Employee Value: Theory X Losers and Theory Y Winners

Organizational Losers and WinnersRelaxing in my leather chair, a glass of Spanish Tempranilla in hand, relaxing music playing, and the company of a good friend, the conversation last evening turned to organizational culture.  (Call me a geek, but I’ve clearly found my work-passion balance!)

You see, she recently transitioned from a Fortune 500 giant to a local non-profit, and after just a few days in the new role, the cultural differences were striking. No longer was her contribution to the company judged by the number of hours her manager observed her chained to her cubicle, the famed “ass-in-seat” measure. Rather, it’s already become clear that her new boss is concerned not with babysitting her, but empowering her to excel. The result, she’s passionately embraced working longer hours (her own choice) and even taking work home.

I know, many of you are thinking, “She’s new. The enthusiasm will fade.” And perhaps it will. But that’s not really the point. What’s important is the sense of freedom and respect that she’s been given in just the first week or two, with the emphasis not on when she arrives in the morning or leaves in the evening, but rather on the thoughtful value she provides.

Others may be thinking it’s odd in this day and age that it’s unusual for a white-collar professional to NOT take work home. Again, this may be true. But there is a significant difference between taking work home because you have to and working extra hours (from home or a coffee shop) because you WANT to. THAT is the definition of engagement — a purposeful eagerness to provide maximum value and contribution to better the goals, services, or direction of an organization.

In reality, the cultural difference between the Fortune 500 company and her non-profit can be summed up by McGregor’s decades old Theory X and Y for motivation and management.

  • Theory X (represented by the corporate giant in this example) speaks to an authoritarian style of management. Individuals are viewed as inherently lazy. Workers need directive, quid pro quo punishment-reward systems in order to accomplish the task at hand. In fact, the workers WANT this, according to the theory.
  • Theory Y, conversely, sees individuals are self-motivated, hard-working, capable, and participative in their pursuit of their own goals and those of the organization.

As trends continue to stress the growing importance of thinking and learning workforces, organizations that strive to remain competitive (both as employers and within their industries) will need to embrace a Theory Y approach to managing employees. The non-profit “gets it,” and, as a result, it gets an engaged, enthusiastic, intelligent, and innovative thought-leader to help it move forward in an uncertain and ever competitive environment.

The Fortune 500 company? Well, they will continue to lose their best and brightest, those who refuse to continue operating as lemmings and for whom a career of value means being valued.

4 thoughts on “Employee Value: Theory X Losers and Theory Y Winners

  1. Thank you for posting this blog. The lack of leadership is becoming more apparent; regardless of industry in this country.

    You bring up a very important point about creating an environment where an employee feels supported by their leader.

    It is amazing to me that so many people with management titles do not spend too much time with a new employee. This is an ideal time to start engaging
    the employee for the long-term.

    A great leader takes the time to get to know the employee. Additionally, the leader is also very clear about expectations and how the employee can be successful. Having constant interaction with an employee is essential for productivity, empowerment and engagement.

    According to research, the number one reason why employees leave an organization; is due to their experience with their direct manager.


    1. I think the difference you describe is the difference between merely managing and actually leading. You’re entirely right in your description of a great leader, I think. But the interaction needs to be tailored to the individual needs of the employee, as well. Some need more constant interaction than others, and there isn’t a hard and fast rule about that. Emotionally intelligent leaders, however, realize this and adapt their leadership styles to not only fit the situation, but to fit the individual employee.

      Thanks for the comment, Julio.

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