 17:21 GMT
Posted ByDavid Gurteen
PeopleDouglas McGregor 

You may be familiar with Douglas McGregor's "Theory X and Theory Y". Theory X says that "employees are lazy, inherently dislike work and will avoid it if they can" and thus Theory X managers believe that workers need to be closely supervised and comprehensive systems of controls developed. On the other hand Theory Y managers believe that, given the right conditions, most people want to do a good job.

In Theory Y, management assumes employees may be ambitious and self-motivated and exercise self-control. It is believed that employees enjoy their mental and physical work duties. According to Papa, to them work is as natural as play. They possess the ability for creative problem solving, but their talents are underused in most organizations.

Given the proper conditions, theory Y managers believe that employees will learn to seek out and accept responsibility and to exercise self-control and self-direction in accomplishing objectives to which they are committed. A Theory Y manager believes that, given the right conditions, most people will want to do well at work. They believe that the satisfaction of doing a good job is a strong motivation. Many people interpret Theory Y as a positive set of beliefs about workers.

A close reading of The Human Side of Enterprise reveals that McGregor simply argues for managers to be open to a more positive view of workers and the possibilities that this creates. He thinks that Theory Y managers are more likely than Theory X managers to develop the climate of trust with employees that is required for human resource development. It's here through human resource development that is a crucial aspect of any organization. This would include managers communicating openly with subordinates, minimizing the difference between superior-subordinate relationships, creating a comfortable environment in which subordinates can develop and use their abilities. This climate would include the sharing of decision making so that subordinates have say in decisions that influence them. This theory is a positive view to the employees.

The more I talk to KM managers the more I come to believe that Theory X thinking runs deep in KM even when people strongly deny it. KMers frequently ask me or others in on-line forums - "how to do you motivate or incentivise people?" "how do you make people share their knowledge?" or they are looking for ways to manipulate people into using some KM tool or another. I can often discern in their wording that just beneath the surface they think other people are lazy or stupid. It's Theory X thinking!

To my mind - the problem does not lie with the employees - it lies with the managers and a deeply rooted Theory X mindset!

If you are interested in Knowledge Management, the Knowledge Café or the role of conversation in organizational life then you my be interested in this online book I am writing on Conversational Leadership
David Gurteen

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