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JOVRNM. OF MANAGERIAL ISSUES Vol. XX Number 2 Summn 2008: 255-271 Douglas McGregor's Theory X and Y: Toward a Construct-valid Measure* Richard E. Kopelman Professor of Management Baruch College David J. Prottas Assistant Professor of Management Adelphi University Anne L. Davis Colonel Tooele Army Depot Douglas McGregor's landmark book. The Human Side of Enterprise (1960), changed the path of management thinking and practice. Questioning some of tbe fundamental assumptions about buman beba
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  JOVRNM. OF MANAGERIAL ISSUES Vol. XX Number 2 Summn 2008: 255-271 Douglas McGregor's Theory X and Y:Toward a Construct-valid Measure* Richard E. Kopelman Professor of Management Baruch College David J. Prottas Assistant Professor of Management Adelphi University Anne L. Davis Colonel Tooele Army DepotDouglas McGregor's landmark book. The Human Side of Enterprise (1960), changed the path of manage-ment thinking and practice. Ques-tioning some of tbe fundamental as-sumptions about buman bebavior inoignnizations, he outlined a new rolelor managers: rather than command-ing and controlling subordinates,managers should assist them in reach-ing iheir full potendal. At the foun-dation of McGregor's Theory Y areihe assumptions that employees are;(1) not inherently lazy, (2) capable ofself-direction and self-control, and(3) capable of providing importantideas/suggestions that will improveorganizational effectiveness. Tbus,with appropriate management prac-tices,such as providing objectives andrewards and tlie opportunity to par-ticipate in decision making, personaland organizational goals can simul-taneously be realized. In contrast toTheory Y, McGregor posited that con-ventional managerial assumptions(wbicb be called Tbcoiy X) reflect es-sentially an opposite and negativeview—^viz., tbat employees are lazy,are incapable of self-<iiieciion and au-lonomous work bebavior, and havelittle to offer hi terms of organiza- 'Wf graiciiilly acknowledge lhe helpful comments of our colleagues, Abe Konnan, AJlen Kraut,Hannah Rothsiein, and Donald Vredenbiirgh as well as an anonymous reviewer. Earlier versions ofthis article were pit'sciued at rhe \\2\\\ Meeting of the American Psychological Assotialion (2004)iind lhe 22n(i .Annual (Conference (if lhe Society lor Industrial and Organizational Psychology (2007).JOURNAL OE MANAGERIAL ISSUES Vol. XX Number 2 Summer 2008(255)  256 THEORY X AND THEORY Y tional problem solving. Hereafter, werefer to McGregor's theorizing as Theory X/Y. Indicative of McGregor's impact.Miner's (2003) review of 73 estab-lished organizational behavior theo-ries found that Theory X/Y was tiedfor second in terms of recognitionand in 33rd place witb respect to im- portance. By the time The Human Sid^ of Enterjnise yidiS repubUshed in 1985, it bad become a classic with the bookjacket reading like a Who's Who in Management. Dnicker bailed it as ever more relevant, more timely,and more important. Townsendcalled it the most poweiful and use- ful book about people I've everread. Kanter claimed it contained profound and timeless trutbs. Wa- terman declared it a classic text thatis a fundamental touchstone for any- one in management and organiza-tional development. Bennis wrote . . . tbis book, more tban any olherbook on management, changed an entire concept of organizational man and replaced it with a new paradigmthat stressed himian potentials, em- phasized human growth, and ele- vated the buman role in industrial so-ciety (McGregor, 1985: iv). However, as Miner noted in his comprehensive (2002) text on organ-izational behavior theories and re- search, [t]here are very few directtests of McGregor's fonnulation in tbe literature. . . . Furthermore,McGregor himself conducted no re- search related to his formulations,nor did he attempt to make bis vari-ables operational in any kind of meas-urement procedures (2002: 261). In our view, McGregor's theorizingabout the effects of individual differ-ences in managerial assumptions bas remained virtually unexamined due lo the absence of prior construct val- idation research. Clearly, it is not pos-sible to test McGregor's theory if the central constaict—the assumptiveworld (or cosmology) of the focalmanager—lacks a published, con- struct-valid measure. In ligbt of tbislong overdue undertaking, tbe pres-ent research reports on the develop-tncnt and construct validation of a measure of Theory X and Theory Y assumptions/attitudes.McGregor identified a number of management practices tbat be tbougbt were consonant witb TheoryY assumptions (sucb as participativeleadership, delegation. Job enlarge-ment and peiformance appraisals).Consequently—and unfortunately in our view—tests of the efficacy of thesemanagement practices were often in- terpreted as a proxy for assessing the validity of McGregor's theorizing.Successful implementation of partic-ipative leadersbip, for example, is at best only tangentially related to McGregor's theorizing. Moreover,McGregor recognized that imple-mentation of these practices with a Tbeoiy X mind.set will be limitedlysuccessful, with employees seeingsuch techniques as disingenuous ma- nipulations (Heil et aL, 2000; Mc- Gregor, 1966, 1967).At the heart of McGregor's argu-ment is tbe notion that managers' as- sumptions/attitudes represent, po- tentially, self-fulfilling prophecies.Tbe manager who believes that peo- ple are inherently lazy and untrust-worthy will treat employees in a man- ner tbat reflects tbese attitudes.Employees, sensing that there is littlein the job to spur tbeir involvement,will exhibit litde interest and motiva-tion. Consequendy, and ironically,the manager with low expectationswill lament that you can't get goodhelp nowadays, oblivious as to the JOURNAL OF MANAGERIAL ISSUES Vol. XX Number 2 Summer 2008  KOPELMAN, PROTTAS AND DAVIS 257 actual nature of cause and effect.Closing the self-reinforcing cycle, themanager feels vindicated; that is, his/her low expectations were warranted.Conversely, the inaniigfr who be-lieves that employees are generallytrustwortliy and desirous of growthwill facilitate their achievement.McGregor's explanation was that themanager had created conditiou-s thatenabled the individual to achievehis [ber] own goals (including thoseof self-actualization) besthy directingbis [her] efforts toward organiza-tional goals'* (1967: 78). Subse-quently, numerous, more intricate,psychological and social-psycbologi-cal niechanisins have been invoked toexplain this phenomenon (e.g., Ban-dura and Locke, 2003; Eden, 1990;Heil et al, 2000; McNatt and Judge,2004).McGregor (1957, 1967) noted tbatsome businesses were adopting prac-tices that could be expected to yieldsuperior results, sucb as decenuali-zation and delegation, job enlarge-ment, participative/consultativemauagemcut. and performance ap-praisal. However, be also observedthat tbese programs often were un-successful due to tbe way tbey wereimplemented. Wben tbose executingthe programs did so witb Theory Xattitudes or within organizations withTheory X climates, tbe programswould be likely to fail—perhaps an-other self-fulfilliug prophecy.Eden (1990) reported on numer-ous field experiments demonstratingthat wben managers were led to bavehigh expectations of some subordi-nates (based on fictitious informa- tion), the subordinates outper-formed tbeir peers. Attempting toapply tbis tludiug to leadersbip train-ing—but witbout using deception—Eden et al. found weak results in sevenfield experiments, results they cbar-acterized as a disheartening ba-sis forpractical application (2000: 195).Indeed, Eden et al. went on to say tbatleadership training, in general, maybe unrealistic; some managers haveit naturally and some do not, andtbose that do not canuot be trained,coaxed, or coached to bave it (2000: 204; empbasis added). However, nei-ther tbe early uor the latter studies byEden and bis colleagues speak toMcGregor's tbeorizing; in all of Flden et  rt/.'s  research, expectations were ar-tificially manufactured. In contrast,McGregor's theory relates to organicdifferences in managers' assumptiveworlds (or cosmologies). To wit: per-haps tbe Tbeory Y managers haveit To our knowledge, only one fieldinvestigation (Fiman, 1973) bas beenconducted that speaks directly to theposited effects of Theory Y manage-rial attitudes. In Finiau's study of fe-male clerical employees and their su-pervisors in one corporation, aperceived Tbeory Y managerial ori-entation was posiuvcly related to jobsatisfaction but imrelated to job per-formance. Fiman's X/Yattitude itemswere never published and the onlyconstiiict validity information Fiinan(1973) reported was split-balf relia-bility coefficients.Altbougb McGregor's Theory X/Ymay be characterized as representinga dispositional mindset suggestive ofa one-best-way to manage, McGregorrecognized that a Tbeory Y manage-rial style will not be appropriate in allsituations (Heil et at., 2000; Mc-Ciregor, 1967). In any event, beforeMcGregor's theory and numeroustheoretically-related propositions canbe researched (see tbe Discussiousection), it is necessary to develop aconstruet-valid measure of the central JOURNAL OF MANAGERL\L ISSUES Vol. XX Number 2 Summer 2008  258 THEORY X AND THEORY Y concept. Accordingly, we sec thepresent endeavor as a critical firststep in assessing the stibstantive valid-ity of McGregor's tbeorizing.METHODSampleWe distributed surveys to under-graduate and graduate students inbusiness at two east coast collegesfrom 2002 to 2006. Participation wasvoluntary and anonymous. The finalsample consisted of 512 participantswith a mean age of 28 years (usingmidpoints of categories and age 55for 50+) and was 56% female. Nearly80 percent of respondents were cur-rently or recently employed, with 68% working in the private sector.Tbe largest categories of employmentwere financial seniccs (24%), bealthcare (20%) and miscellaneous pro-fessional services (16%). Respon-dents tended to work for eitber verylarge organizations witb over 1,000employees (44%) or small organiza-tions with fewer than 100 (32%), with 24% working for organizations of in-termediate size. Their mean annualsalary was $55,800.MeasuresThe survey consisted initially (N =159) of four principal sections: 17items measuring Theory X and Tbe-ory Y attitudes (drawn from twosources described below); 19 itemsmeasuring Theory X and Theory Ybehaviors (drawn from two priorworks); five items measuring faith inpeople; and five items measuring fastfood opinions. A  fifth  section consist-ing of three items relating to leisuretime activities was added to the laterversion of the survey (N = 353). Withregard to our theorized nomologicalnetwork, we reasoned that Theory X/ Y attitudes and asstimptions would beclosely related to Theory X/Y behav-iors and that Theory X/Y attitudesand behaviors would be positively btUdistally related to generalized faith inpeople. However, we could see noreason why opinions about fast foodmeals and leisure-time activity pref- erences would be related to TbeoryX/Y attitudes or behaviors. Theory X/Y Attitudes arid Assumptions were assessed by 17 items (see Appen-dix) drawn from two sources. We in-corporated ten items from a scale en-titled McGregor's Tbeory X-Y Test (Swcnson, n.d.) and seven items wereselected from the Theory Y/TheoryX Leadership Assumption Test (Scanlon Leadership Network, n.d.).The latter source consisted initially often items, but tbree were dropped be-cause tbey mirrored items in the firstscale. All 17 items were scored on afive-point Likert scale with end-pointsranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Scanlon's Leader-ship Assiunption Test is a product ofthe Scanlon Leadership Network andthe measure appeared on their web-site ( Mc-Gregor's Theory Y aligns with Scau-lon's belief that organizations can bemore effective if information isshared between managers and em-ployees, and the latter are involved inproblem solving. It might be notedthat in both of McGregor's books (1960/1985, 1966) an entire chapterwas devoted to the Scanlon Plan.There is no available evidence sup-porting tbe reliability and validity oftbe scores on eitber tbe Scanlon ortbe Sweuson measures. Cronbach al-pha for these 17 items (hereafter, theã'17-item X/Y attitude scale ) was .78. It should be noted that the au-thors only became aware of Fiman's JOURNAL OF MANAGERIAL ISSUES Vol. XX Number 2 Summer 2008
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