Posted by: healingtheworkplace | June 21, 2008

Learning from Douglas McGregor


First I’d like to thank Ben Simonton for his recent comment and thank all of you who have submitted comments over the past few months.

In my last post I wrote, “I’m not sure that the workplace is ready for workers to stand up and take responsibility.”

After some reflection I would like to add to what I wrote.  Is it that the workplace is not ready or are the workers not ready?

As with everything in life I think that the truth lies somewhere in between.

Here are some of McGregor’s ideas relating to Theory Y:

  • the average human being learns, under proper conditions, not only to accept but to seek responsibility…
  • the capacity to exercise a relatively high degree of imagination, ingenuity, and creativity in the solution of organizational problems is widely, not narrowly, distributed in the population…
  • under conditions of modern industrial life, the intellectual potentialities of the average human being are only partially utilized.

I do agree with McGregor’s propositions.  In the right workplace, “under the proper conditions” people will flourish.

What are these conditions?

  • Leaders who understand the importance of what McGregor is saying.
  • Leaders who are able to put their egos aside and “invite” people to participate and contribute their talents, knowledge and skills.

People also need the resources and capabilities to do their work properly. They need to know how their work fits in with the goals of the organization. They need to be acknowledged and thanked for their contributions. They need to be respected.

What they don’t need is to be punished for speaking up and offering their ideas. Or share their ideas only to have them ignored or worse have their bosses take credit for them.

How many times will people be told NO before they stop sharing their creative ideas?

There are still a vast number of organizations in the world that want to control their employees. They still operate from the belief that people are inherently lazy and can’t be trusted.

Of course they would like to tap into the pool of imagination, ingenuity and creativity that McGregor identifed in his writings.

BUT these organizations want to do this in a top down, hierarchical non-democratic way in which management calls the shots.

Organizations can’t have it both ways!


PS. Most of us want to make a positive difference in the world and this includes our places of work. 

PPS. We need to recognize leaders like Ben Simonton who have managed to shift the paradigm and engage workers in such a way as to “unleash their creativity, innovation and productivity”.




  1. It will be interesting to see how long it takes the Millennial generation to influence the workplace enough. Some early adopters will get this and start making changes, but they are more likely to be case studies or authors than the bow of a shock wave. I think it may well take 20 more years to get this right.

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