In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Theory X and Theory Y

  • Introduction
  • Douglas McGregor—Basic Works
  • Influence of McGregor
  • History
  • Audiovisual
  • Instruments
  • Teaching and Management Development
  • Cases, Major Recent Books, and Publications
  • International

Management Theory X and Theory Y
Peter Sorensen, Therese Yaeger
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 March 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0078


Theory X and Theory Y were first introduced in the early work of Douglas McGregor. McGregor’s work made a significant impact on managerial thought. It appeared at a time when the behavioral sciences were playing an increasing role in how managers thought about their work. It was a period characterized by the work of Maslow, Likert, Argyris, and Herzberg, among others. Theory X and Y was be to reflected in numerous management applications, and it would change the way people thought about performance appraisal, organizational change, and leadership, to mention a few. McGregor’s ideas further influenced such contemporary approaches to organizations as Appreciative Inquiry and became part of the controversy regarding the universal applicability of his ideas. Further, his students became some of the most influential contributors to the field of management. This article attempts to cover in some modest way the legacy of Theory X and Y and the work of Douglas McGregor.

Douglas McGregor—Basic Works

There is no question that Theory X and Theory Y had an incredible impact on management thinking. Theory X and Theory Y were part of McGregor’s philosophy of management, which represented a fundamental change in management thought and practice. His major writings are cited along with two volumes which were actually published several years after his death by Bennis, Caroline McGregor, and Schein. This initial section introduces McGregor’s initial and basic works, beginning with a paper presentation at MIT (McGregor 1957a). In McGregor 1957b, he further develops his thinking in terms of Theory X and Theory Y as it relates to performance appraisal. This was followed in 1960 by The Human Side of Enterprise, a book in which he presents a more comprehensive description of Theory X and Y and provides a number of Theory Y management practices (McGregor 1960). McGregor 1967 and Schein 1974 were published by his colleagues—the first of these volumes, The Professional Manager, provides further development of McGregor’s thinking around managerial assumptions, while the Hawthorne Group Studies revisited by Edgar Schein provide further clarification of McGregor’s Theory Y concepts.

  • McGregor, Douglas M. “The Human Side of Enterprise.” In Adventure in Thought and Action. Proceedings of the Fifth Anniversary Convocation of the School of Industrial Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, 9 April 1957. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1957a.

    In this early paper McGregor presents his Theory X and Y and identifies organizational methods consistent with Theory Y. Also reprinted in the November 1957 issue of Management Review (Vol. 46, no. 11, pp. 22–28).

  • McGregor, Douglas M. “An Uneasy Look at Performance Appraisal.” Harvard Business Review 35 (May–June 1957b): 89–94.

    A major article in the history of human resources management and Organization Development. In this article, McGregor describes what he refers to as a new approach to performance appraisal, Management by Objectives, an approach consistent with the philosophy of Theory Y. This article was key in establishing McGregor’s role in one of the most important approaches to management.

  • McGregor, Douglas M. The Human Side of Enterprise. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1960.

    Probably his most frequently referred-to work. Here McGregor presents theoretical assumptions of management, Theory Y in practice, and the development of managerial talent.

  • McGregor, Douglas M. Leadership and Motivation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1966.

    This book published two years after McGregor’s death was actually edited by Bennis and Schein in collaboration with Caroline McGregor. This is an important book for several reasons: it includes a comprehensive set of McGregor’s work and an outline and timeline of his career, but perhaps even more important is the introduction by Bennis, where he describes McGregor, the man.

  • McGregor, Douglas M. The Professional Manager. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967.

    An unfinished manuscript expanding on the thinking and work of McGregor actually completed and edited by Caroline McGregor and Warren Bennis.

  • Schein, Edgar H. The Hawthorne Group Studies Revisited: A Defense of Theory Y. Paper Presentation to the Western Electric Conference, Chicago, 11 November 1974.

    This paper presented to the Western Electric Conference in Chicago in 1974 is a major paper for those interested in a better understanding of what McGregor meant by Theory Y. The author responds to a widespread misinterpretation of Theory X and Y and presents the position that McGregor’s work is, in fact, a contingency approach to management and leadership. The author sets forth a model of how Theory Y relates to managerial style and behavior.

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